Graham Stewart: Hello Robin, how are you?
Robin Good: Hey, Graham I'm fine. Finally I get to hear from you again!
GS: I've been traveling a bit. It feels good to be back home. How about you?
Robin Good: Oh I'm here still in Rome. I'm sitting at my office desk and I am zipping through hyperspace at an accelerating speed. I can't follow all of the news and I'm only trying to keep my focus on the basics, which is my role as evangelist and supporter of people who want to become independent, people who hate to have a employer, people who want to use this new media technologies to become their own boss and who want to do what they like while living on it.
That's where I'm at and I spend 18 hours a day basically doing this.
GS: Well, that's why I wanted to talk to you Robin, because you're one of those rare people out there who know what they want and go for it and are willing to make the sacrifices to be independent and the main thing that I wanted to talk to you about was integrity and what that means to you. And is that okay for me to discuss that with you?
Robin Good: I think that what it really means to me is that this person can't be bought. I can't give him money to do what I want this person to do. This person stands on her own so solidly that nothing can dent him/her.
GS: So do you, that sounds like quite a difficult thing to do given the current climate that we're constantly under pressure to become like everybody else with the mass production of society. Is this something that you've found yourself?
Robin Good: Uhhh, good question. I think it is difficult to resist many of the temptations that money provides, especially when you are the underdog or you are in difficulties or you need money like oxygen. Then it is very difficult to be completely integer, sometimes, just impossible I guess.
But, step-by-step, one can get out of those situations and by creating some basic financial sustainability one can be more independent, more coherent and also, well, I don't know if I'm right about this, this is a difficult question, and maybe I shouldn't be justifying the difficulty that people have when they have little money... I like to be an integer person even when I have no money, even though I know I have definitely given in to prostitute my talent to different things when I didn't have money, but I wouldn't be willing, anymore, to do that now that I am not in that situation anymore. Am I answering your question in any way?
GS: Yes you are, but the thing is which I'm interested in is your experience Robin. You, as far as I remember, you used to work for a larger media corporation there in Italy. What were the steps you took to go from that to being who you are now?
Robin Good: Well, I used the engagement with large institutions or corporations and the commercial system as a whole, as a master degree and then a PhD. And then a super-PhD.
I was lucky enough to be many places where there was a lot good energy and a lot of young people wanting to learn. And though some of them, most of them, took the job as, you know, a 9-5 thing they had to do, I had such fascinating and creative roles to attend to that I really looked at it as it was a second university to me, and trying to explore and study everything that I could.
So having been so lucky as to work for some major commercial entities in radio, television, film, and also in advertising, I just took gradually all of this as a learning experience until I had something to say, not just to my friends, but to a larger audience, and this is when I decided I wanted to write. And this is the origin of how I got into all this. Does it make any sense?
GS: Yes it does and what I'm interested in is, do you remember the moment when you said, "I want to leave this organization; I want to do this for myself" Was it a feeling; was it a situation? Was it a meeting with somebody or was it just something that came about? Can you remember the moment?
Robin Good: Yeah, this is a moment that has been with me all of my life. It's a moment that says, "I don't want to have a boss that tells me what to do and how to do it."
I want to be my own boss and this has not happened in a specific moment, it has only emphasized itself in the moments where my past bosses have been a great limitation to my growth or to my potential professional career or in certain industries where the role of my boss was to keep things at bay and not allow innovation or the try-out of new things.
In all these instances, that strong feeling of wanting to be my own boss, came out stronger and stronger and so I ended basically spitting on a life-time contract with large media corporations, to go out on my own and to try other experiences.
When I took this gut decisions, back when I was 25 or so, my father and my mother, at the time, didn't want to look at me anymore. They thought that I was just crazy because I had an insured future, a salary, a prestigious title and everything... but to me, that just wasn't enough. So even though I tried other media and other organizations, the same issue would come back over and over again.
It came back because there are so many issues in dealing with business and in having to serve your talent to somebody else that sooner or later, outside of some very unique ideal situations, you feel a contrast between what you like to do, what you're skilled and talented at, and what your somehow forced to do.
And so, I think that's the point where it breaks and you say, "Well, if there is a chance I can do something on my own, why don't I try it?"
GS: Did you find it difficult at first? What were the key problems, or the key challenges that you faced at first?
Robin Good: I didn't find it difficult at first because I didn't bet all my cards on it. I said to myself, "I am going to do this because I would like to make useful all the knowledge that comes through me."
