Back in April I wrote Being 37signals for Free and it was easily the most popular entry so far this year on the site due to the emotions that a company like 37signals brings up and also the fact that it asked a question that many people themselves had been wondering. Fast forward to last week and TechCrunch reports on a Basecamp alternative that can be hosted and its creator has cited my entry as inspiration for getting the wheels moving. I think that’s pretty cool. It would’ve been better if there wasn’t a need for people to write entries to inspire others, but if it happens then it happens and who am I to complain? In any case, I thought I would do another entry similar to the 37signals one, but this time focusing on TechCrunch (TC).
TC is a great success story. Started a little over a year ago, the site has reached levels of traffic that most of us could only wish for after 5 years of working on a site. The site is frequently updated and seems to have the break on news stories before anyone else. So how do you get like that? Well it takes a lot of different factors to all fall into place and the sad thing is it doesn’t seem to be many of the qualities that we are ourselves work so hard to attain on our own sites. In my mind, what will make a site successful is:
- Quality content
- Fresh content
- A strong voice and personality
- Ability to get the word out on your site
- Knowledge of the topic
The great thing about the web is that anybody can start a site and work to become an expert in whatever genre they choose. TC tackles the Web 2.0 space and many would argue has become the definitive resource for all Web 2.0 news. The problem is that TC isn’t always accurate with its dissection of products. In fact, many times it’s a bit too obvious that the product/service/site that are being written about haven’t really even been reviewed at all. For example, in this entry on FleaFlicker the original copy spoke of the great AJAX work in the FleaFlicker application. Looking at the screenshot you can tell the application has nothing to do with AJAX at all, but is actually a Java applet running.
So I figured something about the site/company had to revolve around AJAX and I went to the site, took the time to setup an account and did a mock draft and guess what? It’s the same Java applet as the one that is shown in the screenshot and it took me 90 seconds to go through the trouble to discover that. Rundle pointed out the error in the entry and his comment was deleted and the entry changed, but I guess that’s another story for another day. The point is, TC has been able to become one of the stops to go for Web 2.0 without ever really being a knowledgeable resource. Would it be possible then to achieve TC status and make a claim for yourself as an expert in the Web 2.0 field?
Brian Benzinger over at Solution Watch probably writes the most indepth reviews of Web 2.0 products anywhere that I have seen, yet his traffic can’t compare to TC’s. Brian unfortunately doesn’t get the scoop as fast as TC and therefore isn’t as frequently updated as TC, but even if he did get the scoop he would be hard pressed to continue producing quality content on his own and pushing it out on a more frequent basis.
The lesson to be learned from TC is that most users love content on a frequent basis. The numbers behind TC, Engadget, Gizmodo, BoingBoing and other frequently updated sites don’t lie. The more unique, fresh content you can produce the better your chances of success. Unfortunately, for many who live at a higher standard this doesn’t play out too well. It doesn’t always have to be accurate and you certainly don’t have to be an expert in the field to be successful, but you do have to give the impression of quality.
Have a strong voice and don’t be afraid to promote you great entries. Don’t run around thinking everything you do is link-worthy, but if there is something you truly believe deserves recognition then don’t hesitate to spread the word. You will find a lot of TC entries make it to the frontpage of Digg and if anyone has ever had their site on Digg you know what kind of boost that presents. Also don’t think you just have to promote to an American audience. Reading the comments on TC there are many Asian-based comments which makes me wonder if they ever purposely did any marketing out in that region. If so it’s a brilliant move.
Finally, treat your readers, audience and peers with the respect they deserve. You don’t have to like everyone and many people will disagree with you, but at the very least show them respect. There are times when people have lost the right to get your respect, but if those times never occur don’t think you are better than the next person because of numbers that you can produce. Mark Fusco has been arguing with me on my site for over 2.5 years now and although we butt heads and don’t see eye-to-eye I respect him more than anyone else around because he gives it to me straight. Yeah, there have been times I have called him names after reading something he wrote, but after the cooldown period I read it again and try to understand where he is coming from. He’s earned my respect and kept it.
So if you want to build a TC the tools are right there in front of you. If you want to build your own unique experience the tools are right there in front of you as well. Just remember though that popularity doesn’t make you an expert and never gives you the right to look down on others.