Wealth is one huge aspect of the American Dream. People go to college for the possibility of achieving it, others work long hours at jobs they may not enjoy, and some even sacrifice personal time and vacations to pursue financial gain. Then there are those who win the lottery. Their lives literally change in a moment, but for the better or worse is determined by how they use this new found wealth.
Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category
With us today is Matt Daines, lead developer of the popular Twitter directory, Twellow. Twellow just released Twellowhood, so we thought now might be a good time to check in with him and see how things were going.
1. Give us a bit of background about yourself.
Originally from Utah, I’ve been in the IT industry for over 13 years, having worked as a programmer/designer in various family-owned businesses ranging from medical transcription to e-commerce retail and distribution. I left the family business to return to school a few years ago, and I received my Bachelors in MIS from Utah State University in 2007. Upon completion of the degree I worked briefly for a large printing company, which I did not enjoy (it took over a month to get my computer). I looked around, found iEntry, Inc., and felt the company fit nicely with my skill set. It’s been good to be back in a smaller company where everything is not red tape. For the last several months I have been working as the lead developer for Twellow, along with various other duties at iEntry.
2. Where does the name Twellow come from? What made you go forth with this idea, considering the sheer number of Twitter related sites out in the space?
The name Twellow was something Rich Ord (CEO and Founder of iEntry) and I came up with together. We were discussing the whole concept in it’s early stages, and the connection was made to the yellow pages. While I was looking at the various “tw” apps associated with Twitter, the combination of Twitter and Yellow came together, as in “yellow pages”. The first name that came up was twellowpages.com, and we were going to go with that, but as I started looking more into it I thought a shorter name would be better. Twellow.com was available, so Rich jumped on it.
We went forward with the idea since there really weren’t any useful Twitter directories at the time. Twellow has been around since May and there have been a lot of Twitter apps that have come online since then, but I feel Twellow remains the premier directory service for Twitter. And Rich’s vision for where we want to take Twellow is fairly significant.
3. How do you plan to allow developers to hook into your system?
We are looking at various ways that our system could be opened up to outside developers, and have a limited API in operation currently to allow the grabbing of the categorizations for certain users. With the recent deployment of TwellowHood we have more options for providing demographic data that could be used by others.
4. Tell us what inspired you to come up with Twellowhood.
TwellowHood was Rich’s idea. He’s always recognized the power of location-based search, and we’ve been talking since the beginning about ways to make Twellow more geo-targeted. It’s just been the last month that we’ve really focused on it and found the tools to make it happen.
5. What are the advantages of claiming your profile?
The main advantage is that users can control their own listing. Once logged in a user can adjust which categories he or she belong to, as well as change bio, name, location, and other aspects of the listing. Users can also add an extended bio which allows up to 2,000 characters, including limited HTML formatting, so it provides a good tool to enhance your existing social-media presence. Twellow also offers several “Social Links” options for logged-in users to link to their other online profiles.
6. It would be cool to see overall state rankings, not just by city.
This is something that we’ll look into. Having the “heat-map” with the shading based on users in that state/region gives a good visual idea of where the big states are, but it’s always good to have the option to see text in a list.
7. How do you think that the electoral map would have looked if it were based on twitter followers? 🙂
That’s an interesting question. Twellow searches for people who identify themselves as either conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican give some hint as to how they might have voted in the election. We might look at applying the results of this data to the map in the future so people could see the red or blue level of their state on TwellowHood. Blue states generally tend to have higher populations, so there might be some correlation between the deeper green states on TwellowHood with blue states, and the lighter ones tending to be red. Population density would need to be taken into account, as with the very blue Northeast, but it’s an interesting question.
8. What should a user do if they want to be removed from the directory?
There have been very few people who have requested to be removed from Twellow, but we do make the option available in the profile editor. For those who are not comfortable claiming their profile in order to have it removed we also respond promptly to requests received through our contact page.
9. What about false positives? Example for judge, are you going to work to make it context based as well?
Twellow is a work in progress, and we will continue to work on making it more accurate as it evolves. We’ve been looking into methods for context-based matching and have discovered a few options that should work well for us. As they say, youth is wasted in the young, and that goes for computer programs as well. It’s only after you’ve tinkered with it for a while that you find out how you could have built it better to begin with. But in the future we will be able to implement the experience we’ve gained and make the system even better.
