On Wednesday, November 28, 2012, I attended NYC Content Conversations at Outbrain. Gabe Rivera, founder of Techmeme was the speaker and discussed whether or not curating is an art or a science. Steve Kovach, Business Insider’s founding editor was the moderator.
Steve Kovach started the night with asking Gabe Rivera how he selects stories and how Techmeme’s automation came to be. “Our goal,” Rivera said, “was to be like the one stop place to go for the most important tech story of the day. Our vision was a page where you don’t need to do full scrolling. We pulled things in through RSS feeds, but we also used scrapers. We took it as far as it could go, but in the end, it was cheaper and more efficient to hire human editors.” Kovach asked how long it took to realize they needed human editors. “About three years after we launched. There’s still an automated core. Human editors can actually block what goes on the site, but automated moves articles up and down the site. It’s all based on shares and links.” Rivera continued, “Editors have the power to remove links on the site. Some websites think they can go fully automatic, but there is no reason for obsolete news to appear on the page.” He emphasized the need for human editors on websites that curates breaking news stories.
Rivera revealed that Techmeme employs people around the world. “We have people who are scanning the news 24/7. We have around nine editors around the world. If someone is sleeping, there has to be someone up watching tech news.” In relation to the topic of human editors, Kovach asked, “How do you choose a blog to link when it’s a big story?” Rivera responded immediately. “When we’re faced with a big story, we rely on our human editors. They quickly analyze and access what is best for our readers. Also, more than half the time, you will rely on more than half a dozen sites for news. You get this distribution through voices on Twitter and sharing.”
Kovach joked that his story first appeared on Techmeme only to be replaced by another story two hours later. “Why are stories replaced on Techmeme?” he asked. “My guess on what happens is that the story that was first reported was written quickly. A second source that was written a few hours later is better built and our editors compare the two. Given the magnitude of the stories, we choose the best account.”
When asked why Rivera doesn’t put his own voice in Techmeme, he responded, “I don’t think a setup where I put my own titles would scale because I want to do a lot of other things. It would interfere with the purity and simplicity of the product.” Regarding training new employees, Rivera was a little vague on his answer. “There’s a lot of nuances,” he said. “We want to be a site where people rely on finding essential tech industry news — we want ‘In the Moment’ stories, not old ones.”
Sometimes, news sites make mistakes. Kovach asked what Techmeme does to correct mistakes that might appear on their site. “We update,” Rivera said. “We replace the mistake with a new story. Editors constantly re-evaluate what is relevant, what is important throughout the website. There’s a push and pull between us and the rest of the Internet. Sometimes there’s something on Techmeme and something that’s opposed. This is just part of the process.”
“The tech vertical for Business Insider is SAI. Do you think this would be important for Techmeme readers? Can’t they just scan your website and leave without clicking on posts?” Kovach asked. Rivera answered, “Well, people are getting better at describing their headlines because of Twitter. You can get an idea of what the stories are from the headlines.” Kovach asked if Techmeme would ever move out of its tech-based audience. Rivera doubted it. “I don’t think we can move beyond industry people and what we are. People who are of the industry or interested in the industry is our audience. We get a coupe of million huts, but we’ll never be in the tens of millions. If we wanted to do that, we’d need another vertical.”
Regarding Techmeme mobile, Rivera revealed that less than 15 percent of traffic came from mobile. “We should do our own app, but we have two developers—one of them is me.”