September 17th, 2008
My post on Drudge beating all other news sites on engagement was an aha for many, which is interesting because the lesson of Drudge has been around for a decade. But the lessons of web publishing are all so utterly counterintuitive that I suppose they take a while to sink in.
That said, a number of commenters took issue with the conclusion that Drudge’s engagement metrics are meaningful, and that there are any useful lessons for other news sites.
I’m going to respond by upping the ante — I think the lesson of Drudge is that every news site should put a continuously updated aggregation of links on their homepage.
Here’s how the argument to my original post went. Several commenters, including Ian Lamont from The Industry Standard pointed out:
The auto-refresh rate (about once every three minutes, I believe) throws a wrench into comparisons with other sites that don’t auto-refresh. Some advertisers and outsiders may be impressed by Drudge’s high pv/visit numbers, but those are inflated by people who keep their Drudge window open while visiting links in other tabs.
To which I responded:
What news site wouldn’t want to be open in a reader’s browser being refreshed all day?
And then I asked:
Why can’t news sites be a destination for original content AND links?”
To which Tim Buden responded:
Because they perform two essentially different functions. One is a destination, one is a starting point. You’re simply not going to get the same behaviour.
People go to a story page on some news content site after having found the link on some aggregator or portal. They do not hang around on the news site’s front page, refreshing the page and hoping for new links.
And while outbound links on the story page may well be useful, they’re not going to hang out on that page hoping for new links on the story either. That’s a job for aggregators.
And that’s when the lightbulb went on.
Most new sites are at the wrong end of the value chain.
Most news site are just a bunch of individual content pages that people land on FROM SOMEWHERE ELSE and where they quickly leave to go SOMEWHERE ELSE.
That’s why Google derives more economic value on the web than any other media company — because Google figured out how to be the starting point. And they did it by offering the WHOLE web, not just a tiny slice of it.
Most news sites offer a tiny slice of the web, which consists of their own content.
Aggregators offer the WHOLE web.
Most news sites — in fact, most content sites — are just a brief stopping point as users surf the web, neither a beginning nor an end.
I read NYTimes.come every day, but I only visit it once or twice a day, because unless there is breaking news, the homepage doesn’t really change much. There’s no reason to go back.
But just because NYTimes.com has no new content on its homepage doesn’t mean news on the web is standing still.
In contrast, I visit Techmeme multiple times per day, because there is ALWAYS new news. In fact, I visit NYTimnes.com more often via a link on Techmeme than I do going to NYTimes.com directly.
And then there are the hundreds of news sites that I visit ONLY when a site like Techmeme or Google sends me there. But I won’t go back to these sites until I get sent there again. But I’ll ALWAYS go back to Techmeme or Google.
OK, so here comes the really counterintuitive part — a news site does NOT have to choose between being a pass-through content publisher and a starting point aggregator.
A news site can be BOTH.
Imagine if the NYTimes.com put above the fold on its homepage a continously updated list of links to breaking news around the web — and then set the homepage to auto-refresh, like Drudge and Techmeme.
Instead of checking NYTimes.com once or twice a day, I’d probably start checking it constantly… obsessively.
And each time I came… I’d notice any new NYT content, along with new links.
Or what if WashingtonPost.com did the same thing? Instead of going to NYTimes.com by default, I’d probably go to WashingtonPost.com… and NYTimes.com would become just one of the many places that WashingtonPost.com sent me.
Or… what if, Newsweek.com, for example, created this destination for links to news of what’s going in the world? Maybe I’d stop going to either the Post or the Times, because Newsweek would send me to the best stories from both sites… and many more.
Or… what if the Post’s LoudounExtra local site did the national/international news aggregation. Then I could find out what’s going on in the world — from ALL the best sources on the web — AND find out what’s going on in my community, all in one place.
Bottom line is… I’ll ALWAYS go back to the site that constantly updates with links. It’s the way I can derive the most value from the web as a news source.
New sites need to ask themselves — how can we create the most value for news consumers on the web? The evidence is pretty darn clear.
So is anybody going to take my advice? The problem is what I’m suggesting runs so completely counter to traditional publishing that many editors would literally have to put their heads on backwards in order to devote a portion of their homepages to news aggregation.
But I still hold out hope the newspaper editors, for example, will come to the realization that in print they are already in the aggregation business — but on the web, they are merely in the content business.
And on the web, as in print, all the economic value is in the aggregation business.
The tools exist for newsrooms to collaborate in creating a continuously updated news aggregation on the homepage — all that’s required is for a news site to decide it makes both editorial and economic sense to be in the aggregation business, to be a starting point for news.
P.S. Just for kicks, here’s the latest Hitwise ranking for news sites — check out Drudge’s market share:
P. P. S. It just occurred to me after posting this why Drudge has such a huge audience — because Drudge has NO COMPETITION!
Geesh. You’d think some highly trusted traditional news brand would roll up their sleaves and take on Drudge.