What A Mixx Up: Interview With Mixx Founder Chris McGill
With me today is Chris McGill, founder of the latest and greatest social news site, mixx.com. Mixx, only a 7 week old community that’s still in beta, has really taken off as of late, and has been featured in TechCrunch and other prominent blogs.
1 – You’ve got an impressive looking background. Can you tell us a little about your experience with Yahoo and USA Today, and perhaps how these experiences prepared you for the foray into making a social news site?
My experiences at Yahoo and at USA Today were pretty different. Yahoo, back in the day under Mallet and TK and the crew, was pretty much the Wild West. We were told to do what we thought was right. And there were literally dogs and an assortment of other critters running in the hallways. I’m proud of what we did with Yahoo News. We took a different approach—rather than producing news we simply empowered the user to customize what they wanted to look at, ignore what they didn’t, take action, share, see what was the most popular and go to the source if we didn’t have the content on Yahoo itself. Mixx is just a natural extension of that.
Working in a traditional press corporation like USA Today is very different. There is a certain way of doing things and while there are many people vigorously trying to adapt, long-standing culture and infrastructure (like big expensive iron presses) make it difficult to change rapidly. My time at USA Today gave me a huge appreciation for what the traditional press does for all of us. I’ve met reporters who literally walk into battle zones and risk their lives (usually getting paid very little to do so) to bring back information vital for all of us to make political, financial and moral decisions.
Taken together, my experiences with Yahoo News and USA Today gave me some understanding of what people want out of information and how they use it.
At Mixx, our mission is to bring together users and publishers (whether that’s a Mommy Blogger or big media) who are interested in the same topics. If we succeed, then everyone wins.
2 – What made you decide to start a social news site in the first place? Mixx doesn’t really seem like a niche site, so it appears to be direct competition with the major players (Digg, Reddit, Propeller, StumbleUpon, Newsvine, Del.icio.us)? I suppose though that Mixx’s personalization aspect makes it a different experience – is this the plan?
First, I like all those other sites and they certainly served as inspiration. But I wanted to take what these other sites do well and then be able to focus it on the things that I’m interested in. For example, sure, I want to know what people in general are interested in (text, photos, videos), but I also want to know what people in Bethesda, MD, are telling me I should look at, what Red Sox fans are raving or complaining about, and what people who are tracking research on Alzheimer’s (a family legacy I would prefer to avoid) are telling me is important. I wasn’t able to do that with any of the existing sites.
On Mixx, I’ve set up a private group for my co-workers, as well as one for the parents of my daughter’s pre-school classmates. I’m guessing that those groups wouldn’t be of much interest to many other people. Look, the reality is that we all have different interests; a one-size-fits-all recommendation board isn’t going to be very helpful to a diverse group of people. So a mom in Des Moines who comes to Mixx to find information relevant to her life and interests is just as welcome as our community of hard-core techies who use tags to drill down into tech topics. And it’s important to note that anyone who comes to Mixx can create topics of interest if they do not already exist, by using tags.
There are four ideas that drive us:
1) Personalization: We take as our example the likes of MyYahoo, Pageflakes and Netvibes.
2) Democratization: Obviously Digg and Reddit blazed the trail here.
3) Personal contact only when the user wants it: LinkedIn and Facebook were our standards.
4) Marvin Gaye: Because in Marvin’s words, “We’re all sensitive people with so much to give.”
3 – If I may, would love to share some ideas for improvement with you.
a. Many successful social sites have useful browser plugins to increase your ability to interact with the community, even when you aren’t directly on the site. Any plans for a toolbar release?
We absolutely have plans to do a toolbar. Giving our members a constant touch-point to Mixx is a great community builder—not to mention just good business.
b. Any plans for an open API? I’m sure that more developers could take the community to the next level.
Ah, someone’s been sneaking a look at our roadmap! APIs are one of the projects we’re working on right now. Our initial plan is to use them to build a Facebook application, but by opening up, we’re certainly hopeful that the community will step in and create cool applications that we never envisioned.
c. If I friend a user, they get an email that says that
<user> thinks you are a really cool person who knows your way around the web.
If they friend me back, I get a message saying:
<user> thinks you are a really cool person who knows your way around the web.