I mean, I am exposed to so many interesting things, tools, techniques, methods. There is so much learning that happens in the work that I was doing, that I just felt that it was useful for me and for the friends and partners I had at the time to start collecting this knowledge. And we were thinking of knowledge objects, knowledge bases and ways to organize this better. We wanted to capture all this good information because it appeared as it was flowing through us before getting irremediably lost.
So, I started doing a newsletter that was a monumental work for me because it took days to produce and it was up to 30, 40, or more pages long, just writing, and writing reviews and ideas and more. And then, the site online was an archive of the newsletter until I realized that the newsletter didn't have to be the guide, the driver anymore. And so the website became what you would call a blog, and it started to go on its own, with the newsletter going in parallel.
So there weren't difficult times, this thing was just an expression of my need to share my knowledge and my learning. It gave me satisfaction to do that work without receiving any compensation and, actually, while incurring some very real costs in terms of time and human resources involved.
But then after the size of this written content that I had published became more significant, I started to become aware that there were opportunities to monetize it.
And so, little by little, by further experimenting and trying out, I gradually discovered that some money could be made out of this independent publishing opportunity until later I fully realized that this could have been a full professional role that could have given me complete sustainability the moment that I gave even more time and resources to it.
So it was a gradual passage and I didn't let go of my traditional corporate or institutional customers until I could make a bare living out of this new approach to self-publishing.
So yes, it was very gradual, and there were never particularly hard times outside of those when I made the transition. At that time I made the lowest amount of money ever, in a very long time, because I said, "Okay, there is enough money now on the independent publishing side. I can survive on it."
I wanted so bad to get rid of my other type of work and the moment I did, it was a little rough for a few months, but the reward as an individual has been outstanding.
GS: Were there any points that you were close to giving up?
Robin Good: Yeah, now that you ask I do think some time around the end of 2003 and beginning of 2004, when I said that either this new income increases or I have to stop and rethink it all. I didn't really have any more backup. The transition had been made, so it was just the hardship of believing into the fact that time would have given me reason.
And it was just a matter of months because the initial income was a few thousand dollars which didn't really allow me to pay all the expenses that I normally run into.
I have an office; I have a few people that collaborate with me. And so, plus, I have some kind of family and home that I have to maintain as well, so all of this was far from giving me full ability to pay for all of this.
So I went under, I went in red in my bank accounts and said to myself to resist a maximum of two, three, four more months. But, right after money started to flow by itself and I came gradually back up and out of the red. Since then I haven't gone down anymore.
GS: So what helped you through that? Was it your friends, was it your collaborators? Can you tell, what helped you get through that period?
Robin Good: Well, friends are always the best thing that we have on this planet, so I do think that friends did really help me in all kinds of ways.
Directly, with financial means and also moral support, ideas, contributing, helping me work out things.
Tremendous help from friends. I'm very happy and energized when I think of them.
Also I think that "insisting" is the other key asset. By that I mean your decision to persevere on the chosen path, to go at it with your best skills, and to question every step you make so that you know you are always trying all the available alternatives and selecting the one that works best.
Gradually building on that experience, you know, if you've been scouting, exploring for a long time all of those communications assets must then express themselves in some way and I had confidence that this was what was happening for me, that the web was giving me a final opportunity to remix my personal know-how and experience in a new personal format. And that includes what I've been learning for maybe 15, 20, 25 years, moving from illustration to photography to design, radio, TV, film.
I have also perceived that while to the superficial eye I may have been looking like someone wandering from career to career with no specific goal, this was really a very long advanced study and research time, an extended university which provided me with the amount of knowledge that you need today to navigate information media and communication technologies, which are themselves at the basis of any work you may want to go out and do.
GS: So, to move on to you, Robin, why do you call yourself Robin Good and why did you decide this?
Robin Good: Well, I'm an Italian and I have a very difficult and long name for people to remember. That is one basic reason. My name is Luigi Canali De Rossi, and whenever I travel and go somewhere they call me Mr. Rossi, Mr. de Rossi. They never get it right, they're all mixed up because they don't know exactly which one of those four words is my first name and which is the last name. So, when I was traveling in the past, I used to put dashes among the words in the last name, so they get them all together and they would distinguish them from the name.
But the real key idea was that after having started this publishing cycle I am now in, I really felt that I wanted to dive in to become an independent online publisher, and at the time I realized that I had to create some kind of "brand" for me. Some kind of profile or public identity that made sense not only in terms of name but also in terms of what I am about.
