The Wall Street Journal (USA) Interview
Feb-2007: Following a lengthy telephone interview, Aaron Rutkoff of the Wall Street Journal wrote a well-rounded article that really captured the spirit of Ian's Shoelace Site.
- Interviewed for: The Wall Street Journal (USA)
- Interviewed by: Aaron Rutkoff
- Interviewed via: Telephone
- Interviewed on: 16-Jan-2007
(Interview not recorded by me – transcript not available)
“String Theory – How a Broken-Shoelace Incident Led to a Search for Efficient Tying”
By Aaron Rutkoff, The Wall Street Journal, 06-Feb-2007
Somewhere in childhood, tying shoes goes from seemingly impossible to mindlessly mechanical. Ian Fieggen spends a lot of time thinking about those mechanics.
“I'm not a knot expert,” the 43-year-old programmer and graphic designer explained in a telephone interview from his home in Melbourne, Australia. “I'm just someone who likes efficiency.”
After analyzing his daily shoelace routine, prompted by a 1982 broken-lace incident, Mr. Fieggen uncovered what he believes is the fastest method for tying laces. “Ian's Shoelace Site” is the comprehensive online resource born out of that quarter-century-old epiphany.
Mr. Fieggen's site showcases a series of smooth digital demonstrations that teaches what he calls the “Ian Knot.” It's not really a new knot, he admits, since the final result is identical to both the Standard Shoelace Knot and the Two Loop Knot. “You should really call it the 'Ian Method,' ” the creator says. He claims credit for figuring out the technique entirely on his own.
While the endgame for people tying knots is usually the same, there are a lot of ways of getting there – there are about 1.96 trillion ways to lace up shoes, according to Mr. Fieggen's calculations (check out his math here). By exploring these variations, Mr. Fieggen transformed his site into an encyclopedia. His step-by-step instructions cover 17 different shoe-tying methods and 47 approaches to lacing, and he analyzes every loop, twist and bow.
A Better Way to Tie
Most people adhere to the Standard Shoelace Knot, Mr. Fieggen says. But even after a lifetime of repetition, it's tough to mentally separate the process into its individual steps. Mr. Fieggen's analysis counts six of them (the initial act of crossing the laces is counted as one act, though even that simple move can be broken down into four distinct components). The so-called Bunny Ears method that begins with two loops, often taught to novices, also has six steps.
Then there's the Ian Knot. It can be executed in a third of the time it takes to tie a standard knot, Mr. Fieggen says. Here's how it works: Both shoelace ends are shaped into loops and simultaneously pulled through each other – “a truly revolutionary way to tie your shoelaces,” the instructions promise.
Beyond the benefits of speed, Mr. Fieggen hypes the knot's aesthetics and symmetry. “It wears evenly, so you won't have one side break before the other,” he says. “And it doesn't favor one hand or the other.” Mr. Fieggen believes that many left-handed children struggle to imitate their right-handed parents when trying to tie the standard knot.
But is this really the fastest knot-tying in all the land? No one knows, since there's never been an attempt at independent verification. Guinness World Records turned down his request for consideration, Mr. Fieggen recalls, calling his feat a little too specialized. “And I'm thinking, they've got a guy who can pull a tractor with his teeth,” he says.
[Image: Six steps to an 'Ian Knot']
Mr. Fieggen says his shoelace pages see somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 visitors each day. Parents and teachers looking for instructional resources on shoelaces form the core constituency. The site's testimonials page includes a few heart-warming anecdotes from parents who found success using the “Ian Knot” to teach children with learning difficulties.
But feedback from all sorts of users – sneaker fetishists, trivia buffs – has fueled the mostly unplanned expansion of his shoelace content. Mr. Fieggen first added “Ian Knot” instructions to his personal Web site in 2001, according to the Wayback Machine archive, although a primitive animation of his step-by-step method has been circulating on dial-up-modem era bulletin boards since 1993.
Pimp Your Laces
When style-obsessed sneaker hounds stumbled onto his early forays into exotic shoelace methods, Mr. Fieggen received requests for new approaches that could achieve even more distinctive looks. Instructions for highly decorative and clearly inefficient lacing methods, like “Checkerboard” and “Twistie,” serve a niche audience that isn't simply after a tighter fit. Mr. Fieggen has incorporated a massive gallery of user-submitted photos for this audience.
Promoting “the fun, fashion & science of shoelaces,” as his site professes, takes a lot of work. “When I was working full time,” Mr. Fieggen says, “I would get up at six o'clock in the morning so I could spend an extra hour on it before I left.”
But his diligence paid off. He has the Internet market for shoelace wisdom cornered: Google, Yahoo and Microsoft Live searches for “shoelaces” all make Ian's Shoelace Site their top result, beating out both the Wikipedia entry on shoelaces and the online retailer lacesforless.com.
“There are probably two types of Web sites,” Mr. Fieggen muses. “Those that set out to become popular in some category and those that just end up that way by accident. Mine is one of the accidents.”
Mr. Fieggen has done his best to capture even the most esoteric traffic. He once noticed, for instance, that many visitors discovered his site after plugging the term “shoelace tips” into a search engine. Eventually he realized that a good number of these passersby weren't looking for advice, but for the name of the hardened area at the end of a shoelace, officially known as “aglets.”
“Maybe it's a common hint in crossword puzzles,” he speculates. So he added an aglet page.
For years, the cost of hosting the site kept Mr. Fieggen's empire in the red. But the addition of advertising has helped him expand his (shoestring) budget. “I never thought I could make a lot of money off of shoelaces, which themselves don't cost very much money to purchase,” he says.
His fortunes may change: Barnes & Noble's publishing imprint has given Mr. Fieggen a book deal. His tome, “Laces,” will be published in October.
– Aaron Rutkoff