Today marks exactly one month since I’ve managed to have a post I’ve written turn into a headline on Techmeme. In the preceding month, the site had 14 headlines, 11 of which I wrote. Since June 29, The Inquisitr has hit Techmeme once, a post JR wrote on July 3, but never since. It’s also just over a month since this new broke, a coincidence perhaps, but unlikely.
What I am happy to report is that there is life after Techmeme. Inbound links have actually increased since June 29, with The Inquisitr breaking into the top 4000 blogs online as of today. The site has seen no decrease in traffic, and has actually trended up since that date. In the life of any blog covering tech, Techmeme doesn’t matter. Here’s what I’ve learned in the last month.
Write for your audience, not the headline
Techmeme thrives on sensationalist headlines and big exclusives, real or imagined, but it doesn’t track quality. It’s extremely easy to chase quick headlines, but harder to provide substance. See more here.
The Crunchmeme bias
Techmeme has long been accused on showing bias towards TechCrunch, but Rivera has always maintained that there is a magic mix of inbound links not showing that determine content on the site. There is no magic mix. Some sites are given precedence over others. One example: a headline hit Techmeme July 25 that detailed the details for a TechCrunch Party. There were no links showing on the site, and given it wasn’t really a news headline as such, it was rather strange to see it there. At the time I ran every single test I could possibly find to see what may have been linking in to it, including social bookmarking sites and social voting sites. Technorati and Google Blog Search both showed one spam blog that had copied the post in full linking in. De.licio.us showed one bookmark via my Shareaholic plugin, but no links on the site proper. There were no other links in on any other service when that post hit Techmeme. It was either placed there manually, or hit Techmeme based on a formula that favors TechCrunch over other sites.
The failure of impartiality
Techmeme is not an impartial service that chronicles the leading tech news of the day. Rivera likes to suggest that people who don’t get headlines aren’t writing good, topical content, but this simply isn’t the case when some sites are weighed more favorably than others. I have also been told privately by somebody that Rivera also gives weight to sites based on the topic area, for example some sites may have a better chance of a headline if they write in an area they are well known for, example: RSS, social networking, or any other filter applied by the service. Rivera can denigrate others all he wants, but Techmeme is a private theifdom that lacks impartiality.
Techmeme has always traded on influence over traffic. Anyone who has even had a headline on Techmeme knows that the traffic it delivers is minor, and rarely, if ever reaches four figures. To be fair though the service has always been popular among first adopters and tech bloggers, but even this popularity is declining. Quantcast shows a significant drop in traffic at Techmeme, starting in May. Alexa shows a longer term decline. Where as Techmeme once happily sat in the Alexa top 100,000, it is now regularly out of it. In ceasing to be an impartial tracker of interesting startup stories, and instead moving towards covering more mainstream content from fewer sites, Techmeme is losing its audience. Influence means nothing if the audience shrivels up, and how long will advertisers pay a reported $6,500 an ad to reach a smaller and smaller numbers of readers.
The rise of the alternatives
Part of the decline of Techmeme can be attributed to the competition. FriendFeed has captured the imagination of many first adopters and has become a first call for the latest interesting news. It also does a far better job as a meritocracy than Techmeme does. There are also others, Dave Winer’s Techjunk comes to mind. Techmeme thrived as it stood alone as the unchallenged meme tracking leader in the space, and it declines as others offer fairer, more interesting and engaging alternatives.
Lists are irrelevant
Leaderboards and lists are all constructs of two things: elite who feel the need to constantly repeat that they are better than everyone else so that they remain elite, better than others, or alternatively, created by those who seek the influence of those at the top of the list by worshipping at their feet. And yet lists and leaderboards mean nothing when it comes to building a blog, an audience, or even a living. Some of the most profitable blogs and bloggers today are people you have never heard of, because while some are obsessed with telling others how wonderful they are, the rest are busy focusing on getting the job done. You don’t need to be on a list to be successful, even if the occasional bit of recognition is nice.
As I continue my life after Techmeme, I do feel some sadness, but only in respect to my errors in the past. I wrongly believed that Techmeme was greater than it is, and that getting your next headline on Techmeme was all that mattered. It doesn’t.
Rivera is making good money from the site and has led the pack for a long time; good on him for doing so, and credit where it is due. However, losing focus on the end user by diminishing your product based on personal likes and dislikes is never a clever business strategy, and those that lose perspective on the end user will always do so at their own peril.