I mean, if you are Jim Smith it doesn't tell anyone anything about whether you are an expert virus analyst or you are an online marketing advisor. I mean, how can you tell? But I said maybe I can create a name for my site and myself that makes it easy for people to identify me without having that long and difficult name. And also, I thought, the name can represent something more than just, you know, two words that characterize me as a name, and it can be a name that says something to people.
So, I let my neuro-bot inside my brain run for some time openly. I just let it run and run and run. And then one day it just came... Robin Good from Sharewood, spelled with an "A," the forest where people share... yes, because I'm trying to connect, you know, all these different key traits that I naturally had: the desire to share, the desire to be good, to help other people, to help the underdog - to show to the individuals that they are the key to social change.
I wanted to communicate that only by understanding these new technologies these can be leveraged by individuals for their own goals, and that they needed not to have thousands of dollars to tap into such major opportunity now available to them.
So the goal, really, was to find a personal brand that said with itself, "I am about helping people become their own boss. Giving to the information poor what the information rich doesn't even see."
And, all of that relates to making these new media technologies available and accessible to more and more individuals, allowing them to experiment, try out and to use them in ways that can make them socially valuable participants, contributors, sharers in this economy of information that is transforming the world.
GS: A key point about technology. I know a lot of people, Robin, as I'm sure you do yourself, and a lot of them don't like technology. They don't want to go near it; they don't want to engage with it. They would rather be outside talking to people, meeting people, face-to-face and look them in the eye. Is it necessary to be independent and to make a living in ways that include technology?
Robin Good: No, I don't think that is a must. I think that we have a need for all kinds of people, also for those that don't like computers or the internet. There may be a useful and positive role for them as well.
We need a lot of people that can engage other people and communicate face-to-face, and help them in many of the difficult situations that are around the world today. Undoubtedly, many of the technologies on the computer, or off of the computer, help us to become more independent.
From solar panels to instant messengers, these are all means to bypass the traditional system and means to operate as a society as we know it today.
So, if you are looking to a future in which things happen in a different way, it is very important to understand that these technologies can really make a difference in allowing this change.
GS: And how would that come about? What is your vision, then, for using the technologies and using these different means, these different media? What is your vision for, say, the short-term future?
Robin Good: The very basic starts from the ability to have a message or knowledge that could be useful to others, and to share it with others by leveraging the internet. This allows at worst a much greater ability to find like-minded people with whom to cooperate and exchange, and at best your own ability to directly contribute with writing, pictures, films, videos, musical compositions to the global conversation taking place right now. This process can allow us to effectively start changing things and to create the types of realities that they want to have.
But without an exchange, without the ability to learn from each other, without the reach that the internet and these new media technologies provide us, you can't really make those major changes.
If it wasn't for the internet, my blog, and voice over IP tools, I wouldn't have had the opportunity, in such a short time span, to meet and talk to people that, you know, I consider totally outside of my region, until two years ago.
Instead, not only I've been able to meet them, but I've become friends with some of them. I've been invited to their homes, I've been treated like a brother, I've been able to share my thoughts and questions with them and receive feedback and further ideas from them. Some of these people have tremendous other networks, and possibility and contacts. So, these expansions of my abilities through the people that I've met, thanks to the cyber-connections that I've created through my writing, enables and empowers me to do and to think and to create realities, services, products that I could have not imagined or realized before a year and a half ago. I just couldn't have done it.
GS: This is one of the key things, Robin. You talk about the internet bringing people together, that you can find other people who have similar interests. How do we learn to trust each other over the internet when we've never met? I mean, I've never met you, so how do I know if I can trust Robin Good?
Robin Good: I don't know in fact whether you can trust Robin Good or not. That will have to be a question that you would keep asking yourself and maybe it is not a question, like for a Catholic marriage, where, you know, you say "yes," and that has to be for the rest of your life. Maybe trust is a value that moves up and down or it depends on what you define that trust to be.
If it is something that is outgoing from you and that you decide to place on other people, well it's certainly an open choice. So if I want to trust you because I like your ideas and your goals and what you're trying to do, I think that I will put all my energies, resources and time to help you.
Will my trust stop some day? Well, I think it is again dependent on the situation and what you do with my investment in you and my energy so I like to think that it is not something like a rock, but it generates out of a dynamic exchange between two or more people, and it has to be fueled, like a fire. It doesn't stay on by itself.
