Chad Upton’s blog, Broken Secrets, might be based out of Milwaukee, but his fascination with the oddities that fill our world has led him to subjects as far away as the Mall of America (which apparently doesn’t have central heating), Vancouver (where recycled materials were apparently used in the creation of the medals for the 2010 Winter Olympics) and Chile (where enormous earthquakes upset the tilt of the Earth’s axis and apparently shortened our days by 1.26 milliseconds). Chad’s curiosity has driven him to shed light on hundreds of little-known and little- considered secrets since kicking off his blog nearly one year ago: He invites readers to help themselves to the fruits of his inquisitiveness — Broken Secrets’ constantly expanding archive of tips and trivia.
For people who might not be familiar with your blog, could you describe the concept behind Broken Secrets?
Sure. BrokenSecrets.com is a website where we write about lesser-known things that we think most people would find interesting, ranging from very useful and practical tips to completely trivial facts. So, for example, a trivial one would be that Disneyland has a series of underground tunnels for the staff to move supplies around the park without being seen by the visitors, whereas a useful tip might be, you know, most headphones have a little clip on them that you can use to clip the two earpieces together so they don’t get tangled up when they’re wrapped up or in your bag or whatever.
So where did the concept for Broken Secrets come from?
I’m just an information junkie. I’m addicted to reading product manuals, stuff that’s really technical and things that I don’t think most people like to read about, and usually I find little things in there that are interesting. I think it started out when I was a kid, I was always that kid who asked “How?” or “Why?” about everything that I saw or that my parents said. I took apart my toys and my parents’ electronics, and tried to figure out how they worked, and tried to put them back together. So I think it’s kind of just in my nature; I just like to try to get answers to stuff.
When did you start the blog, and what were some of the initial difficulties you faced in getting it off the ground?
I started the blog on November 19th, 2009, so it’s been going on for almost a year. It runs on WordPress.com — I have some paid upgrades, but otherwise it’s basically free for a basic site, which I think is amazing. Frankly, I wouldn’t say there were a lot of challenges in getting up and running; the big challenge, of course, when you start something, is trying to get people to actually read it, or pay any sort of attention to it.
Do you have any idea of how many people read your posts regularly?
Obviously it varies, but on a good day, I get probably 35,000 visitors, and on a bad day it’s probably a couple thousand, a few thousand maybe.
Do you collaborate with anyone on this, or is it a solo project?
It was a solo project up until August, and I was writing everyday — at least every weekday, so five days a week — and probably back in June I started looking for other people to help contribute content, and there’s a surprisingly small amount of people out there who want to, you know, write content for free—
It’s obviously difficult to find people who want to donate their time, but actually I had a handful of good people interested. I’ve had one other contributor who’s been very good, and she’s contributed a lot of content, Kaye Nemec, and she writes usually one post a week. And it’s funny because I live near Milwaukee, and I was collaborating with her for a number of months before I realized that she also lives near Milwaukee, so it was kind of funny how collaborating online allows us to work with people across the globe and yet I was working with somebody just around the corner.
What would be your selection criterion for new people and new contributors? Would they have to have a specific vision to bring to the project, or would you be happy just to have all new voices?
From working with some people who wanted to contribute, I think they definitely need to bring a voice that fits in with the voice of the site. And I do have pretty high standards around the quality of the material — I’m definitely pretty picky. That being said, I think if somebody clicks really well, you know, then I think it’ll work out great.
What’s your idea of expansion for Broken Secrets? And how would you characterize “expansion”?
I think more contributors, probably a less linear style of posting the articles — right now it’s a very basic WordPress blog layout, I mean, when you go to the site it’s one linear stream of posts. So I think as there’s more content, it would turn into something similar to what you would see with very large blogs with multiple columns, and feature sections, and that kind of stuff. I think it’s probably still a long way away from that, but I think that’s where it would be when it’s much larger.
Are you at all worried about coming to a point at which there’s nothing left to shed light on, there’s no stone left unturned?
I’m not worried that that time exists, because I think this world is massive, and as much as we know about it, I think we only really know a fraction. So I don’t think the world will ever run out of information for me to share, but perhaps I will run out of ideas to share with my readers.
So when something gets posted on Monday, for instance, when did that idea come to you?
It really depends. Sometimes it’ll be something that I see, you know, if I’m out filling my car with gas, and I’ll write about it that night. Other times I have a running stream or list of ideas on my computer, on my cell phone: I have a list of hundreds of things that I want to write about, so I think it depends on, what sort of time of year it is, so if it’s seasonal, then that may dictate when I write about it. Otherwise, if it’s the middle of the week and there’s nothing big happening in the world, no major events, then I’ll go to the list and kind of pick something that feels right or something that I’m interested in.
How many posts do you do in an average week?
Right now it’s three per week — it was one a day until early August, and then I scaled back to three times a week. I wanted to try to produce higher quality content, a little less frequently. But yeah, I think right now I’m pretty satisfied with the quantity. I think sometimes users get overwhelmed by content, particularly those who subscribe by email or on the Twitter feed or on the Facebook page — if there’s too much content being published, sometimes it almost turns into spam.
How has social networking been working out for you? Is it vital to maintaining interest, or do you think you’d get along fine without it?
It’s crucial, I think. I started out day one with a Facebook page and a Twitter feed. The Twitter feed for the blog content is automated, so that gets picked up usually really early in the morning. And then I have my own tweets that I do throughout the day, or occasionally. And I think it goes a long way to not only helping me share content, but also to see how people are sharing my content with other people, and what they’re saying about it, and what they like and what they don’t like.
And now just for that final question, how can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to your success?
There are a lot of ways. First, they could share their secrets with me: I’m always looking for great ideas and even great contributors to write content. If you know something that is interesting to most people but that most people don’t know about, either pass it along or talk to me about writing it up yourself. Connect with me on Twitter or Facebook. If you see a secret that you like, retweet it, “like” it, comment on it, put it on Digg, Reddit, Fark, Delicious or whatever other social network you’re using. It’s a great way to pass nice ideas on and start new conversations with people. And let me know how I can network with you, and help you be successful.