10. Technorati is in many ways at least a partial equivalent to Twellow, and for years has had unique logins and various methods to claim a blog – posting a link, possibly a one-time login. Other services use unique files, placing code on a page, or changes in meta data.
Twellow, run not by a couple of programming geeks, but by a professional internet media company fully aware of possible issues, decided that it was quite ok to request the username and password belonging to a twitter account every time it is accessed.
Andy for one is highly negative of any Twitter service that asks for access to his Twitter account, and it is even worse if you have to repeatedly provide it. It is a security risk and shouldn’t be encouraged.
Can you provide a legitimate reason why Twellow is so poorly coded?
We are well aware of the security issues involved with Twitter passwords. A legitimate reason for us not dealing with it up to this point is that Twitter doesn’t offer an alternative method for authenticating users. We are following Twitter’s progress on their implementation of an OAuth system to address this issue and will be working with whatever solution they provide as soon as it becomes available.
You can read the discussion regarding the OAuth issue on the Twitter API developer forum at the following addresses:
As you can see from the discussion this is an issue many Twitter API developers are dealing with, and our “poorly coded” method for authenticating users is only a reflection of Twitter not providing a solution for their own API. However, iEntry, Inc. is a “professional internet media company” that is well respected among it’s users and clients. If people do not trust us to use their information in a responsible manner, they are entirely free not to participate in our service.
1- Give us some background about yourself.
My background is in reporting and traditional journalism. Right now, I work as a social media strategist for Tribune Interactive (Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, etc.), where I work on ways to build local and national communities around our content. I also help evangelize the use of Web 2.0 tools in the newsroom.
2 – What was the aha moment at Tribune that lead to the establishment of the Colonel? Is the team full-time dedicated to social media, or is it incorporated with other duties?
When I started with the Chicago Tribune, I looked at people’s touchpoints with the digital brand, and I saw that while there were some traditional ways people could reach the paper, including via e-mail, there was nothing to inspire the local digerati, really.
I thought about Facebook pages, YouTube pages and Twitter, and seeing that someone had already reserved @ChicagoTribune on there — it was an RSS feed — Bill Adee and I decided to create something, and we settled on Robert McCormick, an historic figure in Tribune lore. We built out a persona for the ChicagoTribune.com and, all of a sudden, we had our Colonel.
3 – Is this a fad? Surely there’s a beginning and end to things, but as web ambassadors, does social media seem like a worthy investment for the Chicago Tribune with long-term benefits?
From what we’ve seen, just from a traffic perspective, social media is worth the effort. But I believe that for local news organizations, it’s essential to create one-on-one connections with people in your market. But social media is something that all mainstream media should embrace, because it’s only going to get tougher and more cluttered out there.
4 – How does The Tribune use social media, and do you see it as a threat to your business? Many fear that blogging killed the journalist. Your thoughts?
It’s not a threat to the business. Traditional media has sold on a CPM model, but for mainstream media to survive, it has to think outside the box. As an industry, look for more aggregation.
But for newspapers to survive, they need to ratchet things down for a bit. If anything, blogging has been a shock to the journalism system. But journalists still have skills that many bloggers just don’t have: access and accuracy. They just need to embrace the 24-hour news cycle and, I believe, be format-agnostic.
5 – You’ve had some successes through social media, such as being able to report a bomb threat. Care to elaborate on the experience or share some others?
Just having a line to the social space can bring you all sorts of information that you may not have had before through traditional channels. As reporters cultivate their beats in real life, social media can help them tap into sources and audiences they never knew existed for their work.
The reason the Colonel got the tip, however, is that he has the reputation of a man who knows what’s going on. And if he doesn’t, he can try to find out. Not many people have that sort of connection with their hometown newspapers.
6 – What has the Chicago Tribune’s social media team found to be the best ROI sites for it’s efforts? What sort of strategies seem to work the best/least?
