Archive for November 2005

Newsvine: Next Steps

It’s been about a week since we took the first layer of secrecy off of Newsvine, and everybody over here couldn’t be happier at the reaction so far. Without a single dollar spent on PR, marketing, or really any organized effort to get the word out, Newsvine found itself on the front page of CBS News, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, GigaOm, TechCrunch, Russell Beattie, and hundreds of other places. Like David Hasselhoff, we’re even apparently big in Germany.

Is it wrong that I’m not stressed out about all of this? I mean, CEOs of startups are supposed to be working 20 hour days, neglecting their families, and generally being pains in the ass, right? I guess so, but this is fun.

Let me repeat that: This. Is. Fun.

People are excited, and we’re excited about that.

Reaction

I’ve read probably a few hundred articles, posts, and comments about Newsvine since our announcement and while most have been positive, a couple of things I’ve read several times which seemed to lean towards skepticism a bit are comments like this:

“News with comments? That’s been done.”

“Sounds like Digg, Delicious, and Google News put together.”

To the first comment, I’d say this: When the cheeseburger was invented, there were plenty of people saying the hamburger had already “been done”. I bet cheeseburgers outsell hamburgers now.

To the second comment, I’d say this: Oh my god, if that’s what we have, then I’d say we’re in pretty good shape. I love Digg. I love Delicious. And I love Google News. All they are lacking is each other.

Competition

Is there competition in the populist news space? Sure there is. There’s probably competition we don’t even know about. But judging from all the calls and e-mails we’ve gotten from VCs over the last week, it’s not competition for funding or attention… the funding is already there. It’s competition to see who can create the most compelling community of breaking information. And that’s what makes it fun.

Of the small handful of companies looking to make this happen over the next few months and years, I know we’re not the oldest or the biggest. But when I see code like this on three separate companies’ web sites who purport to be in the same space as Newsvine, my inner geek can’t help but smile:

<font face="Arial,Helvetica,Geneva,Swiss,SunSans-Regular">

and

<!-- BEGIN UBER TABLE -->

and

"Please disable your popup blocker for our URL."

So in the off chance I somehow don’t have Arial installed, you’re going alternate all the way down to Swiss? Who has Swiss? And you’re going to use a font tag at all?

Anyway, enough geekspeak.

The fact is that every company entering this space will go in with their own strength. Digg has a great tech community and an impressively upstanding way of running the site. Open Source Media is strong in politics. Inform has 50-some people dedicated to finding and grouping related information. We have our roots in high-traffic news media, blogging, engineering, and design. That influence is hopefully apparent and beneficial in the Newsvine experience. I believe that in the end, several companies will be successful in creating positive news reading and news writing environments. Each will just have its own spin.

Note: The companies above are not necessarily competitors of ours. I am only mentioning them here because others have.

Beta Details

We’re well into the several thousands on the list so far, but I must admit that we plan on only letting a few hundred in for the first couple/few weeks. The reason for this (I swear) is not some sort of manufactured scarcity campaign, but rather the opportunity to take care of some obvious quick fixes and improvements that will only become apparent as people begin using the site.

The single hardest thing about building an ecosystem for participation is trying to predict user experience in the absence of it.

So if you signed up for the beta, the whole team thanks you, and you will definitely get in before everyone else does. But if it’s not in the first wave, just sit tight and your first experience on the site will be better because of it.

Unstealth! Get Ready For Newsvine...

This morning, news broke that our new company, Newsvine, is about to hatch. Remember that name.

Newsvine.

You’ll be hearing it a lot over the next year.

First things first. I apologize to all Mike Industries readers for keeping this a secret, but I’m a firm believer in the theory that you should never talk about anything until you have something to show. In the next week or so, we’ll be opening up the gates with a private beta, and shortly after that, Newsvine.com will launch free to the world.

So what is it, and why did four perfectly happy Disney/ESPN employees leave their jobs to build it?

Just like your favorite news site, only smarter

Newsvine is a large-scale news media site which gives you almost all the same stories you read on sites like MSNBC and CNN but presents them in a much more attractive package. Attractive not just in looks but in function as well. At Newsvine, we feel strongly that an article’s life only begins the second it is published. It is only when readers interact with it that it achieves its full impact.

You just read an Associated Press story about the fiery riots in France on a major news site. Why shouldn’t you be able to comment on it like you would on a blog entry? At Newsvine you can. Why shouldn’t you be able to chat about it with whoever else happens to be reading the story at the same time? At Newsvine you can… right within the story itself.

We believe in turning news into conversation, and every page on Newsvine.com is designed to do precisely that.

So even though at launch, Newsvine will have almost all the same stories the biggest news sites have, how can we possibly replace the great exclusive reporting that outfits like ESPN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post produce?

We can’t. And we don’t want to.

Seeding The Vine

Companies like ESPN are terrific at providing the sort of in-depth coverage of sporting events that no one else in the world can. They are experts and spectacular at what they do. For that reason, we want to point you to ESPN.com (and any other site for that matter) whenever there is a great article to be read over there.

We do this via a process we call “Seeding Newsvine”.

Simply save our “Seed Newsvine” button (a bookmarklet) to your browser and click it whenever you read a great story anywhere on the web. Tag it with words to describe it (e.g. “alex-rodriguez, baseball, world-series”) and a link to the original story, along with your comment, will automatically appear at the following pages:

newsvine.com/alex-rodriguez
newsvine.com/baseball
newsvine.com/world-series

… which brings me to one of my favorite features of Newsvine: our URL structure. Anytime you want news on any subject, say “supreme-court”, simply go to newsvine.com/supreme-court and every story we have that is tagged as such will be there.

