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April 25, 2016, 10:28 a.m.
Mobile & Apps

The Verge launches Circuit Breaker, a gadget blog-as-Facebook page

The Verge is launching a new gadget blog that is built for Facebook. (Articles will also run on The Verge’s website.)

Is Facebook the new RSS? Vox Media’s tech site The Verge is trying something that might answer that question: It’s launching a gadget “blog,” Circuit Breaker, that will live primarily as a Facebook page, with posts appearing in the Instant Articles format.

The New York Times’ John Herrman, who first reported the news, wrote:

Circuit Breaker will be edited by Paul Miller, a former employee of The Verge who is returning to the company. Mr. Miller said the new page would reach for a “core audience” of hard-core gadget fans. The Verge offers some popular gadget coverage, but Mr. Miller said many of those gadget fans “feel neglected when we’re talking about Netflix” and technology’s role in the broader culture.

The page will also steer clear of covering the business of tech, leaving industry stories to The Verge or Recode, the tech news site founded by Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg that Vox Media acquired last year. (Some articles and reviews from The Verge, where Mr. Mossberg publishes a column, will appear on Circuit Breaker.)

Paul Miller — who’s actually been writing for The Verge for a couple weeks under the anagram Al Plumlier — introduced Circuit Breaker in a Facebook video:

“Circuit Breaker brings the best of old-school blogging together with a sophisticated, aggressive modern platform distribution strategy,” Nilay Patel, editor-in-chief of The Verge, said in a statement. “We’re going to expand the already huge Verge audience by giving passionate gadget fans tightly-focused coverage of device categories that are poised to change the culture all over again.”

Patel’s introductory post, however, downplayed the significance of Circuit Breaker’s Facebook presence somewhat, suggesting that readers “bookmark theverge.com/circuitbreaker, and make sure to like Circuit Breaker on Facebook. We’re going to be doing a lot of fun videos on Facebook, from live unboxings to Q&As to simple hands-on demos, and you don’t want to miss a thing.”

Facebook-as-blog is an interesting idea, and Instant Articles, which allow content to live right on the platform rather than requiring users to click out to a new page, makes it a lot more viable. When Instant Articles opened up to everybody, one immediate question was how soon we’d see a solo practitioner using it. Circuit Breaker is backed by a much larger publication, of course, but it’ll be worth following to see how it lives independent of The Verge.

I also thought of Gigaom founder Om Malik’s comment to Herrman last week: He said “if he were to start the business today, it would probably be a Facebook page.” (Disclosure: I used to work for Gigaom.) Malik got some pushback from Twitter for that comment — and, indeed, on the same day, Facebook pulled down The Shade Room’s extremely popular page with little explanation, amping up fears that publishers have given the platform too much control — but it’s pretty much exactly what Vox Media is doing here.

One topic, by the way, that came up in Twitter conversations Monday: If Circuit Breaker posts are also being posted on The Verge’s website, is this idea really that new? Answer: Probably yes.

It’s not (yet) possible to be an Instant Articles publisher if you don’t have a web source from which to feed your articles to Facebook. That, of course, could change in the future, but for now a publisher that wants to monetize its content using Instant Articles — and it sounds as if Circuit Breaker will be monetized in other ways too — needs some other home base for that content. Malik: “I call [the version of Circuit Breaker on The Verge’s website] a web-based backup/archive.”

This post was updated Monday evening with a few more thoughts on the “Facebook-first” nature of Circuit Breaker.

POSTED     April 25, 2016, 10:28 a.m.
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