GS: Yes, I agree with you, Robin. I think it's one of the key things that should be talked about and that's to talk about trust, and to talk about; How we are to each other. Are we honest with each other and keep talking about it, and that, just talking about it, just leads to greater trust? Another question I have for you is: what would you like to see more of and what would you like to see less of in terms of the way things are going?
Robin Good: I would like to see a little less drive towards make make make make make more more more more more money money money money money money, which sometimes just deviates, obfuscates, fogs your vision.
Our interest for money or some of our brothers' or sisters' interest for money has created a monstrous mechanism of laws for industries that are not only outside of our control, but working against us.
So I would like to see more and more people waking up and not blindly listening and buying what the mainstream media in their daily newspapers, television news, and radio tells them, because that is not what they need to look into to understand how things can be changed and improved.
They need to question much deeper behind the news, and see the broader spectrum of information sources available out there and on which they should make their decisions.
They should not be falling into the trap of categorizing themselves left or right, democrats or republicans, the traditional subdivisions of political systems, and the trap of liberal versus conservative. That is just another game thrown into your eyes not to see what are the real issues you really have to deal with.
That is why I would like to see more people raising their head up, and questioning things, trashing their TVs and studying, researching, asking themselves questions. Ideally, we could lift ourselves way beyond our misery if everyone would dedicate some of their free time to learn and discover more about how things really are under the surface. Instigating to investigate should be the motto of a society that wants to become self-reliant instead of being guided by those who have access to more informatiom, media centers and money presses.
GS: Who are the people that inspire you?
Robin Good: Well, there are so many of them and they range from the Bangladeshi guy coming down the stairs on my office and going out to sell flowers at the restaurant around the corner, to people like Robert Scoble, Howard Rheingold, Chris Pirillo, Marc Orchant, Lawrence Lessig... I mean, I could go on for an hour.
There are so many people out there that inspire me with the things that they write, the things they try out, they invent, they devise and strategize.
I mean, I am just doing a disservice by not listing all of them and just the first few that came to mind, but I get inspired by all of these people so many times.
I wouldn't be able to say who inspires me with a specific name, but I guess that is rather me opening up to being inspired by whatever I don't know and I can learn from. And since I am open not just to technology, but also to more romantic aspects of life, there's a great deal of people, especially in a lively city like this, that really inspire me. And then when I'm in front of my screen, you know well how much inspiration can be there.
GS: So if anyone listening to this, how could they help you?
Robin Good: Oh, how could somebody help me? Well, I've been always looking for people wanting to do the same thing so that we could join somehow forces, and I've found a few along the way. So, I think that people can help me in the sense that they can try and help what I'm trying to do for myself by joining or contributing somehow to what I'm doing. So, writers, bloggers, reporters, investigators of any kind that have good writing skills and that chew technology like it was a chewing gum are very welcome people in my tiny group, no matter where they live.
People who want to translate in other languages the work I do also are very welcome.
And with all these people I don't just squeeze them, but I share with them much of what we can make in profits and revenues from ads and sponsorship and the like. So, I am generally looking for people who want to "party down" with the "good" things that we have found out together.
People can help me grow while making themselves participants and benefactors of this independent publishing opportunity. They can then go on on their own and I don't mind. I actually think it is quite inevitable and good for that to happen.
But certainly, if you want to find an easier road to become an independent writer or author online, you need to start to become a specialist or an expert on some niche topic all on your own. And that is not easy, nor fast. You may have an easier life joining my mini-network of sites and contributing to them, establishing yourself, getting credentials and then opening your own site while you keep posting on my end, driving traffic to your end as well.
I think anyone realizes that by going with somebody who has been there before you and is generous and open is always a good choice. You are taking off a lot of the risk and a lot of the start-up time has been absorbed already by someone else. So, that is all I can request or expect from people who would like to help me to do.
GS: Okay Robin, this is my final question for you, or really it's an opportunity for you. If you imagine that you have a room full of people that are not living the way that you would like, that are unconscious, who are not aware of what's going on, who are being manipulated by all sorts of media, et cetera. You've got one minute to talk to them, what would you say to them?
Robin Good: I would sing and dance a great song for them so that they, you know, have so much fun, they laugh their butts off, so that they would want to get to know me, and find out more about me. And then from there we may get to become good friends and you never know what may come up from there. Maybe I have some opportunity to share with them some other things that I know. Maybe they become curious because they recognize we are so different from each other.
That's what I'd do.
Robin Good -