Despite my varied interests, education, and professions throughout my teenage and adult life, which have included everything from music to computer technology, education to personal finance, there has been one constant: building communities.
As a teenager I ran a computer bulletin board system (BBS) out of my home computer. This is an outdated concept now, but back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, online communication involved using one computer to dial directly into another, the host. The host would run software that allows callers to communicate by leaving messages for other callers, through email or message boards. The software would also allow file sharing, like software and very low-resolution graphics, and game playing. One of my favorite games on my BBS was TradeWars 2002.
Like any computer geek — a term that at the time was not the compliment it is today — I would spend hours rewriting the BBS software to customize the experience for callers. My goal was to make my destination one worth calling, even long distance, for not just other computer geeks but anyone with a computer. Since an increasing number of computers were being sold with modems built in, the potential audience was growing.
I went away to college and shuttered the BBS, but less than a year later, the World Wide Web started becoming popular. My college campus was wired. Every dorm room had an Ethernet connection, and every student had access to the Internet. With the web, I could run a server on my computer and build a website that could begin to replicate the BBS experience. This was 1994, so web applications were simple at first, but within a few years, my online community was up and running again, this time, via the Internet.
No community I created was ever as big as Consumerism Commentary and the financial blogging community, though. When I started this website in 2003, I figured it would be a mostly quiet online publication, with small readership. Personal finance was not that big of a topic except among financial professionals. There was no such thing as a “personal finance blog” in 2003. But the topic proved to resonate with people, especially throughout the recession, and now there are thousands of writers who focus on the personal aspect of money. The topic and community are now so big that for the last three years, some of the bloggers, writers, and others involved with the operation of websites have been getting together once a year for a conference: the Financial Blogger Conference.
This is also the fourth year of the Plutus Awards. In other, non-online communities, I’ve been drawn to awards ceremonies. For example, when I was in college, our new marching band director was changing the organization. I was among a group of young leaders in this organization, from both musical and personal perspectives. When the director introduced a banquet to celebrate the end of the season, I created an award ceremony, with fun categories and certificates to recognize not only the hardest workers in the organization but some of the fun social things that occur when you get three hundred college students together.
That led to the creation of the Plutus Awards in this new community of personal finance writers. This is more important than silly awards in a marching band, though. Personal finance bloggers are dong a great thing for this world, and it deserves to be recognized at least once a year. Encouraging writing about money issues from a personal perspective gives a purpose to the broader community, and is a much better alternative than what existed prior to 2003 — almost all financial writing at that time came from professional financial experts or journalists. There was little room for the “common man” to share his experiences with a wide audience.
The Internet changed access to publication, and now, millions of readers with financial concerns go to blogs first, before buying books, reading magazines, or visiting professionals, if they do the latter at all. This is a great power, and with great power comes great responsibility. The Plutus Awards encourage and reward best practices, not only from writers but from the financial industry at large.
Please show your appreciation for the financial blogging community by voting here for your favorite blogs. If you visit that link, I’ve filled two categories with nominations for Consumerism Commentary, but you can vote for any blogs you like across a number of categories. If you are a blogger yourself, you also have the opportunity to vote for your favorite financial products and services.
The winners will be announced at a ceremony at the Financial Blogger Conference in October hosted again by Kevin McKee, the founder of RewardBoost and Thousandaire and one of the most entertaining people within the community of financial bloggers.
The conference is about more than fun, though. Hundreds of bloggers and others interested in the world of financial blogging come to learn how to best operate their websites, to meet other people with similar interests, and to be excellent at everything they do. At the conference, I will be hosting a “roundtable” session focusing on monetization techniques for bloggers. Although it wasn’t my intention at the beginning, Consumerism Commentary turned into a business over time. In fact, it became a big business with annualized profits in seven figures. This is obviously not normal; thousands of personal financial blogs won’t be businesses that earn that much, and most won’t even earn enough to provide a livable wage on its own.
This wasn’t a quick transformation — I’ve been building communities since at least 1990, and this financial community is the first to profit anything. For the conference, I’m bringing together three of the most successful bloggers, from both a financial perspective and community-building perspective, to talk about alternative monetization techniques, and we all have the experience to back it up. If you’re attending the conference and have any interest in blogging, be sure to join me, J.D. Roth from Get Rich Slowly, Toni Anderson from The Happy Housewife, and Andrea Deckard from Savings Lifestyle as we discuss a variety of methods of earning money as bloggers.
All of the above comes back to my love for building, fostering, and maintaining communities of people. This is my passion, and this is why I continue to write here today.
Updated June 24, 2016 and originally published September 3, 2013.