November 29, 2012
Techmeme founder Gabe Rivera has a mischievous Twitter personality. Poking fun here, stirring trouble there, his distinctive brand of humor and know-how –not to mention the fact he is founder of “one of the 100 essential websites” according to The Guardian — has netted him a massive following. So why is his voice so glaringly absent from his flagship site Techmeme?
“I think that would detract from the purity and the simplicity of the product,” Rivera said at our Content Conversations Meetup last night at Outbrain HQ. During his interview with Steve Kovach from Business Insider, Rivera emphasized that the audience coming to Techmeme expects the latest news from the best sources in the tech industry — not commentary from its editors.
Techmeme, for those who are unaware, is arguably the news aggregator for the tech industry: Breaking news, product launches, hirings, firings… if it’s Tech, you can find it on Techmeme. Quickly.
Using an “algorithmic foundation,” as Rivera put it, Techmeme relies on automation as well as a small team of human editors to determine which stories to surface and where. To that extent, Techmeme is fully committed to its practice of linking directly to its sources and preserving those stories’ original headlines rather than offering any kind of Techmeme editorial experience, even if Rivera would personally love to.
“Part of that is a scaling issue,” said Rivera. “There’s too much I would want to write about and I wouldn’t be able to do it all.”
Nonetheless, the very nature of headlines reassures Rivera that Techmeme is providing just the right amount of information for people to consume in their quest to stay current with the tech industry. “Headlines actually contain a lot of information,” Rivera said. “You can tell pretty much right away whether you want to read a story by the headline.” Rivera has interest in complicating the purity of this interaction on his site.
It’s a decidedly different approach from other tech publishers, including Business Insider, which by Kovach’s admission seeks to entertain as much as inform on its site. ”Why not keep [audiences] on your page a little longer?”
As for the co-existence of algorithms and human editors in Techmeme’s curation process, Rivera seeks a balance. Some decisions, after all, are best left to humans. When a news story breaks, for example, or a much-hyped product launches, a wealth of news coverage follows. Which is the best version? While Techmeme’s algorithms often derive this answer from “signals” on the Internet, sometimes surfacing the right story for the audience — perhaps the most comprehensive take or the most nuanced coverage — requires human intervention.
It’s this respect for the audience and the stories that precludes traditional advertising through networks from appearing on Techmeme. Instead, the same native ads in the form of sponsored content appear to all visitors coming to Techmeme at any given time. A fact Rivera is quite proud of.
Just don’t ask him to update his Facebook page…