Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Metablog Post

For my final blog post about creativity, I would like to take a self-reflexive look at the creative process behind blogs. Specifically, I would like to admire the work of Mena Trott and her husband, Ben.

Mena and Ben Trott founded their company, Six Apart Ltd. (or 6A), in September 2001. The company was formed as a blog solution provider. In essence, it created blogging systems Movable Type, Vox, and TypePad; the company also owned social networking site from 2005-2007. Many large organizations and media companies use these programs to host their blogs including ABC, MSNBC, and BBC.

The couple was inspired to found Six Apart (named for the fact that their birthdays are six days apart) because Mena was writing a blog but had some issues with the software it required. While Ben created a code, Mena developed a simpler user interface.

Although Six Apart was acquired by SAY Media (formally VideoEgg) and TypePad’s competitor WordPress has been gaining popularity, the leap forward by Mena and Ben was an important one. They created a way of making the internet more user friendly, allowing people to more easily share their ideas and experiences. This process may seem trivial now but without it, we would not be posting our own blog on this site, which introduced its own major redesign in 2004 (following more or less the success of the Trotts), today.

So what elements of creativity can we find in this product, process, and the people involved? I felt a bit limited in what I could find but here it is:

Although the idea of a blogging system wasn’t new, the idea of creating a more user friendly way to blog was original, at least to the extent that Mena took it. Embedded in her idea is the elimination of the average internet user’s difficulties with his or her blog, a problem which, at the time, held many back from becoming devoted bloggers. While some may argue that this creative product does not cause a paradigm shift, I do believe it causes a change in online culture. Their systems provided templates, allowed for multiple authors and includes features such as updating from mobile devices.

Mena and Ben are important in this equation as individuals and as a couple. Mena and Ben are both 1999 graduates of Santa Clara University, the Jesuit University in Silicon Valley (Jesuits, woo!). The couple has been together since they were 17 years old (so they’ve been together for approximately half their lives). Clearly, they share a passion which is important for Creatives as we’ve learned that when they have relationships with people who are not on their level, those relationships don’t turn out so well. Luckily, it seems the Trotts are on the same (web)page. Of course, their collaboration was essential in the success of their product. Additionally, one cannot overlook their collegiate experience in Silicon Valley as a major source of both inspiration and as a place with many opportunities for collecting ideas/experiences. Also, Mena’s interest in fashion seemed to push her towards designing something that users could find more visually appealing.

There seems to be both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation at play. The extrinsic motivation comes from pushing and supporting each other but it also comes from the online community in which Mena and Ben work. As I am focusing mostly on Mena as an individual, I would say that her intrinsic motivation played a large part in the creation of this creative product. She herself was unhappy and annoyed with the programs that were available to her and decided to change them for her own use as well as everyone else’s.

The field received the Trotts well. Mena was listed as one of MIT’s Technology Review’s 35 innovators under 35 in 2004 and the couple was also named PC Magazine’s People of the Year in 2004. There have been criticism of technical difficulties here and there but, for the most part, they have been able to overcome any negative criticism.

In a 2006 TED talk, Trott stated their company was successful “because of timing and perseverance.” Her quote points to an element of creative success that we’ve often discussed in class which is that part of a creative product being recognized is the environment (time, place and field) in which it is first shared.

We’ve also often discussed how it takes a person 10 years in their field to really hit their stride. Mena took some time away from her creative pursuits when her daughter was born but now that her daughter is entering school, Mena wrote that she was “excited to start this new chapter at a really good point in [her]personal life” by joining up with SAY Media which she believes is “a platform that enables [her] to be creative.” This new chapter happens to almost coincide with the ten year anniversary of Six Apart so I am excited to see where the Trott name will come up again as the first time around their company was able to give voice to millions of people, organizations and causes worldwide. My guess is that it will take some divergent thinking and some insight for Mena to start her next Creative project.

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