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5 Minutes on The Verge: Techmeme's Gabe Rivera

5 Minutes on The Verge: Techmeme's Gabe Rivera


Five Minutes on the Verge: Gabe Rivera of Techmeme.

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Gabe Rivera is the founder and editor of tech news aggregator Techmeme, which he started in 2005 as a one man operation, and which now has a staff of 10 people who also help to run its sister site, Mediagazer. Originally from New Jersey, he now lives in San Francisco with his two Weber grills and four monitors. You can follow him on Twitter here.

A few years ago, a lot of tech news sites and blogs focused on, and used, Digg as one metric of success. Techmeme has essentially replaced Digg in that respect. How do you feel about being "the new Digg"?

In many ways, Reddit is the "the new Digg", but yeah, I can see how for tech news publishers, hitting Techmeme is as an important goal as making Digg used to be. My feelings on this are mixed. On the plus side, Techmeme's readers benefit since publishers are motivated to produce the kind of reporting and analyses they need. On the down side, it creates a lot of work for us. Most of the "support" type emails we get are from publishers, not regular readers, and yet publishers represent a tiny minority of our readership.

Do you ever think about doing original content? Do you think news curation is more important than creation / reporting of it?

We think of almost everything, so yeah, the idea of producing original content has flashed through my brain for a few seconds before I tossed it. Producing original content would be too much of a distraction for us, complicate our product, and could sour our relationship with the publishers we quote and link to. We may at some point want to host certain kinds of press releases (instead of linking to Yahoo, etc.), but that's not really "original" content, and setting up even that is not at all a focus for us right now. Is news curation more important than creation / reporting? Well, you can't have curation without production in the first place, so I'm gonna go with "no". But I'll add that all "original" content producers are doing curation and even aggregation themselves at some level.

Have there been any unexpected outcomes from your transition from an automated system to human curation?

Plenty. First, we discovered the full power of a fused human/machine editing approach. It's a revelation, and it only gets better as we iterate our processes, improve our technology, and become better editors. It's hard for you to appreciate this fully since you only see our end product. But most importantly, you get to see the results.

How important is speed to the aggregation process? Is it ever better to sit back and wait for a fuller story to unfold before placing it on Techmeme, and how does that work in practice?

For some stories it's better to wait, but for big stories, we need to link to something ASAP. Our readers expect that. I'll add it's not either/or. Often we post right away, and in addition, sit back and wait for a second take that's more complete or offers a needed counterpoint.

How is the site redesign treating you?

Great. Most people we've talked to like it or love it. The feeling isn't universal, e.g. we heard many complaints about the font choice, but the doubters have faded out over time. Perhaps even Verge senior editor Vlad Savov will some day reconsider his oblique death sentence for Techmeme post-redesign :-).

What is next for this aggregation model? Also, do you think there are industries (besides tech) that this type of aggregation is better suited to than others?

What's next is, as you suggested, tracking other industries and flavors of news. Of course we already use the same approach for Mediagazer (covering media news) as we do for Techmeme. Meanwhile, our older automation-only approach continues to drive Memeorandum (a political news tracker/funhouse) and WeSmirch (which covers celeb gossip). We also have plans to involve more readers in contributing in small ways to the site, plans which we're still working out. The possibilities are exciting.

To answer your second question, absolutely, there are industries better suited than others. Most industries in fact are not well-suited for our approach, which requires as a given that there be at least 20 or so obviously significant stories on any given weekday. That isn't true for most industries.

How long do you spend each day on the internet? Do you "disconnect"?

Probably 11 or so hours, adding up email, web, Twitter, etc. I disconnect when I sleep, and expect to disconnect when I die.

What is the last book that you read?

"Influence", by Robert Cialdini. I still need to read the Steve Jobs biography. No spoilers, please.

Besides Techmeme, what sites do you visit most?

Besides Techmeme, and besides Mediagazer, and the stuff they link to, I visit many other sites through Twitter. So, basically, a multitude of news sites and blogs. I do drop by the good old New York Times home page most days. Revolutions, potential wars, and a presidential election will have that effect on me.

Do you have any hobbies?

I like cooking, and try to perfect a couple new dishes each month. I play a few musical instruments, but mostly as a solitary stress release method. I relish making weird jokes on Twitter. I also enjoy taming and training cheetahs, but only in my mind.