a live blog

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.

  • Cody Brown

    If Tech Crunch is a platform for discussion it is an incredibly awkward one. I can read it but if I want to interact, my only outlet is to “comment” on discussions that someone else is starting or email Arrington and ask if he’d let me start my own. It is trustee style media and it’s inherently condescending. Gawker and every other popular blog trying to get more value from it’s “readers” have this exact same problem. It’s best to choose, you are either a platform or a media company. Aol has a ton of properties that are these awkward hybrids.

    And while they figure out which direction they want to lean, I can just use Quora and Kommons. Which, in Quora’s case, is already a much better way to learn about the valley than TechCrunch.

  • http://youngandbrilliant.net ninakix

    Hi John –
    I think this reminds me of some of the conclusions I’ve come to over the past few months about community. A lot of the emotional investment and participation is actually very dependent on this requirement that one feel “ownership” over the space. In some weird way, Techcrunch has really marketed itself as being the community and information space for members of the tech community, and I think that, more than anything else, has allowed it to maintain some of the community feeling that larger outlets maybe do not.

    I like the “minutes on the page” feature of Chartbeat, and I think this gets at something interesting – a sort of instant, real time “cohort analysis,” to see to what extent users are continuing their engagement and discussion over time. Community can’t really be measured simply by comments, but the extent to which there’s a continued conversation, a shared discussion. So if people are sticking around the site and returning and participating in the conversation, that’s really the mark of an interesting, engaged community.

  • http://www.waxingphilosophic.com josh guttman

    Well said John. I especially like the picture of Chamillionaire with the shout-out to Yngvild Kasperson in the crowd:)

  • http://www.aweissman.com aweissman

    yea that is genius. Knowing JB, there is some meaning to it also

  • Anonymous

    Cody I like your term trustee style media but I think you are mixing interactions here. TC, like many blogs, has a troll issue. The solution they have crafted is as you call it a trustee system, its a short term hack, that wont scale. As an industry we need to find scalable solutions. Talk with Disqus, echo or intense debate — they are all aware of this as an issue, like spam in email it is a tractable problem – but its going to take time. Figuring out how to handle real time spam — is a whole new set of issues, ask @hmason! Or the Huffintonpost. Last week I saw the CEO of the HuffPo talk about comment volume its up more than 100% this year — from paid content: “Since last October, the number of comments on Huffington Post stories have more than doubled to 3.5 million, making commenting the “main attraction””. (source: http://bit.ly/b0AJfG) And the HuffPo did a technology acquisition to scale their filtering — see: Huffington Post Buys Adaptive Semantics To Keep Up With 100,000 Comments A Day http://tcrn.ch/90Cde. Back to the interactions. I think the line between writing, editing, commenting, amplifying is and will continue to blur. I dont think one should try to box users in as readers vs. contributors. Hybrids are part our chaortic future.

    In the short term the tightly coupled nature of a structured data platform like Quora or Kommons does help. But ultimately there is a draw for the conversation to become closer to the source article. Thats the vortex the new twitter is in. And… Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold …

  • Anonymous

    I Agree. I wish that a few publishers would experiment with the Chartbeat API beyond “top ranking stories”. The minutes on the page and understanding if you are in focus, vs. a tab is important — there is much to be done w/ this data. Maybe we should do some sample widgets?

  • http://twitter.com/kregobiz Kerry Rego

    I think the key phrase here is “participatory media”. It will take a little bit of a mind shift but thinking from that direction will help blogs transform even more.

  • http://youngandbrilliant.net ninakix

    Sample widgets, or a design that suggests this new usage. Using the way the product is designed and presented to educate people on what analytics actually mean and can represent.

  • Pingback: Measuring the performance of TechCrunch as a conversational platform « excapite()

  • http://leftovertakeout.com gbattle

    The part that resonates here is the ownership question – who owns the experience? Clearly, as Arrington has voiced, it takes a village to raise a conversation. However, where I disagree with you JB is force-fitting the realtime labeling onto blogs for your “live blog” idea. The compression of time with respect to information dissemination is relative, to the point where the acceleration is constant – yesterday’s speedy delivery is today’s snail mail. Time scale is an important, but singular, factor. Time also happens to be the easiest to measure.

    If a phrase must be used to characterize today’s top social media, blogs and communities, it would be alive/living rather than live/now, for it’s not the realtime “now-ness” that separates say a TechCrunch of today with a USENET predating the web, but how content has become vastly more accretive (today’s “content unit” can mold every conceivable media and conversation type together at any time in perpetuity), available (wide, frictionless egalitarian push-button distribution, attribution and collusion compete in a meritocracy of Darwinian harmony) and mutable (expression, independent of media format, is borrowed, stolen, re-appropriated, remixed and refactored ad infinitum).

    Every idea is like primordial ooze that evolves (or devolves) when faced with others and the social tools we create add energy and life to this balance. To aspire to be “more of a conversation” falls well short of what this ecosystem is really becoming – a crucible to power thousands, millions and billions of idea adaptations to create more advanced “idea” organisms beyond conversation as we know it.

    Long live the sentient LOLcat!

    That’s what I get for watching Richard Dawkins on TV last night. 😉