At least, Techcrunch won’t end up in its own deadpool

techcrunch plane

On Monday, when I read GigaOm’s post about a very likely acquisition of Techcrunch by AOL, I just thought it was weird for GigaOm to go the linkbaiting way. Unfortunately, the next day, the deal was made official. To tell you the truth, this acquisition feels really odd. Michael Arrington explains that the synergy between AOL and Techcrunch is real, but the creator of the recently-sold tech blog should also admit that being acquired greatly affects the “independent press” label of Techcrunch.

By that, I do not mean that the editorial team will adapt its content to the expectations of its advertisers or its owner (AOL). Michael Arrington made it clear that content-wise, the Techcrunch philosophy would remain the same.

The problem is as follows: Belonging to a big Internet company jeopardizes the trust factor between Techcrunch and technology creators. As a young and defenseless entrepreneur who just developed an innovative concept/product, would you feel safe sending the details of your project to an email inbox that belongs to a huge technology-gulping mogul? Of course not! Unless your product is branded with your company name and already known by the tech crowd, sending the news of a new prototype for potential coverage and a first buzz on Techcrunch becomes extremely risky because you could always imagine that AOL could intercept your message and develop your great idea internally. Additionally, if Techcrunch doesn’t write about it, nobody will really know that YOU created it.

The problem is trust: During all these years, Michael Arrington seems to have built a humongous network in the tech industry by being in close relations with the people who matter the most. Since the guy was independent and successful, everybody trusted that Techcrunch was a safe harbor for exclusive news and ideas. Making the news was his major leitmotiv.

Even if things haven’t changed on the Techcrunch side of things, AOL is now the boss, so anything that happens in Techcrunch could not stay in Techcrunch, and might also travel all around AOL. Trust: A lot of entrepreneurs have a trust issue, are scared of sending press release and even getting press, fearing that interesting parties might steal their idea and outdo them. Psychologically, Techcrunch loses a lot of trustrank towards the tech community by selling out to the big guys.

Things can only go downhill from there. As part of the Readwriteweb writing team (Readwriteweb France), I am delighted by this news, because it gives Readwriteweb a nice leading position as an international independent tech blog. I just hope that this deal between AOL and Techcrunch won’t force Readwriteweb into selling out for the egomaniac needs of some uninteresting tech company too.

As a side note, I have contributed two posts to Techcrunch France in the past months (for free, of course), but I won’t be doing this anymore knowing that Techcrunch now belongs to the filthy-rich AOL.

Trust, and a sense of independence, it’s all it takes to build a strong community. Techcrunch had it all, and they blew it. Can’t be too hard on Michael Arrington (I am an hardcore Techcrunch fan): He achieved something extremely remarkable, and luckily, that’s one startup that won’t end up in its own deadpool.

911, Techcrunch, Fake Comments, Startupwizz

Techcrunch startupwizz twitter

techcrunch startupwizz google 911

I have a game for the readers of Techcrunch: I was reading this post today where Paul Carr, a columnist for Techcrunch, complains that his outrageous posts do not generate waves of death threats and blog-mob violence. Of course, what follows is a comment thread full of mixed reactions regarding the blunt writing style of the columnist.

Intro: Techcrunch needs comments

Before I keep going, I want to make sure you understand that Techcrunch gets paid (mainly) by page impressions. They have a direct sales team, and they work with ad networks to make money. But Techcrunch also spends money on events, a business directory (Crunchbase), high-profile writers, interns, heavy traffic hosting solutions… In other words, with all things in consideration, it’s probably challenging to keep the cash flow positive. Its direct competitor Mashable is a company of about the same size, with I imagine the same expenses. Mashable’s historic strategy is to cover everything from the tech industry. This ambitious SEO strategy allowed the blog to grow extremely fast, but there is so many updates per day that following it quickly turns into a major headache.

Techcrunch has a different strategy: They keep their posts/day around 10 to 15. To drive traffic, they go for the controversy strategy:

my whole shtick is saying inflammatory things and inciting furious debate among morons (Paul Carr, from article mentioned above)

Why? Because A well-versed educative article that can be read from a RSS reader, starred and forgotten forever doesn’t bring traffic. Techcrunch has +3 million RSS readerss, but they need to make them come to the site, because Adsense for feeds pays way less than TC’s ads. How do you make them come: With a controversial title that will make remote readers want to share their opinion on the site. When Techcrunch is going through a slow Sunday, why not trash the Brazilians, and have them all come to the site for a fight and a prolific load of ad impressions.

The ratio behind pushing comments is much more than 1 commenter = 1 ad impression. Today, comments travel through the statusphere, and all become a viral agent for the article-source. Techcrunch relies on its controversy-n-comment strategy to keep the business going, and just like any business, it seems like they sometimes go too far.

Startupwizz?

So I was saying, I was reading this post from Paul Carr, and the following comments. One comment struck me:

Techcrunch startupwizz comment

This comment intrigued me because of its well-articulated structure and its intellectual depth, which obviously contrasts with the rest of the comments. ‘Who’s that Startupwizz?’ I thought (‘BS! Fake comment!’ is what really popped into my mind) So I followed the @startupwizz link on Twitter:

Techcrunch startupwizz twitter

What you see here is a dull Twitter bot account. All the tweets originate from Twitterfeed (automatic posting of a RSS feed on Twitter), it follows 5 random accounts, and 3 accounts that belong to the Techcrunch network. It has 8 followers total, including spammers and people who haven’t done their friendorfollow cleanup yet.