When we find them, we’ll tell you. The great thing about social media is that there’s no one right way to do it. Everyone’s feeling their way around the space right now, and it’ll probably continue to be that way for a while.
7 – Do you use any tools to monitor people submitting their articles to social media? How do you attempt to monitor your brand in social media?
Metrics are the Holy Grail of social media. Right now, I look at referrals, number of friends in different networks, number of brand mentions in different spaces, some direct feedback and the amount of conversation going on — both about the Chicago Tribune and about Colonel Tribune.
8 – Have you had any negative backlash from the self promotion? Example – when looking at the Colonel on Digg, 9 of the last 10 submissions were Chicago Tribune articles. We’ve seen in many cases that if a Digg user only submitted stories from a single source to which they are clearly connected, they would be flagged as a spammer, even if it was Techcrunch, Cracked or Ars Technica. In fact about the only person who can get away with submitting all his own content is Kevin Rose. Comments?
The thing about anything in social bookmarking sites is that if your content is good, it has a good chance get popular. Period.
But it’s not just about the content; you have to find other ways to contribute to these online communities, whether it’s submitting outside content, commenting on other stories or sharing other stories. It’s important to bring something else to the table and to show you’re willing to be a part of the group.
9 – Ok, so who would win in a fight – Colonel Tribune or Colonel Sanders?
Funny story: My girlfriend Mollie’s grandfather opened the first KFCs here in Chicago, so he and Colonel Sanders were good friends, actually. But I still think Colonel Tribune would win. Colonel Tribune has a pretty big posse, you see.
Thanks again for speaking with us, Daniel!
We are here today with a distinguished guest that sits outside the realm of social media, but is rather a Political Science professor. (In fact, he was a professor of mine once upon a time). Before all of you think that I have lost my mind, let me explain further. Professor Patrick Regan is an expert in conflict management resolution and game theory, having authored several books including Organizing Societies for War, and the upcoming Sixteen Million One (excerpts found on his site). Thanks for joining us today, Professor.
1 – What do you think about social media in general?
Social media is new and fascinating to me. It is not a medium that I grew up with, so it is a bit harder to get use to, but I can certainly see how this forum for communication can fundamentally change the way people react to public problems. We can see this, for instance, in Tibet today. The Chinese government has overwhelming capabilities to suppress the Free Tibet movement, but the movement has what you refer to as the social media on its side. China quickly tried to shut down as much of this as possible. China is not alone is recognizing the immense power of the social media, as political campaigns today will attest.
One of the downsides – if there really are downsides – to this medium is that conventional forms of communication get marginalized. At first this shows up as loss of profit, of which I am little concerned, but without of viable free and open conventional press we will suffer from the potential abuse by those in power. At least in the short term there needs to be some balance. The unfortunate inclination is for conventional media to respond to the challenge posed by the social media by consolidating and brining less and less variability and initiative into the conventional media. Sounds like doom and gloom, and in the end the more open media will win.
2 – You might not have drawn a parallel of your field of expertise with social media in the past, but I believe there to be striking similarities between social media and game theory, more specifically the prisoner’s dilemma. Cooperation (friending users) is key. What is your take on this?
Game theory provides for us a way to think about choices, how choices are made under certain types of constraints. Your expected payoffs from some action matter a lot, and how you conceive of your expectations and the value of the outcome is a function of information. Game theorists ask questions about how resolved the actors are to press for their preferred outcome, and the like. Cooperation is a bit more difficult if both sides are committed to getting their way, and game theory can show us why. We also know from game theory that the frequency with which we expect to replay the game matters a lot. If it is a one off game, just do what is best for you. But if you’re going to see this person again, then cooperation might be a better strategy. I think this is what you mean by ‘friending users’ – though I bet that word is not in the Webster’s dictionary! The more information we have about those we interact with the more opportunity we have to shape outcomes that are mutually beneficial. Now in principle, if you have a lot of information – at least if it is one-sided information – then there is the opportunity to coerce or exploit as well. A free, open, unregulated social media portends to reduce one-sided information and increase the frequency of interactions over ideas.