Oh and we also have local news available at urls like “seattle.newsvine.com” and “newyork.newsvine.com”.

How does it all stay organized?

Newsvine is five people, and we are all quite busy adding features to the site. There is no editor behind a desk deciding what stories are most important. You decide that. Whenever you see a story on Newsvine you think is important, simply click the “Vote” button next to the headline and you’ve just increased the importance score of that story. We feel that thousands of people are better at deciding what’s important than one, and that’s a major founding premise of Newsvine.

Oh, there’s just one more thing…

Since Newsvine is essentially produced by its readers, it is only fitting that its readers may also become writers. Anyone can sign up for a free Newsvine account and begin writing their column within minutes. Anytime you write an article or Seed Newsvine with a link to another article, it will appear in your column (at “yourname.newsvine.com”) and elsewhere around the site, depending on how it’s tagged.

Getting your own column on Newsvine isn’t only free but you’ll also keep advertising earnings associated with traffic to your pages. While other companies charge you for your own space to write or keep all the ad revenue themselves, we’re happy to help you make money whenever you add value to Newsvine.

Newsvine is a news company, not a Web 2.0 company

Our site doesn’t rely on Ajax, RSS, Wikis, or any of the other technologies you may be hearing about way too often these days. If you’d like to use some of the fancier aspects of our site like tagging or feeds, go ahead, but even with no knowledge beyond standard pointing and clicking, Newsvine is a best of breed news site. In other words, even your pappy can use it.

If you’d like to be in on the private beta or be notified when Newsvine launches, head on over and give us your deets!

Newsvine is funded by Seattle-based Second Avenue Partners with original ESPN.com CEO Mike Slade and Aquantive founder Nick Hanauer on the company’s Board of Directors.

UPDATE: To everyone who has asked, yes, Newsvine.com was the secret domain from this article I wrote several months ago. The story can now be told. :) Also, traffic seems to really be blowing up today. Here are just a few mentions of Newsvine from around the web:

Almost.

November Randoms

Some random thoughts and diversions from this month:

  • If webmail ever got around to looking this good, I would use it a lot more often.
  • I have been getting way way way inundated with requests for design and coding work in the Seattle area lately. If you’re good, and you live around here, you should drop me a line. No need for a cover letter or anything… just drop me a link to your portfolio and I’ll keep you in mind when the next request comes up.
  • Crest Lemon Ice Toothpaste: Come to where the flavor is.  I know Vanilla Mint was the early star for Crest, but this Lemon Icey dealio is the new leader in the clubhouse.
  • I don’t know what possessed me to buy “Calcium Enriched” milk at the store the other day, but let me pass some valuable information on to you: it’s awful.  Don’t buy it.
  • Four people got fired from The Apprentice this week, and two people got fired from The Marthapprentice. I know ratings are down on these two great shows, but does anyone know the back story behind the mass firings? I mean, that’s four fewer shows NBC can air now. To add to the confusion, this was all filmed before ratings numbers were even known. What’s going on here?
  • I’m convinced that any cold-fighting effects of Airborne are psychosomatic. But since it tastes decent, I will continue to drink it.
  • Dan Cederholm is right. Laced shoes are almost always overkill. I’ve been slip-on only for several months now and I may never go back. I suggest Eccos and Borns.
  • Terrell Owens is a jackass and I pity the team that will inevitably decide to take him in next year. I don’t care how good you are… you don’t diss your teammates publicly and you don’t put yourself above your team. If you have him on your fantasy team right now, you should drop him on principle. And if you have Jamal Lewis on your team, by the way, you should drop him on incompetence.
  • The motor on one of the windows of my Saab broke a few months ago and the dealership ordered a new part for me. Still no part, and now I just found out that there are apparently none of these parts available anywhere in the world. One woman has been waiting since May. What the hell? This is a 2001 car. Has anyone ever waited this long for a part?
  • James Archer’s new Fruitcast site wins my Gradient-Of-The-Year award. Yum. The site was designed by Joseph Wain.
  • Paul Mayne’s new “e-mail blender” is cool… the perfect diversion to plant subliminal thoughts of Mrs. Fields cookies in your head.

When Pseudomation Attacks!

Ok, I like Jason Fried just as much as the next guy, but this page on Meetup.com is a little ridiculous, no?

“Meet with local fans of Jason Fried to discuss signals, noise, better things, EK, ML, SU, JF, and 37signals’ New Album!

Whoa! What’s going on here!? Can we look forward to a compilation of Jason’s best dive-bar karaoke in the coming weeks or did Meetup.com make that all up?

What’s happening here is something I like to call “pseudomation”. A web site, in an effort to expand their offerings and encourage participation, scours the internet, scrapes data from popular web sites, and attempts to use that data to personalize their own pages. It can be done automatically, by an intern, or automatically with a human “check” performed afterwards to make sure it makes sense.

What’s weird about this one though is that I can’t really tell which method they used. It seems pretty automatic, with the initials “EK”, “ML”, “SU”, and “JF” just plastered on there fairly nonsensically, but the main “theme” of the page appears to be Jason. Furthermore, the url is “37.meetup.com” and not “jasonfried.meetup.com” which is just even weirder to me.

Anyway, just a random Friday morning finding. Anybody know of any other examples of pseudomation gone bad?

UPDATE: Based on “nomation’s” comment below, this is actually *not* pseudomation but rather a legitimate Meetup.com group! No wonder it was so confusing.