Hawaii’s social media maven Ryan Ozawa continues to push the boundaries of imagination

Jamie Winpenny

HONOLULU—Ryan Ozawa may well be the most influential social media maven in Hawaii, although one is hard-pressed to get him to admit it. He has spawned myriad internet-based enterprises—communities that have been embraced by people all over the world. With his wife, Jennifer, of 13 years, Ryan has created a virtual empire. His latest output is “Kukui High,” the fictional yearbook for alumni of the school attended by Hawaii 5-0 characters.

As humble as he is prolific, Ryan is utterly guileless and lacking in the low, animal cunning that makes great businessmen, politicians, and criminals. He and his wife do what they do for fun. He calls himself a “geek” without a trace of irony. It is remarkable that with all he does “for fun,” he holds down a day job with a real estate information service. He co-hosts the Hawaii Public Radio technology show Bytemarks. Also, the Ozawa’s have three kids: aged 6, 8, and 12.

“I get up early and I stay up late,” he says over some fried chicken at an Iwilei lunch joint.

The Ozawa’s Lost-based podcast “The Transmission” at HawaiiUp.com began in 2005 and quickly became a hit with fans of the show. He did a weekly segment on KITV4’s News This Morning. The New York Times published a profile of the couple. The show became the No. 7 podcast on iTunes at its peak. They became celebrity nerds. But that wasn’t why the Ozawa’s created “The Transmission.”

“It’s always been about creating and engaging a community,” Ryan says. He has done it many times over, always managing to provoke (mostly) thoughtful dialog among diverse group of people with common interests. Ozawa is behind the message board HawaiiThreads.com, which boasts a worldwide membership of over 11,000 Hawaii residents, expats, visitors, and people whose only connection to the islands is a fascination with them. Some conversations have been going on for years about topics ranging from the mundane to the metaphysical.

Other communities he’s fostered include the HawaiiStories.com writers’ forum (Ozawa himself has a journalism degree from the University of Hawaii) and HawaiiWeblog.com.

Despite the prodigious amount of energy he spends blogging, podcasting, tweeting, or otherwise broadcasting, family and fun remain the most important parts of Ryan’s life. It helps that a lot of the things he does involve his family.

“If it wasn’t for our Lost podcast, my wife would probably have been another ‘geek widow,’” he admits. “I’ve managed to integrate my work, hobbies, and my family.”

He pauses. “I guess it validates chaos theory.”

Ozawa has long been a keenly attuned monitor of Hawaii media. He began posting daily news of Hawaii to HawaiiNews.com, his creation in 1994 before Honolulu’s two dailies of the time got online. He speaks passionately about the velocity and democratization of news and of “data liberation,” which seeks to aggregate public information and make it easier to access. That passion led to the creation of HawaiiBase.com, a clearinghouse of public documents from a variety of State departments and judicial and legislative bodies.

With such an abundance of ideas, ingenuity, and energy, Ryan appears to be the ultimate entrepreneur. In fact, he considers himself a “non-trepreneur.” In the past, he resisted advertising dollars. “I didn’t want to come across like that,” he says, hinting at an Amway stigma. “It’s like going to your friend’s house and he tries to sell you soap.”

“I feel like there’s an inner desire to be a journalist or an entrepreneur,” he confides. “But I’m addicted to a good job with benefits.”

Ultimately, however, the Ozawa’s did take a sponsorship that allowed them to travel to ComicCon in San Diego, the Mecca for comic book and (and everything geeky) enthusiasts. The trip would serve as the honeymoon they never had.

Here at home, the Kukui High phenomenon has taken off online. With the help of designer Valentino Valdez, the concept was conceived and developed, the design and website was launched 12 hours after the broadcast premiere. The virtual yearbook began to fill quickly and Kukui High now counts over 3,500 “likes” on Facebook.

T-shirts and bumper stickers have been selling quickly, with plans in place for all manner of merchandisable items: coffee mugs, key chains, etc. The possibilities are many. An all-class reunion is planned for November 13 at Oceans808. Proceeds from sales will benefit the Koolauloa Educational Alliance, which serves Kahuku Complex schools.

Characteristically, Ozawa is unimpressed with the speed with which Kukui High got up and running. “I thought it was slow, actually.”
He compares it to the night Neil Abercrombie made his victory speech on primary night, when the mock clothing line “Abercrombie & Schatz” was created as the celebration went on. “Practically before he finished speaking, you could buy a shirt.”

Security in his day job provides Ryan Ozawa the freedom to be fearless in his pursuit of new pop culture opportunities. He approaches his various creations in a spirit of fun, with a sense of humor, and a true spirit of aloha.

“We really don’t know what we’re doing,” Ryan laughs. “It’s like we’re building a car as we drive it down the road.”