3 – There has been a great deal of controversy in the largest social news site, digg.com in which many of the top site contributors were planning a revolt and were getting ready to organize on a live podcast. Toward the end of the podcast, the founders of Digg came on to directly address the crowd and respond to their questions. Typically, Digg has not been very responsive to its users as of late. Do you feel that the Digg founders resolved the conflict in an effective manner?
I am not an expert on Digg.com, though I have read a bit about the revolt. Compromise borne of concessions approaches a necessary condition for a negotiated settlement. Absent concessions, stable outcomes pretty much have to result from a disparity of power, and therefore from coercion. The very first concession in any bargaining environment is the agreement to discuss. By implication if you agree to discuss then you agree that there is some point on which you would give. It might not be enough to settle the dispute, but the recognition is one that implicitly points to the potential for movement. As I gather it the Digg folks did this. Did they come all the way across the table? Not to my knowledge. One way to think of this is that they don’t see it as what we would call an iterative game, but rather each move is a one shot deal. My sense is from reading about this is that the contributors see this as a repeated game. They want compromise and the Digg folks want to coerce behavior.
The protest might be one way to demonstrate that repeated plays are valuable, and maybe the norm. But the protesters also have to realize that successful negotiations most often require concessions from both sides. They can’t expect to be completely coercive any more than they would accept that from Digg. The real key would be demonstrating to Digg that they get a better outcome if they see this as a repeatedly played game or interaction.
4 – More on Digg. The following month, there was a Digg Town Hall event in which the founders had a live webcast where questions could be asked (although they had a list prior to the show, so live participants were not given true voice). Was this an effective method?
It seems that it is effective if both sides play the game. It might not be how I would organize a negotiating session to sort this out, but it sounds to me like some of the contributors bought into it. Better, maybe, to offer to bring an agenda to the table around which discussions or negotiations can take place. By what I understand of this relationship the contributors participate on Digg.com for the personal sense of value (I get my views out there); Digg.com folks do this either for a job or the potential to sell it to a start up venture, that is take it commercial. The contributors would have to demonstrate that Digg.com has no value without the contributors, but also to show that they value Digg.com over the long haul.
Maybe you should all try to get a mediator to sit down with you to work this out. Seems pretty simple on the face of it.
5 – One of the key elements in trying to resolve conflict is the underlying assumption that both sides are rational. Do you think that both sides of the fence are being rational here?
Rationality refers to cost benefit maximization. It could be that the Digg folks are under some sort of constraint to diversity their portfolio of contributors so that they can set this up to be more commercially viable (I’m just guessing). If that is so, then they might be acting rational by compelling diversification. The Contributors might also be seeing their personal viability being challenged by the new constraints on making the headlines. Both can be considered rational in a maximization framework. Is there middle ground? Sure seems like it to me. It almost seems like people aren’t explaining motives and with a clear idea of why each side is being so resolute, concessions might actually be easy.
6 – For those that are not familiar with the prisoner’s dilemma, can you expound on it a bit and how you think it falls within the social media world?
Prisoners dilemma is just a way to think about how choices are made. In the dispute with Digg it is whether to open the process up to the most prolific and interesting or creating diversity. This is a bit like cooperating and defecting in the prisoners dilemma game.
To my mind the idea of a prisoners dilemma is useful for many types of social interactions, the social media might be but one. We use to use it to understand the arms race, the ending of civil wars, and the like. It is really just a way to think about the value of cooperation over defection, and under what conditions can both side rationally conclude that doing the “wrong” thing is right. Everyone knew the nuclear arms race was silly, but both sides went happily down that silly path, and appeared quite rational in doing so. Funny how the world works!
7 – Do you think that social media may one day find its way into your political / game theory teachings? How would you see something like this come about?
I teach a lot about Osama bin Laden this semester and I suspect that much of his communication might fall under what you would describe as the social media. So if his form of communication meets such standards, then the world’s most sought after villain is making great use of social media. But I think I’ll leave you and your readers to figure out whether he is leading, following, or uninvolved with social media.
Thanks for stopping by, Professor Regan – you’ve been a wonderful guest!
It has been a pleasure.