Ok, a bot account linked to Techcrunch doesn’t mean that it actually belongs to Techcrunch. So I followed the link to Startupwizz’ Website to see what the company was all about: Startupwizz is a user-submitted directory of tech companies, much like… the Crunchbase. There is no specific info on the about page on who is behind this project. You have to use a contact form to send an email to someone. In other words, a fake Website. You can find other comments of Startupwizz on Techcrunch here, here, and here. Oddly enough, I could only find comments from Startupwizz on Techcrunch (911 results on Google for startupwizz).

Conclusion?

So now let me ask you: A commenter consistently posts well-balanced opinions, always and only on Techcrunch, with the name Startupwizz that can only be associated with a fake Twitter account and a fake Website, what do you think about it?

I declared war on anonymous commenters, making it absolutely clear how much I hate every last one of them, and even threatening to bludgeon the little basement-dwellers to death with their own Wil Wheaton action figures. (from the Paul Carr post mentioned above)

Crunchbase Widget Adds Value To Startup Reviews TradeVibes Not Far Behind

crunchbase

The initial idea with HyveUp was to build a directory of Web 2.0 startups where the search behavior would be video-centered. Very quickly, I understood all the challenges of creating such a database. The most obvious conclusion I drew was that only a central actor in the Web 2.0 industry could successfully manage such a project. Building such a directory requires being informed about the latest company creations, project failures, bring qualitative information, know the people behind the companies, the venture firms, traffic information, companies’ locations and contact info, and so on. Let me tell you, this is not a one man job.

Recently, I started using the Crunchbase widget for my posts. This widget is coherent with my content as I review startups in a somehow similar way that traditional tech blogs do. Therefore, I need to provide readers with in-depth info of the companies I cover.

Techcrunch is the unbeatable provider of Web 2.0 news. They do not cover the entire 2.0 scene on the blog the way Kristen Nicole does on Mashable, but I have no doubt that anything that needs to be known about Bubble 2.0 goes through their editors’ inbox. In a few words, Techcrunch is the epicenter of all things Web 2.0. From that perspective, I judge Techcrunch to be the fittest to handle a quality directory of Web 2.0 startups.

crunchbaseThe Crunchbase has a clean-cut design, with internal company information in the left sidebar, including a link to the company’s LinkedIn profile, and external info in the right sidebar (Techmeme‘s related posts, Techcrunch’s related posts and recent incoming links, i.e. posts where the widget was pasted). The Crunchbase is built on a wiki platform: Visitors can easily edit the information presented and add new startups. Gate keepers (or site moderators, most of them interns) need to approve the changes suggested to make them effective. This helps fight spam and keep the content in sync with reality. On the downside, it seems like it may take a while before moderators review your contribution.

The juicy thing about the Crunchbase is the widget that site editors can grab and paste in their posts. This widget is almost like a seal of authenticity: Its presence doesn’t mean that what is written above or below it is true, but it helps publishers provide information that is right. For example, if I fail to make an accurate description of a company I am reviewing, the reader can always be thankful that I have posted a direct link to a trustworthy source of information about the topic he was searching. In other words, the widget adds value to my posts.

buzzShoutFortunately, the Crunchbase is not alone in this arena of compiling all the Web 2.0 startups in one place. I will start by Buzzshout, a Website that is no longer maintained by its owner, but that I really liked when it was still active. Buzzshout is a user-generated directory of Web 2.0 startups where visitors also rank the tools they like. Despite the clean-looking interface, and the catchy name, the owner of the site dropped the project to go work for Scribd (who wouldn’t?).

dealipediaMore serious competitors include Dealipedia: Dealipedia covers deals from all industries (not specific to the Web industry). Compared to the Crunchbase, Dealipedia offers weekly wrap-ups, an extensive collection of transactions, reporting views of M&A, Investment, IPO, weekly deal count and it tells you who actually makes money on the deals (something I’m sure the Founder of Techcrunch would love to mention too). Because of its lack of focus on tech deals, Dealipedia doesn’t directly compete with the Crunchbase.

tradevibesCrunchbase’s most direct and aggressive competitor to the Crunchbase is TradeVibes. Duncan Riley gives an in-depth comparison between the two directories in this post. Duncan Riley brings out good points, but to my opinion, TradeVibes is attractive because it creates a playful environment around the life of Web 2.0 startups. In Tradevibes, you can play startup battle: Choose between two similar startups which one will eat the other up. Users get access to discussions threads, they can give their opinion on a startup (bullish or bearish, they can vote, they can win gifts if they invite friends to join, and they offer site publishers to grab and paste widgets of the companies they cover.

TradeVibes was founded by 4 Pay-Palers. According to Compete, they generate about 25K uniques a month. Their business strategy is definitely more user-generated oriented. So far, to determine who will succeed in this game, it is mostly a question of belief: user-generated or editor-moderated? What is the winning solution? There isn’t any proven model for this kind of activity. The Crunchbase attracts more visitors though, over 300K/months. However, it isn’t clear if widget views are included in the maths. If this is the case, than the two directories are probably even.

Techcrunch generates vapor for Powerset

powerset

Today, Michael Arrington brings up some Saturday afternoon talk by wondering if Powerset should sell before launch. I find this to be a weird question: If Powerset has been able to create a vaporware, then they should be able to attract at least a few million users in the first few months, and generate a monster buzz in the tech blogosphere.

However, the Web 2.0 opinion leader has a point: Now that Microsoft cannot count on Yahoo to gain market shares, it’ll have to focus on acquiring promising young technologies. Powerset is the perfect target for Microsoft: search engine, natural search, actively positioning itself as the next Google, and about to launch. However, it doesn’t make sense for Powerset to sell right now. They developed a promising search engine full of business opportunities. If they succeed, they’ll be making $100m a month.

Sending mixed messages is a new communication fashion. Techcrunch is a king in this field. Not that I don’t like this style, but concerning Powerset, they should at least launch for a year to sell a search engine with users, instead of a dull deserted platform like Second Life.