There was a discussion on the Gillmor Gang last Friday that I wanted to flesh out a bit. The topic was the sale of TechCrunch to AOL. Much of the talk on the web and some of it on the Gang centered on TechCrunch as a media property. Are “content” acquisitions on the rise? What does this mean for content sites? How do old media, other content companies relate to this? etc. etc. etc. I dont think these question are that interesting. All media is internet media today — if the so called “content” provider doesn’t place them on the net they get there regardless. It’s no longer the presence of content online that makes it interesting — its type of engagement that occurs that is is interesting. TechCrunch is in my mind becoming a place — a real time, or live, conversational platform.
If you look at TechCrunch articles the number of comments that stream into the page within the first hour after an article is posted is meaningful. It’s these real time interactions, the conversations that are happening on the page, the connections that are taking place real time or close to real time — that make TechCrunch such an interesting place. Yes, a place not a site. TechCrunch or the Huffington Post (the other example I mentioned on the show) are becoming conversational places or platforms where the content provides context to the conversation and visa versa. A while ago I had a conversation with Bob Stein we were talking about writing, publishing and blogging. Bob told me about a test he had run at the Institute for the futureofthebook. In the test they placed comments on a blog to the right of the posts / articles. The result was meaningfully more interesting discourse. The comments werent placed at the bottom, hidden away, like a letter to the editor, they were part of the body of the post. Think about it this way. If you took TechCrunch and placed the comments to the right of the posts and let them stream live (most recent first) wouldnt it look like a mirror image of the new Twitter? Stream on the right — media on the left — Twitter is stream on the left, media on the right. Interesting.
TechCrunch is in my mind a conversational platform and its that + the personalities of the team that what make it interesting. And the “that” bit, is the real time participation of the users – that provide for a degree of authenticity and connection. I think when Steve Gillmor was talking about Neil Young on the show it was this type of connection he was talking about. Arrington in his post “Why We Sold TechCrunch To AOL, And Where We Go From Here” says “I don’t want to get all teary-eyed here, but the best comment I ever saw on TechCrunch was years ago in response to when I quipped something like “This is my blog and I’ll write what I want” in response to a troll. The response was “No Mike, This is OUR blog. You just work here.”” When @Auerbach pointed that comment out to me this week this thread of thoughts came together. That is whats different here, the active, passionate users who are participating in the conversation, live — maybe we should call the category live blogs. Place like these are emerging, most of them are in news, politics, tech or gossip but other vertical categories are starting to appear. In a sense I see these sites as children of the old bbs’s. And its happening the way things happen on the web — its somewhat chaordic, its messy, there is a pull from the centralized services that have the advantage of a tightly coupled integration and a more gradual, but eventually greater pull from the edge.
If this all sounds fairly general, I do have some data to back up the thesis. I’m going to talk about this data generally since its not my data to publish in detail. Via Chartbeat (a company we built at betaworks) we see engagement on a variety of sites, in real time. The focus of Chartbeat is on how many people are on your site, right now and what are they doing. Looking at the real time engagement dashboard on Chartbeat accross a set of customers, say: TechCrunch, WSJ, Gawker, Yahoo News, ChatRoulette and FoxNews we see very different patterns of engagement.
The pace at which TechCrunch is published, the degree of engagement, the real time updating of comments, the requirement of the blog to post with your real name, the direct engagement from the authors … all of this contributes to a what is much more of live experience than most blogs. There is a public example of data around a live blog that I can point to, that’s AVC.com, @FredWilson has made his dashboard for Chartbeat open. Take a look at it the engagement view as he publishes. Again note the pace and consistency that Fred blogs and the relationship he has to his audience. Or look at what Chamillonaire is doing … live is becoming live in a whole new way, participatory media is becoming more diverse and interesting. And for AOL this is in a sense, a return to its roots of community and conversation. There is potential in this deal, potential for TechCrunch & AOL and the team to turn more of the web into more of a conversation — the vision of AOL as a next generation content platform might start to emerge out of this.