Like so many other 20-somethings hoping to mine the Internet gold rush of the late 1990s, Mena Trott was thrown for a humbling loop by the dot-com bust, yet still craved stardom. Her unassuming husband, Ben, just wanted another computer programming gig in Silicon Valley's depressed job market. The couple's odd chemistry cooked up Six Apart Ltd., a startup that has helped popularize the "blogging" craze, with millions of people worldwide maintaining online personal journals that dissect everything from politics to poultry.
The Trotts, both 27, have amplified the buzz about Web logs, or blogs, by making them easier to set up and write.
San Francisco-based Six Apart provides two widely used blogging tools -- a software publishing program, Movable Type, and a hosted service, TypePad, for people who don't want to do the technological grunt work themselves.
Boosted by the recent takeover of another blogging service called LiveJournal, Six Apart now has 7 million users, including a substantial number who pay fees that range from $4.95 per month for TypePad's bare-bones package to thousands of dollars for licensing Movable Type to install on their own servers.
The revenue stream, which the Trotts declined to disclose, has enabled the privately held Six Apart to expand from just six employees in early 2004 to more than 70 with the LiveJournal acquisition, making the Trotts darlings of the blogosphere.
None of it would have happened if Mena hadn't grown bored during the post-boom doldrums of early 2001 and decided to write her own blog.
"I really needed a creative outlet," Mena said. "I figured I wasn't going to be famous in the real world, so I may as well try to be famous in the online world."
Mena gradually won fans with a quirky journal called Dollarshort. The blog shared the foibles of her youth and mused on eclectic topics like her disgust with people who clip their fingernails on public transit and her obsession with the 1972 disaster movie, "The Poseidon Adventure."
It was the kind of thing her taciturn husband would never do.
"Ben is shy and gets uncomfortable when people talk about him," said Andrew Anker, Six Apart's executive vice president of corporate development. "Mena gets upset when everyone is not talking about her every day."
As Mena blogged, Ben became frustrated in his search for a decent computer programming job. While unemployed, Ben began to work on the computer code that became Movable Type.
When 100 people downloaded Movable Type during the first hour of its release in September 2001, the Trotts decided to run their own business from their bedroom, drawing the inspiration for the company name from their nearly identical age -- Ben and Mena were born six days apart in 1977.
"We were just looking for something to subsist on," Ben said. "We figured if we ever got 3,000 users, we would just close the (TypePad) service and make it invitation only."
But the Trotts -- who at one point only wanted to make enough money to pay their monthly bills -- benefited from being at the right place at the right time.
Venture capitalist Joi Ito stumbled upon TypePad and began exploring an investment in Six Apart, but had trouble convincing the Trotts that they should think big.
"They weren't getting out much back then, so they didn't realize how popular this thing was becoming," Ito said.
As part of his lobbying efforts, Ito arranged a meeting with a veteran executive, Barak Berkowitz, who listened to the Trotts' initial, modest business plan and told them that it sounded fine if they wanted to run the equivalent of a small corner store. The condescension infuriated Mena at first, but ultimately made her realize the company needed outside help to realize her dreams.
"We realized pretty quickly that we wanted to influence the future of blogging," Mena said. "We would have felt terrible if blogging became something big and we ended up only being a footnote."
The Trotts ended up selling a stake in the company to Ito and other venture capitalists for $11.5 million and Mena turned over the CEO title to Berkowitz, who keeps her happy by calling her "Queen."
Six Apart's early success is attracting some serious competition.
Software giant Microsoft Corp. is seeking to undercut TypePad with a free blogging service called MSN Spaces. Six Apart also faces another formidable rival in online search engine leader Google Inc., one of the companies where Ben unsuccessfully applied for a job in 2001. Google in 2003 bought another blogging pioneer, Blogger.
The potential of blogging itself elicits strongly divided opinions.
Denizens of the so-called blogosphere believe the practice is destined to revolutionize the way people distribute and get information, increasingly marginalizing traditional mass media outlets.
One blog created by three lawyers, Power Line, is widely credited with challenging last fall's "60 Minutes" report on President Bush's National Guard service, for which CBS News anchor Dan Rather later apologized. Other blogs posted first-person narratives and shared information on finding family members missing in the Asian tsunami disaster.
The Pew Internet and American Life Project finds that 27 percent of online adults in the United States read blogs, and 7 percent write them.
Critics, though, view all the fuss about blogs as the latest bout of Internet hyperbole, one that will eventually fade away ones readers realize they are rife with inaccuracies and mundane minutiae.
Mena dismisses the skepticism as misguided, insisting a blog doesn't have to be profound to be worthwhile. She believes most blogs are simply a convenient way to keep in touch with a small circle of family and friends, even if the content seems inconsequential.
As if to prove her point, Mena is taking a picture of herself every day this year and posting it to a blog frequented by a handful of people.
"It's not really hubris," Mena said of her daily portraits. "I'm just trying to create a record that shows my aging process."