When Peter Rojas deleted his Facebook account a few months ago, it wasn’t because he hates social networks. The evidence? Rojas sees media sites heading in a social direction. At a talk on the future of blogging at Emerson College yesterday, he said that we’re headed for a return to connectivity, civil discussion and a bottom-up approach — the kind of things he says marked the early days of blogging.
Rojas founded the Gawker gadget site Gizmodo and went on to start its rival Engadget. In all, the half dozen properties he’s started since the early 2000s attract about 30 million unique visitors each month. That success at driving traffic is, in part, what inspired his most recent project, a networked gadgets site called gdgt.
Rojas thinks it will be increasingly difficult to build an online content business in an environment where quantity is the primary goal. The constant urge to publish more content and drive pageviews is not doing much for the reader. “[The web] is always trying to drive more clicks,” he said. “When everyone is doing it, it becomes a zero sum game.” When ads are sold on a CPM basis that requires huge pageview numbers to make money, publishers start pushing out more and more content. “It’s sort of a tragedy of the commons where the tragedy is our attention,” he said.
Rojas hopes his latest project will offer a better user experience that sidesteps those pageview demands. Gdgt is a discussion site that connects people to each other via gadgets — the ones they own, the ones they want, the ones they’ve left behind. Users contribute most of the content, in the form of reviews, ratings, and discussions. The site will eventually role out new tools that will let users build reputations. For an example of what the site is like, check out Rojas’ Gdgt profile. It’s not a news site in the way Gizmodo and Engadget are, and the founders hope that opens up more opportunities for innovative revenue streams.
Cofounder of the site Ryan Block pointed out that news sites have often rejected the use of affiliate programs like Amazon Associates, which give a small cut to sites that refer purchasers, because they believe they’d create a perverse incentive to write positive reviews. Gdgt uses affiliate programs on product pages; it also sells ad space for products like this Panasonic TV in a format that promotes the product’s gdgt page rather than something offsite. (Thanks to Ryan for clarifying that in the comments.) Rojas said he can also envision relationships with companies as another source of revenue, along with pro accounts or even a research service.
The site is also running in-person events modeled after trade shows that usually only journalists and buyers get to attend. Despite a lengthy list of event sponsors, Block said he doesn’t see the events as a moneymaker, even in the long run, but an interesting way for the site to offer an “extension of the metaphor” they’re creating online — and another way to make the experience more social.