One thing I’m realizing is that my experience being the editor, CEO and tyrant of Silicon Alley Reporter (SAR) is absolutely not transferable to running WLI with my partner (and CEO) Brian Alvey.
At SAR I made most of the decisions by my gut. I approved all the story assignments, hired all the editors and was a completely obsessive maniac about the cover of the magazine.
The reason I was a maniac about the cover was when I started the magazine Jann Wenner looked the first couple of issues over and told me how terrible the cover was and told me how to make it great. His basic advice was to spend our entire photo budget (at the time $1,000) on the cover. I spent $2,000 and a couple of years later when having dinner with Graydon Carter he told me that we had the most amazing covers of all the dotcom magazines. To this day people stop me on the street and ask me about the Kozmo cover and the Sgt. Pepper cover. When I visit people who were on the cover they inevitably have it framed on their wall in their office.
Covers sell magazines, plain and simple (i.e. people judge a book by it’s cover), but blogs don’t have covers. Although the design of a blog is very important it pales in comparison to what I’ve learned are the selling point of a blog: speed, scoops, stance and sustainability/stability.
I took my theory and I ranked, on a scale of one to ten, some of my favorite blogs. Here is what I came up with:
The Boingboing effect: BoingBoing.net is probably the best blog on the Internet using my system. Why? The key factor is that the site is updated by a group of bloggers, not just one. These bloggers are also super plugged in, so you have this great network of tips coming in. On top of this all the bloggers have a stance (I know Xeni, Pesco and Cory and I can tell you they have attitude to spare). With so many people working on the blog it is never lacking updates. The result? A perfect blog.
Now, if you look on my list the two lowest scores, and the only ones below 30, are Iwantmedia.com and The Kicker. Now, let me start by saying I love both of these sites, but they just don’t keep me coming back on a regular basis (I check IWM twice a week and Kicker maybe once). Why? Simple, Spiers doesn’t update The Kicker 1/10th as much as she did Gawker, and she seems to have lost her edge in the posts she does put up. I chalk this up to being out of her “blog rhythm.” If you don’t post a couple of times a day you simply lose your edge, just a like a basketball player or marathon runner. IWM falls short also because it has days, and weeks,when it is not updated. It also suffers because it has no personality. I think the lack of stance is purposeful, but the result is a good blog not great.
[Update 2/17/03 12pm EST]: Patrick at IWM emailed me to let me know that although he has taken a full week off for vacation (how dare you Patrick!), and he takes two weeks vacation a year (gasp!), the site is updated ever other day of the year (I assume he means business days). Patrick: Totally cool, you’re entitled to take off as much time as you want! I’m not saying anyone should give up their lives for their blog, but that what makes a great blog is consistency. If you look at what I said above, that you have days and weeks, when the site is not updatedis a true fact confirmed by your emails today. Now, to be extra clear let me say that the weeks are not consecutive. The Kicker isn’t updated even less then IWM and as a result Spiers has gone from the IT GIRL to the “What is she up to?” girl.]
Now, if you look at Gawker v. Gothamist, which is the real fight (not Gawker v. The Kicker), you see that Gawker is updated a little more and gets a lot more scoops. That makes all the difference in the world. Gothamist is actually as good a read, and is actually a nicer design. However, scoops anda baddesign is better than a Zeldman-level design and no scoops (no dig to Jeffrey there, just making a point). If Gothamist had a scoop or two a week it might even displace Gawker.
Now, being on the top of this list is not the point anyway. A person working on a soloblog like Jeff Jarvis’ BuzzMachine is never going to break out like a BoingBoing how could it with only one point of view? but the fact that Jarvis keeps it updated, filled with attitude and gets the occasional scoop keeps his ranking super high. Not everyone can blog like Jeff or Dan Gillmore.
Guys like Jeff and Dan have decades of contacts and can process data so fast that they will have five quality blog entries out when a younger blogger with less perspective would still be researching their first entry. Wisdom and experience mean you can blog more frequently and with more speed, stance and scoops then a younger blogger. The irony, of course, is that the older you are the less tech-inclined you might be. The upshot is that people like Peter Rojas, Jen Chung, Elizabeth Spiers and Choire Sicha will have sick talent when they hit 40 bloggers get better with age.
Another irony of this is that a fast talker doesn’t necessarily mean a fast blogger. Spiers and Gilmore talk slowly while someone like Jarvis and Rojas are the kind of people who speak so fast when they are on a topic they know that you’re brain feels depleted after a 15 minute discussion (Jarvis’ base of knowledge across politics, technology and media is stunninghe’s able to link blogging, Iraq and Jason Blair in one coherent and relevant sentence).
As we continue the grand WLI experiment I’ll be working with the WLI team to address these issues. As you look at our blogs you’ll see that we’re doing many group blogs (i.e. http://apple.weblogsinc.com and http://wireless.weblogsinc.com), we’re getting great scoops (http://socialsoftware.weblogsinc.com) and we’re certainly working on sustainability across our blogs and having a stance.
As always your thoughts are welcome in the comments section below.