With the current growth rate of Mixx, I would find it easier to keep track if a friend back message said
<user> has returned the favor and friended you back.
This is a great suggestion, and probably something we should have been doing from the start. We’ve been working on our email communications, so we can definitely add in this idea.
d. How about giving users the ability to private message each other?
This is also on our roadmap. Allowing direct communications between users is a wonderful community-builder and something we want to move on as soon as we can. Unfortunately (or maybe it’s a good thing), we have a very long roadmap, and we’ve had such great feedback from the community that we want to give priority to some of their most-requested items.
e. How about making a Mixx button similar to Digg, Reddit and Sphinn that shows the number of votes an item has received?
A gallery of Mixx buttons is on the way. We hope to have some available on the site within a couple of weeks. But our first priority is to complete the APIs that we talked about earlier.
4 – What’s your whole take on Greg (aka cGt2099) getting banned from Digg episode? Looks like quite a number of Diggers have come over to Mixx since this episode.
Let me start off by saying that we have a lot of respect for what Digg has created. They’ve provided their users with an amazing set of tools to recommend content to each other. They also have a very strong community, and they have obviously been very successful and a key part of the Web 2.0 movement.
As far as Greg getting banned…I have no idea what happened. All I know is that Greg is a fabulous and active member of the Mixx community and we are very happy to have him.
5 – There are some good looking signs that Mixx is on the move. Some users have created the mixxingbowl, a forum site for Mixx, and stats show Mixx increasing fast. How many users are in the system now, and do you think that this rate of growth can compete with other social news sites?
The things we are seeing in the community just blow us away. Seriously, it is just incredibly heartening. People we had never talked to went out and set up a site called mixxingbowl.com to discuss what they like and what they don’t like about Mixx, as well as ways they can help us. I have been in the digital information business for nearly a decade—never seen anything like it. I think it does two things: 1) It shows that what we’re trying to do has struck a cord out there and people really appreciate it and, 2) it makes us want to run to work every morning to try to execute for these people. It is crazy fun, really. Emphasis on both the crazy and the fun.
As for our growth, we are seeing some encouraging trends. Visits and page views continue to rise on a day-over-day basis. Time spent on the site is increasing. We’re seeing a lot more voting and commenting. The photos section is really taking off. I could go on (and on and on!), but we know that we have a long way to go, and want to keep working with our users to build a friendly, vibrant community where people come to find content in their areas of interest.
6 – Do you see Mixx as an acquisition target? Something like Reddit or Newsvine?
I know some people will find it hard to believe, but we don’t even think about that right now. Maybe someday, but right now what we think about it how to make the product better and what the community is telling us they want.
7 – Are you pleased with the usage and turnout on Mixx so far? What are your goals?
We’re thrilled with the turnout—who wouldn’t be? We’re still really little because we’ve only been out for seven weeks, but as we continue to grow, we’re going to keep working to maintain the small community feel—we think the way we’re structured will allow us to do that. Our goal is to have a happy, engaged community that people will want to make a part of their daily routine.
8 – Why did you decide not to have any category of online marketing stuff, they have Apple but no Microsoft = back to the old Digg setup.
For a while we had Science and Tech in the same bucket and were limited by space as to how many sub-categories, or topics, we offered there. When we split those categories in two, we were able to create specific topics that people had been asking for—like Linux and Design. One of our next upgrades will include a few more topics that folks have been requesting—Microsoft and Software are two that come to mind.
The thing to remember is that categories are just plain old stock… users can set up tags to create ANY category they want.
9 – Does Mixx discourage or encourage submitting your own content? Communities such as Digg are not very big on having users submit their own content. Whereas many niche communities such as Sphinn actively encourage self-submissions of quality content by an author.
10 – Will there be a way to distinguish between friends, followers and mutual friends? I look at my page of followers and don’t know who I have friended back.
Great suggestions keep coming. We absolutely should do this, and will be part of what we’re doing as a general theme to encourage more community features to the site.
Thanks so much for your time, Chris! You’re really well on your way to building a great community. I’m glad you and your team are receptive to the feedback within your users.
Thanks for having me Brian!