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June 11, 2012, 5:11 p.m.
Aggregation & Discovery

Triumph of the human-powered aggregator: Dan Shanoff on moving Quickish to Gannett

Shanoff says he’s excited to see how his sports aggregator can be expanded once added to the growing number of sites in the USA Today Sports Media Group.

In adding Quickish to its quickly expanding nest of digital sports properties, Gannett’s USA Today Sports Media Group is signaling the importance of aggregation to readers’ media diets. But in Quickish, they’re getting more than a piece of machinery that sputters out topical, logical, computer driven news. Launched last year by Dan Shanoff, Quickish is a human-powered news discovery engine that emphasizes the best sports reads in any given moment.

The sports media group picked up Quickish for an undisclosed sum this morning, announcing they plan to keep the site running and incorporate its technology into other parts of the company’s sports outlets. That’s a growing list, with recent purchases like the Big Lead Sports and sites like High School Sports Net and MMA Junkie.

Dave Morgan, senior VP of content and editor-in-chief of the USA Today Sports Media Group, said Quickish-style aggregation could be popping up on a number of their sports sites, as widgets or themed modules —perhaps a Quickish for high school sports or a Quickish for MMA. When I spoke with Morgan Monday, he said aggregation has an important role to play in delivering sports news: “I think the right answer for us is not one or the other. We’re going to be creating something unique for our properties and audience,” he said. “I always think the human touch on top of anything we can do from an algorithmic standpoint will be very key.”

For sports in particular, readers’ loyalty starts with their teams, not necessarily any particular website. Providing the best, comprehensive information on what players and teams are up to is what’s valuable, Morgan said. Aggregation feeds into that by giving readers a broader range of writers and sources. “I think it’s important as we build out our digital properties and presence that curation plays an important role,” Morgan said.

Shanoff is making the move to the sports media group along with Quickish, which means the company is bringing on someone with deep online sports experience that includes AOL, Associated Content, Sports Illustrated, and ESPN among others. He’ll be taking on a new role working in audience development, a job that makes sense given Quickish’s focus on delivering the best stories to readers.

In between his Gannett new employee orientation sessions, Shanoff emailed me to talk about why he took Quickish to USA Today. “The cardinal dynamic of entrepreneurship is that you want to be at the nexus of an amazing team and an amazing opportunity. That’s what has me so excited about the Sports Media Group. Brilliant people wanting to do huge things,” he wrote.

In his 18 months running the site, Shanoff said he’s learned a lot about the reading habits of online audiences and the rhythms of sports journalism. “When it comes to curation, less is more. You are doing a greater service for news consumers by cutting down on their clutter as much as you can,” he said. Though Shanoff wouldn’t go into specifics about the site’s traffic, he said Quickish gets a lot of eyeballs, with people looking for updates during sporting events or catching up during the workday.

Quickish readers come to the site looking for a handful of things, among them of-the-moment analysis, sometimes even during a game, as well as postgame reaction. Shanoff said that experience has been driven in many way by Twitter, where we as readers want an real-time backchannel to follow as games are in-action. Having spent more than a year channeling the pulse of sports news, Shanoff said the volume of sports content has never been higher. Even with all the noise, great pieces still find a way to stand apart and be discovered. “There is a value to being first, sure, but in a world where social currency has become preeminent, it is so much more important to be good,” he said. “In real-time, ‘first’ isn’t even a factor anymore; everyone is chiming in within 3 minutes of a news event happening, but it is the truly outstanding analysis that gets passed around.”

Being an aggregator provides a unique perspective on a particularly busy year in sports. With labor disputes in the NFL and NBA, Tebowmania, and the rise and fall of Jeremy Lin, Shanoff said the Penn State football scandal was what dominated. “You saw the emergence of remarkable reporting talents like the Patriot-News’ Sara Ganim, a dominant national columnist like Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel doing as superlative work on Twitter as he did in his columns and what I contend was Grantland’s signature piece, Michael Weinreb’s ‘Growing Up Penn State,'” he said.

Shanoff said he’s excited about the resources the sports media group can put into Quickish and seeing how it can be expanded. “They have a big commitment to a couple of things Quickish is trying to do well: Real-time consumption, short-form publishing, curation and editor-vetted analysis,” he said. Though Quickish was a solo operator in its most recent past, Shanoff said the future of publishing means combining, not siloing off, things like aggregation and original content. As part of a company as big as Gannett, that can influence changes in the world of journalism, Quickish, and what it represents, could have far-reaching effects.

POSTED     June 11, 2012, 5:11 p.m.
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