WORLD

Business as usual for Ikea hacker

By Chung Joo-won
  • Published : Dec 31, 2014 - 21:04
  • Updated : Dec 31, 2014 - 21:04
When Yap Mei Mei, or Jules as she is better known online, said she was thinking about becoming a full-time blogger, no one really took her seriously.

Little did her family and friends know that Yap’s blog, Ikea Hackers, had drawn up to 458,000 visitors a day at one time.

The site struck gold, so to speak, when it made headlines in March this year for being the Malaysian blog threatened with a lawsuit by Ikea, the same Swedish furniture giant that sparked off the concept for the site in the first place.

You see, Ikea Hackers features a compilation of ideas for modifying and repurposing Ikea products, submitted by Ikea “hackers” worldwide. This means turning magazine files into a coffee table, or repurposing cheese graters into fantastic light fixtures.
Malaysian blogger Jules Yap founded Ikea Hackers on the basis of collecting quirky DIY ideas for her own apartment. (The Star)

Yap, 44, plays the role of curator/blogger and has been doing so since 2006, when she started the blog to collect quirky DIY ideas for her apartment.

She also took on the moniker “Jules” then, after the Jules swivel chair from Ikea.

“Traffic was slow in the beginning, but everything blew up in 2007 when the New York Times wrote a piece on the whole growing trend of Ikea hacking and referenced my blog in it,” the self-professed Ikea fan said.

What started out as ikeahacker.blogspot.com soon evolved into IKEAhackers.net, a domain which Yap purchased to expand her site. In 2012, Yap left her copywriting job of 14 years to fully focus on managing the site.

According to Yap, it came as a “slap in the face” when she received a cease and desist letter from Ikea in March.

“I was very shocked. All along I thought that I was doing something good for the brand. But to be told that I was infringing on their copyright ― I was really taken aback,” she recalled.

In essence, Yap was faulted for using the Swedish company’s registered trademarks ― the Ikea name and logo ― without permission.

“Their agent informed me that I was to hand over the domain to Ikea, or if I chose to keep the domain, I had to remove all advertising on the site.”

Yap had a tough time deciding ― giving up the domain would be like giving up a part of her identity. On the other hand, cutting off all advertising links would mean that she had to explore other options of making a living, since she had been supporting herself through revenue generated from advertising on the blog.

Feeling dejected, Yap turned to her faith, family and friends for strength and moral support.

“Everyone was very supportive. We even had long brainstorming sessions to think of new domain names in the event I had to move,” she said.

In the end, Yap decided to stick with the “Ikeahackers” domain.

“I thought that in time, perhaps I could redirect traffic to a new domain. When I announced that I would possibly have to move to a new site, everyone went crazy.”

Almost overnight, hordes of fans started writing to the big blue and yellow furniture retailer to voice their protest.

The tremendous outpouring of support led to a phone call with Ikea and Yap suddenly found herself being flown to Almhult, Sweden, the site of the first Ikea store opened by founder Ingvar Kamprad in 1958.

“I was really nervous when they told me they wanted to meet up to see how we could work together. I was thinking: Oh gosh, would I have to negotiate with a whole room full of lawyers? I didn’t really know what was at stake. Through the correspondence in the few weeks prior to the trip though, they assured me that it would be a casual meeting with no lawyers in the room and no documents to sign. And true enough, that’s how it was. They were very open, warm and inclusive of what I was doing. I felt very welcomed.”

Yap’s maiden Scandinavian Ikea tour took her from Sweden to the Netherlands, where she went behind-the-scenes to meet Ikea’s team of designers and even had the exclusive privilege of viewing the upcoming 2015 collection.

Never would she have imagined meeting Torbjorn Loof, the CEO of Inter Ikea Systems B.V., the owner of the Ikea Concept and worldwide Ikea franchisor, but he made time to talk over the situation with Yap.

The conclusion? Ikea Hackers gets to stay as it is as an independent fan site, as long as there are no postings on the site that could damage the brand.

“They explained that from a legal standpoint, they had a responsibility to police their trademark to protect against abuse. But in my case, they actually have no objections to taking my site as it is,” said Yap, who admitted that she felt “even more love for the brand now because of the way they had handled everything.”

As the blogger awaits a possible collaboration with the Ikea team, she has since gone back to her curating duties. Yap recently wrote on her blog about Ikea’s interest in creating an Ikea hacking section in a museum that they are planning to build in Almhult.

Yap receives up to 12 hacks weekly from DIY enthusiasts in the United States, Australia and a handful of European countries.

Blog traffic to her site has returned to business as usual, averaging about 30,000 visitors a day.

Though Yap’s job is relatively stress-free, she still gets the occasional backlash when she uploads a hack that isn’t all that conventional.

“Once, I received this hack from a guy who built a ‘bed in the air’ by hanging a bed from the ceiling with metal chains. There was a big hoo-ha ― a lot of my readers were concerned over safety issues so I had to issue a caution to go with the post, to remind people to leave the risky hacks to the experts.

“When I uploaded the hack, I just thought it was an interesting idea worth sharing. But now I have to keep myself in check; Ikea Hackers is less about what I think than it is about what people want to see,” Yap said.

Sporting a bright yellow T-shirt ― a gift from a friend ― that resembles an illustrated catalogue of the Jules chair (complete with an Ikea barcode and 14.99 ringgit price tag), Yap is shy and soft-spoken as she talks about her hopes of having a bit more time in the coming year to try some Ikea hacks herself.

“I have a lot of Ikea products at home but I haven’t had the time to do much hacking myself. I might just do that soon. I’ve been thinking of changing some things around in my bathroom ― maybe use the Algot shelves to interchange with some panels on my bath. We’ll see what comes up,” she said.

By Lee Mei Li

(The Star)