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Originally published June 16, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 16, 2005 at 12:59 PM

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In geek world, he's a celebrity

Mention Chris Pirillo on your blog or Web site and, soon enough, he'll show up with a comment. This happens so often that bloggers call...

Seattle Times technology reporter

Mention Chris Pirillo on your blog or Web site and, soon enough, he'll show up with a comment.

This happens so often that bloggers call it "The Pirillo Effect." Pirillo, it seems, is always online, checking for his name and ready to jump into the conversation.

And Pirillo's name gets mentioned a lot. If you do a search for Chris on the Google, Yahoo or MSN search engines, his Web site is the first result.

Pirillo, 31, is a minor celebrity among online Web loggers and technology enthusiasts, and has been making waves in the Puget Sound area since moving to Seattle in December from Woodland Hills, Calif. One of his first tasks here was to organize a three-day conference on technology, which will open to 300 attendees June 23 at the Bell Harbor International Convention Center.

Pirillo has organized the conference, called Gnomedex, every year since 2001. This year's event is expected to focus on some of the newest technologies for online communication — including blogging, news feeds and publishing sound files called podcasts.

Gnomedex "is very nerdy," said John C. Dvorak, a columnist for PC Magazine. "The speakers are up there and only about 10 percent of the people will be watching. The rest will be blogging it. It looks like one of the reporters' nooks at a baseball game."

Unlike past conferences, which have been held in Des Moines, Iowa, and Lake Tahoe, Nev., this year's show is going to be profitable, Pirillo said. You don't have to beg people to come to Seattle. The show's influence can be measured by its sponsors alone, which include Microsoft, Yahoo! and Google.

Get your geek on


Gnomedex, in its fifth year, has moved to Seattle. Bring your laptop if you go and join those chronicling the event in blogs.

When: June 23-25

Where: The Bell Harbor International Conference Center, Seattle

How much: A three-day pass costs $400.

Speaker lineup: Keynoters are Adam Curry, a former MTV vee-jay who is pioneering the podcasting trend; blogging guru Dave Winer; and Dean Hachamovitch, general manager of Microsoft's Internet Explorer team.

Presentations: The conference is expected to drill down on such subjects as online content distribution, open-source software, digital legalities and blogging.

Source: Gnomedex.com

Gnomedex is just one of several ventures that Pirillo juggles. His main source of income — at least $10,000 a month — comes from advertising on his tech-heavy Lockergnome Web site, at www.lockergnome.com. He launched the site in 1996 to give tech help in a fun, easy-to-digest format. These days, it gets about 1 million unique visitors a month.

He runs a live call-in show every Thursday night over online radio, at www.thechrispirilloshow.com, and is hoping to take it to terrestrial radio stations. He previously hosted a tech-support show, "Call for Help," on TechTV and wants to get back into television in the future.

Talks fast, talks a lot

It's hard enough to keep track of Pirillo's business ideas. Having a conversation with him is like trying to catch leaves in a windstorm. Pirillo talks fast and talks a lot, hopping from subject to subject and admitting that his mind fires on "like, 17 different cylinders." Even friends, like Dvorak, say Pirillo would be more successful if he were more focused.

Pirillo describes himself as a geek, and, OK, there's some geekiness, what with the framed eyeglasses, the grin that borders on goofy and the pin on his shirt that says "RSS" in large white letters. RSS, if you didn't know, is a format used to distribute online content.

But Pirillo isn't short on personality either, and, as he's fond of saying, personality sells. Especially when it comes to something as intimidating as technology.

"I just get into it," he said. "It can be very infectious when it's in an environment in which it's enabled to be infectious."

And Pirillo has done well at finding environments that suit his personality. On his radio show, called "The Chris Pirillo Show," he has described a new wireless mouse as working "slicker than snot" and Sony's PSP portable game player as "just an amazing, amazing system" that "melted in your mouth." He likes to use the word "kludge to describe clumsy technology.

"If you're a geek, you like him," said Robert Scoble, a Microsoft employee known for his online blog and a longtime friend of Pirillo's. "If you're not a geek, you're like, 'What?' "

Beginnings of Web site

Pirillo grew up in Iowa, and embarked on a career in technology after pursuing a master's degree in industrial organizational psychology at the University of Northern Iowa. He never finished his studies, and instead began cultivating the Lockergnome Web site in 1996.

He went on TechTV as a guest to promote a book he had written about e-mail publishing, and soon began talking with producers about leaving Iowa to do more for the network, which has now merged with the G4 gaming network. From 2001 to 2003,he was host of the San Francisco-based "Call for Help," a now-canceled show about technology.

The gig added more momentum to Lockergnome, and Chris Pirillo the technology evangelist started becoming Chris Pirillo the brand. He has even adapted a broad, in-your-face grin as part of his trademark persona.

"I'm a shameless self-promoter," he said. "If I don't toot my own horn, you can't expect anybody to do it."

He's been criticized online for being egotistical and arrogant, for transparently grooming himself and his Web site for bigger things. That's a career move, Pirillo said.

"My career is being me," he added.

In search of fellow geeks

After going through a divorce and meeting a new love, Pirillo left California for Seattle. He came hoping to surround himself with fellow geeks — which he has — and to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond — which he's working on.

He set his course for Seattle after Microsoft's MSN division invited Pirillo here last year to talk about the work it was doing on its new search engine.

"I walked out of the airport and, I can't explain it, I felt a strange connection to the city," he said. "I felt like this could be a good place to, quote unquote, start my life."

He works out of his rented house in Leschi, and between the conference planning, the blogging and the radio-show hosting, he scours the Web, contributing to the Pirillo Effect and pushing his brand further online.

"If you don't know what people say about you, I would be worried," he said. "You have to know. You have to stay ahead of the game."

Kim Peterson: 206-464-2360 or kpeterson@seattletimes.com

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