The New Wave of Tech Media Aggregators

The Old School Aggregators

Content aggregators have always held a special place in the heart of techies and startup aficionados. As early adopters, we naturally crave the latest tech news; plus since we work with emerging companies and on some of the most nascent technology, any product announcement or news event can cause ripples that affect what we’re actually working on. The traditional tech media aggregators—such as TechMeme, HackerNews and tech-focused Reddits—have done a fine job of surfacing content that an individual publication might have missed or didn’t bother to cover. Techmeme in particular has the benefit of collecting numerous articles, thus perspectives, on any given major tech news event. The latter do a great job at providing a platform for content that falls within the long tail of tech news interests. And they have a reputation for igniting passionate commenting from their communities. Overall, tech media junkies have been served well.

But even though these are tech news aggregators and your interests likely lie in tech or startups generally, you will, at best, be interested in reading only a small number of the content aggregated on these sites. An article on Bitcoin’s latest price drop or Microsoft’s recent product release is very different from a founder’s blog post on how she approaches recruiting. There is obvious value in being exposed to all types of news and analysis, but your interests, and more importantly, the challenges you’re currently tackling, are likely to be on something relatively specific.


Lost Hope From Twitter, RSS, and the Instapaper/Pocket Posse

Twitter and RSS readers such as Feedly—which aren’t new at this point—have shifted some of the curatorial power to a state where consumers can personalize the news they’re exposed to. This is important. It helps solve the irrelevancy issue of the old-school aggregators. A suave Twitter or RSS reader user can follow or subscribe to a collection of news sources that closely reflects his or her interests, effectively creating a stream of highly relevant tech content.

But even if you are a skilled Twitter or RSS reader user, you’re still likely to feel overwhelmed by the volume of content that is out there. Plus, time is precious. Personally, I use a private Twitter list I created to follow roughly 120 users—it consists of individuals, publications, companies and more that tweet a dense stream of content that I care about. However I’m still overwhelmed by the volume. I try to cope with the Twitter list volume by favoriting and Instapaper’ing tweets with links that I hope to read. I’ll occasionally peruse these Tweets and their links, but I rarely find the time to get through most of them. And worse, very few of them are actually helpful with what I’m currently working on. These are all common problems.


The New Guys

Over the past year, quite a few products have come about that have effectively unbundled the old school aggregators (credit to @besvinick for coining this terminology). Some are focused on a certain vertical, while others are taking a horizontal approach. Quite a few of these have come about as side projects, others as platforms to help promote a brand, and some as venture-backed startups. There are crowd-sourced approaches, and carefully curated destinations. But each is making the consumption of tech media a bit easier for people interested in the respective type of content that is being aggregated. Here are a few that have been on my radar:

  • USV — Despite being criticized as a HackerNews clone, Union Square Venture’s new website does add some value for it’s constituency. I think the value-add is primarily derived from the content it surfaces, which is a product of the people it attracts, both of which are reflective of USV and what they represent (be it NYC tech, policy reform, networks, etc). Personally, I never really connected with HackerNews. Perhaps its sparse design played a role, but the content itself is likely the primary factor. I know I’m in the minority here. USV’s new site, on the other hand, collects a unique blend of news that I find more interesting. Hashtags are another distinguishing feature which could potentially help you find more relevant content, but some of the popular hashtags are too broad to be useful (ex. “Technology,” “Startups”) and there just aren’t many topics that are on the specific-side (ex. “Bitcoin,” “privacy.”). Overall, very few brands can pull off what USV did here. It’s great that they realized the opportunity and it’ll be exciting to see how it develops in the long run.
  • Coinspotting — Coinspotting is essentially a HackerNews just for Bitcoin news. It’s a pretty good example of what a subject-matter-specific aggregator could look like, and quite honestly it doesn’t make you feel optimistic about subject-matter-specific aggregators. You have to be really into Bitcoin to visit this thing regularly. It’s unclear how many people are visiting the site, but based on the post and comment volume, it doesn’t seem like it’s many. Perhaps the starkness of the HackNews feel isn’t welcoming people, or that Bitcoin is just too specific of a topic to garner adequate volume. No doubt, more sites will pop up that take Coinspotting’s approach to other verticals/topics. It will be interesting to see how they evolve and whether they will simply be overshadowed by the Reddits of the world.
  • Product Hunt — Product Hunt is one of the more exciting aggregators that’s been capturing the startup world’s attention recently. It essentially allows users to share new products and projects that they find. It’s distilling and highlighting a key thing that early-adopters crave, new product and project announcements. It actually relieves some of the anxiety of not knowing what’s new out there. Early-stage VCs suffering from FOMO must love this. One thing I like from a UI-perspective is the consistency of each post (“Product Name—one liner”), which makes it very usable and easy to browse, and which differentiates it from its HackerNews posting style. Its founders, Ryan Hoover and Nathan Bashaw, also launched ProductHunt pretty cleverly—letting only select members share new products at first. This has effectively ensured that really interesting content is posted, and it has set up velvet ropes that gives the aura of exclusivity—a classic launch tactic to garner interest.
  • Startup{ery — (Disclosure: this is a side project I created) Startup{ery is positioning itself as the de facto, authoritative source for high-quality best-practices content on building a startup. Some of the most prominent VCs were the earliest pioneers in creating such content. Fred Wilson, Brad Feld, Mark Suster, Babak Nivi and others are deservedly credited for their efforts here—as the new school of startup practitioners openly attest to. But in the past two years we’ve seen an explosion in high-quality best-practices content. In the BD context for instance, we’ve seen the growth of whole tip-sharing communities around the personal blogs of Scott BrittonAlex Taub and Scott Pollack. Medium and Svbtle have also inspired a new breed of thought leaders. And VC firms—such as First Round Capital, Google Ventures and Sequoia Capital—have placed bets on producing best-practices-type content as a part of their marketing strategy. While all of this content is only occasionally shared through the aggregators, they are more typically distributed through tweets and newsletter subscriptions. This is unfortunate. The collective knowledge created by these practitioners is capable of getting a startup founder or operator through nearly any challenge they face in practice. Of course, startups must innovate, but the advice out there is usually universally applicable and pretty timeless. Receiving this content through Twitter and newsletters provides random value at best. I really respect the writers producing this content, but I currently have no need for their latest blog post on how to handle friction in a board room. So Startup{ery is on a mission to make this previously and newly published content centralized and incredibly accessible, organizing it by hyper-specific topics so practitioners can find it when they actually need it. (Ok, back to the regularly scheduled programming …).
  • Growth Hackers & Designer News — These two sites—both loosely affiliated with companies in their functional areas (Qualaroo/growth and LayerVault/design, respectively)—are becoming great and popular destinations for growth and design-related practitioners. The communities are rife and there is a steady stream of on-topic news and best-practices content, thereby enabling visitors to network and keep up-to-date with the latest trends. Growth Hackers also has a great categories feature, which is helpful in filtering out irrelevant content. Startup{ery still maintains its value though as it provides a permanent home for the most-helpful and less-transient of this content. Creating these sites though were brilliant moves for their corporate creators—there is clear value in associating your brand with a product used by a potential customer base and that is a destination for the latest news in your space. You can easily imagine sites like these popping up for other industries and functional areas.
  • MatterMark — Mattermark is taking one of the more innovative approaches to aggregating tech news and analysis. Rather than collecting and displaying articles covering any given news event or company, they score startups and VC firms based on a variety of data, including press coverage. These scores serve as an authoritative barometer for the state of the entity being scored. Mattermark essentially helps its customers get to the end game quicker: why read every perspective on every company you’re evaluating when you can more easily rely on Mattermark’s set of metrics. I can see this being very helpful for VCs, especially considering the volume of companies that they interact with. Mattermark has built a company around their process and also raised funding from well-respected VCs (which is pretty solid validation considering that their target customers are VC firms). I haven’t personally used the product—you can only get access if you pay for it, and the prices aren’t cheep—but I believe the Mattermark team will continue to refine their product so they can deliver even more value for what they’re charging.

Overall, I’m happy and excited to see that there are new approaches to consuming tech and startup-related content. There is more content and news than ever now, time is as precious as it always has been, and everyone learns and processes information differently. I’m also excited to be apart of this wave with Starup{ery.