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Joey-Elijah Sneddon

Joey-Elijah Sneddon

OMG! Ubuntu!

When Joey-Elijah Sneddon launched OMG! Ubuntu! in 2009, he couldn't have predicted that a few years later the site would attract more than 1.6 million unique visitors a month viewing more than 7 million pages. In this interview, Sneddon explains how the site got started and what he thinks of the direction Ubuntu is now headed

What inspired you to launch OMG! Ubuntu!?

Into the time machine we go! Right, so I've been blogging for five or six years, around four and a half of those have been almost exclusively about Ubuntu. Originally it started as a hobby whilst I was at University; it wasn't anything serious, more of a way for me to document my own progress with Ubuntu. Then people started reading.

What was your Ubuntu background or experience before launching the site?

I have the original ASUS EeePC – the titchy one with a 7-inch screen and some kid-like Xandros spin as its OS – to thank for all of this. I'd read about it in a computer magazine, and the fact it shipped with Linux, and wanted one.

Not knowing much about this "Linux thing" it came with, I gave it a Google and learnt that Ubuntu was the most popular Linux. A few YouTube videos of wobbly windows and Compiz cubes later and 7.10 was running on my PC.

What growing pains has the site gone through since it launched, and how have you tackled specific obstacles you encountered?

The biggest obstacle by far has been keeping up with traffic. There's no doubt about that. There have been sleepless nights, heated arguments, shameful moments, and times when I've wanted to give it all up. But I take those as signs that I care about what I'm doing.

Having jumped ship from Blogger when we started getting popular, we went to a VPS, outgrew that; went onto a dedicated server, outgrew that; threw lots of RAM and money at the dedicated server to make it better, outgrew that.

When a post became popular the site would fall over.

So last year we switched to running on Amazon cloud with the backend admined by Canonical's JuJu service. This was perfect for our needs until recently, but as I'm not au fait with server malarkey, it required having an admin available to us for times when things went south.

Above all else, it's important to make sure that readers can access the site. Many folks have how-tos or guides bookmarked for future reference, so we need to be up.

Thankfully, we're now in the hands of a professional, managed WordPress hosting company, who manages some of the biggest WordPress-powered sites on the web, to take care of all of the scary bits. I can finally just focus on writing.

Is the site actually profitable now? Or is this project more of a passion rather than a business venture for you?

Writing for OMG! Ubuntu! [1] and its sister site OMG! Chrome! [2] is my full-time job. Hmm, saying that aloud sounds as crazy to me as it probably does to you. I get paid to write about Ubuntu. It's fantastic.

How has your vision for the site changed since it launched? And where would you like to take the site?

I think we've stuck pretty close to our original vision for the site. We've always been our own readers. As long as we continue to write what we as users would like to read then I think we're doing it right.

We've just overhauled the design of the site to put more focus on content and images, making it adapt to different screen sizes, etc. Alongside that we launched a new Android app, and Chrome and Firefox extensions for notifying users of new posts, all of which are open source, of course.

The next step is making an app for Ubuntu Phone; finishing off a project called The Bakery , a hub for pairing developers, designers, and users together to work on things; and continuing to build on the phenomenal success we've had on YouTube [3].

On your site, you claim "We're the fastest growing and most popular Linux-orientated website on the Internet."

Why do you think your site has succeeded where some other Linux-focused sites have struggled to turn a profit and attract readers?

Firstly, I'd like to say that I think there are sites out there that do some things better than we do. I don't take our popularity as indication that we're the best.

I am my own worst critic. I think what we did that was "new" at the time we launched – this pond has since become full of fish – is that we've never treated readers as readers; we treat them as us. We don't lecture or talk down to them; we don't show off; we don't use our platform to stroke our own egos. Furthermore, we make sure we stay relevant, considered, and maintain quality.

It would be easy to churn out 10 posts a day by regurgitating change-logs or pasting a few lines from a readme.txt . But for us, it's important that we also give people context. The why they should care about a certain fix, or what a new feature means for them.

You've built quite a community around your site. What's your secret?

Bribery? No, I often get asked this and I honestly don't know! I don't think I could convincingly say it was 'this, this and this'.

Ubuntu has come a long way since you first launched your site. What changes do you like? Which changes impress you less?

Unity, without a doubt, has been the most impressive and forward-thinking change to have arrived during my time as a user, let alone a writer. It's a bold vision, one that has changed the Linux landscape forever. It excites me greatly that there are still parts of it yet to be revealed. I mean, would you have ever thought that there'd ever be an Ubuntu-powered TV?

But I'm not a fan of some decisions taken. The inability to turn the global menu off, or even stop it from hiding, seems churlish; the Amazon product integration was woefully underbaked; and that recurring default wallpaper … Eesh!

What are your thoughts or predictions about Ubuntu TV and the Ubuntu phone?

The Ubuntu TV confuses me somewhat. I understand the why behind it, but I see it as the weaker of all the multi-device links in the chain. If it didn't exist, I'm not sure people would be clamouring for it to.

The Ubuntu Phone on the other hand – oh my days! I was fortunate to be at the press unveiling of it and the atmosphere post-reveal was electric. If it can find its feet sooner rather than later, it has the potential to be a real disrupter in the lower-end mobile space.

What kind of relationship do you and OMG! Ubuntu! have with Canonical and Canonical employees?

A healthy professional one from the point of view as me as OMG! Ubuntu!. Some conspiracy theorists purport that I am a Canonical shill, paid to toe the company line. That's not the case, nor do I get special treatment or access. I get treated the same as any other news outlet.

On a personal level, I do get on well with many Canonical employees, but this is mostly because we share an interest in Doctor Who, or like the same bands, or read the same books, etc.

If you could give Mark Shuttleworth advice on where to take Ubuntu next, what would it be?

I'm not sure I'm in much of a position to advise someone as successful as Mark Shuttleworth. His vision seems to be playing well as it is. Short of suggesting an Ubuntu-powered toaster, he seems to have all bases covered already.

As a user, I'm excited by the concept of a smart scopes; it has massive potential. So hone that further.

Any other thoughts you'd like to add?

Don't be put off by the name of the site. I regret the day it was chosen, but it was chosen in hyperbole.

Also, download our Android app – it's a thing of beauty!


  1. OMG! Ubuntu!:
  2. OMG! Chrome!:
  3. OMG! Ubuntu! on Youtube:

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