If you would like to see more about Professor Regan, here is an interview he did after doing research for his latest book:
We had a chance to catch up with Icanhascheezburger co-founder, Ben Huh. Here’s what he had to say:
1 – Tell us a little about your background. What drove you to create a site like this, and what do you see for the future? Did you ever think that ICHC would get as big as it did?
We never expected it to be this big — or become a social phenomenon. It’s a wild ride. We see our role as providing tools and a place to be creative. So we’ll continue to build out our site and tools to allow users to do that.
2 – You’re a WordPress VIP hosting customer. Can you tell us a little about that experience?
We love WordPress. Period. They are responsive and sharp.
3 – So I guess you’re in the cutsie niche? What other sites do you see you are up against, things like cuteoverload.com?
4 – I’ve come across ihasahotdog.com. This looks like your latest venture. How’s it going for you so far?
I Has A Hotdog as been another WIN for us. Without much fanfare or publicity, it’s collection quite an audience. We still consider it a beta, but we’ll be publicizing soon. We’ve been really focusing on organic, word-of-mouth growth and it’s working.
5 – You’ve probably had great success with ICHC in social media. What sites would you say you’ve done the best with?
The two that stand out are Digg and StumbleUpon. They are very different animals and their users behave differently. We get a jolt from Digg, but Stumble provides us with longer-term users.
6 – Have you been effected in all of the recent Digg algorithm changes?
It seems to have helped us. On Valentine’s day two of our pictures got front-paged. Which doubles the number of front-page Diggs we’ve had.
7 – What are your favorite LOLcats to date? The guy proposing marriage via LOLcat this Valentine’s Day was a keeper for me.
There are lolcats we can’t [CENSORED] show you. Those are some of our favorites. 🙂 We’re amazed as to how creative people can get. Of the ones that are published, emowall is one of my favorites. And it doesn’t even have an animal in it.
8 – How much user generated LOLcat material do you get from your fanbase a day?
We get several thousand a day. This is the most exciting and time-consuming part of our job.
9 – On a similar vein, do you ever just get tired of looking at LOLcats?
I thought we’d get tired of it after just a few weeks, but the genre continues to evolve. The creativity of the user-base is amazing. We still laugh out loud every day. At the core of this, it’s not about lolcats, or specific memes. It’s actually about giving users the power to be creative within a flexible framework. I’d like to think that’s what we’re getting good at.
There are so many sides to the entertainment, including the lolspeak pidgin. In fact, we’ve got a new wiki community dedicated to the development of this dialect.
10 – Can you tell us a bit about the upcoming book as well as the poker contest?
The book will show you a new side of lolcats, (read: unpublished) as well as some classics. It’s a fun project for us and you can absolutely expect user-participation in creating the book.
The poker contest is a thank you to our users. Expect a lot more contests in the near future.
11 – So, Ben, really ‘Can I has cheezburger?’
If you find me mah bukkit. 🙂
1 – Tell us a little about your background, and how you’ve found the experience of being with Yahoo vs. running Product Development for MyBlogLog.
I got into blogging in 2003 when I was working at Dow Jones as a Product Manager. Blogging allowed me to reach out directly to my customers and get feedback on new features. I’ve been blogging ever since, and working with bloggers at MyBlogLog is a natural extension of my interests. I’ve been at Yahoo! for just over two years and joined the MyBlogLog team last summer after stints with Corporate Development and the Yahoo Publisher Network. Working with the MyBlogLog team has been great. I particularly enjoy the ability to release more often and try out new features. While a more established Yahoo! product with hundreds of millions of users may only do a release every couple of weeks, MyBlogLog usually does several minor releases a day while and we try and push out a user-facing feature once a week if possible.
2 – Mybloglog has been working on an API for months but have yet to release it. Could you give us a hint as to when is the API coming?
Thanks for asking. I know I sound like a broken record but our beta release is literally around the corner. We’ve been working with Yahoo Developer Network to ensure the API conforms to the highest quality standards. The good news is that we’re going to be ready to go with the invitation-only beta in January. If you’re interested in being considered for the beta, there will be an opportunity to submit an application in January when the beta is launched.
3 – Google’s OpenSocial has been all the rage lately, as far as social networking platforms go. Any plans to join the fray?
We’re looking at OpenSocial carefully and feel that we may potentially have a lot to contribute once the API is fully baked and OpenSocial has matured a bit. For one thing, as one of the few services out there that can map your various service identities together, MyBlogLog can bring a lot of value to developers. For example, via the “services” tab our users have the opportunity to share not only their delicious ID but also their YouTube ID. The API will allow you to look these up and cross reference them with each other which could be useful to any OpenSocial application looking for broader appeal.
4 – Any plans on including a way to have tagging related to content rather than a whole blog in the future?
Yes. That’s about all I can say at this time. Stay tuned!
5 – How has the migration from a small company to a department in a large global business that is Yahoo gone?
It’s been a balance of payoffs. On the one hand we can’t move quite as fast as we’d like, but on the other hand we now have MyBlogLog servers in two colos on each US coast. There’s been more overhead in code review, but at the same time we have at our fingertips all sorts of internal tools that have been built to help manage large, dynamic databases. MyBlogLog on its own moved quickly to gain attention from the innovator crowd; and Yahoo!’s core expertise is taking something innovative and re-packaging it for broader adoption by the mainstream so we feel like we’re set up for success.
6 – What, in your opinion, makes Mybloglog stand out from similar services? What is the value proposition for a blogger to install yet another widget in their sidebar given the vast landscape of products. Places like Blog Catalog come to mind.
Our focus for the past several months has been on infrastructure to make sure that MyBlogLog can scale to meet the needs of a Yahoo!-scale audience. To that end, existing users should notice that performance of our widgets has gotten better and some of the bumps of the past are gone. Secondly, we have now tied the MyBlogLog login with Yahoo!’s login so each MyBlogLog account will automatically be associated with a Yahoo! ID. This will allow us to do some useful things going forward like making your MyBlogLog profile information available for use elsewhere on the Yahoo! network and make any Yahoo!-specific information available to the MyBlogLog community. In both cases the options for personalization of our users’ experience should improve.
7 – What plans if any do you have to expand your premium services such as stats?
We have no plans to extend the existing solution, but we are looking forward to using the API to make stats more broadly available on other platforms. We think it’d be cool to see your stats in a desktop widget or via your cellphone, which would make premium features such as intraday stats that much more compelling.
8 – How does MyBlogLog get its message out to users and has the channels of communication changed now they are part of Yahoo?
Our channels are pretty much the same as before. We primarily use our blog but also use other Yahoo-specific channels such as the corporate blog and we also printed up a bunch of stickers to hand out to people we meet. The world tour and guest appearence on Good Morning America have been put on hold for the moment 😉
9 – We used to love the monthly updates in MBL growth during the early days, how many members, how many widgets installed, and widget displays – will we ever see such openness again in the future?
Sure. We have over 350,000 members with our widgets consistently generating over 19M daily impressions. The number of widgets installed is an internal stat we’re not sharing at this time.
10 – Do you think Mybloglog reached its critical mass in terms of growth?
No. I think we’re still a pretty niche product. There’s no real reason to use MyBlogLog unless you have a website. We have a number of features in the hopper that will change that and make MyBlogLog interesting for anyone who uses the web on a regular basis, which we think will lead to broader adoption.
11 – Many people reacted critically to the broadcast feature how has MyBlogLog policed this feature and should they be the ones policing?
We did two things related to messaging – back in June, we enabled the ability to message all members of your community, which is the controversial feature to which I think you’re referring. By giving our users the power to message their entire community we may have opened the door to compulsive messagers that feel the need to tell everyone they know about everything they learn. In the end, the controls that allow people to get these updates are in our user’s hands. If you don’t want to get these messages via email, then you can turn off email updates. If you don’t want to get these messages period and feel that they do not bring any value to you, then, just as you would remove an RSS feed from your reader, you need to re-consider the benefits of being connected to such a chatterbox anyway. We have not resorted to heavy-handedness in managing the messages as we think joining or leaving a community should be feedback enough to keep all but the most egregious offenders at bay.
(Note that there if anyone has any thoughts on what they would like to see on MyBlogLog in the future, there is a suggestion area on Yahoo to leave feedback.)
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!