Comcast is the new AOL

Eight years ago Vincent Ferrari tried to cancel his AOL account while a customer service rep, “annoyed the shit” out of him vainly trying to stick to his script.

AOL Cancellation in 2006

In 2014, Ryan Block, formerly of Engaget (purchased in 2005 by AOL btw) hits a similar wall while he’s pummeled by rep from the “customer retention” department.

plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

The Modern Media Stack

All eyes are on SB Nation who will play host to a new gadget site powered by eight staffers hired away from Engadget over at AOL. Former Engadget editor, Joshua Topolsky, describes being attracted to SB Nation’s vision which is equal part passionate writing (no one ever reads an “objective” sports column) and sophisticated real-time technology.

Our platform is a modern media stack focused on empowering rapid publishing, effective distribution and quality community in equal parts. – SB Nation describing their Media platform

The way SB Nation has evolved from a focus on fan-specific blog communities (which only engage on the colloquial level) aggregated up to the national level so that fans get the right mix between news about their favorite teams up to news about their favorite sports, on up to news important to sports fans everywhere describes, in general, the problems national media sites are facing today as they try and find that perfect balance between local, national, and international news.

It sounds like SB Nation has something akin to a “media carburetor” that can be tuned to find the perfect mix between local and global to provide the explosive engagement needed to drive growth today.

Topolsky is betting that the same secret sauce that powers finding the perfect mix for sports fans may also work for Gadget News. If he’s right, perhaps this same formula can be applied to other verticals as well – fashion, celebrity news, music, gamer news, financial news, on down the line. Any vertical who’s community can generate a strong enough signal at the “local” level should be able to feed into the model.

Further Coverage


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Tony Conrad on TWIST

I’m an occasional listener to Jason Calacanis’ podcast, This Week in Start Ups. The guests really make the show and this episode from a few weeks back with Tony Conrad, a partner at True Ventures, is killer. Tony didn’t get too much time to talk about his latest product, but he did share a lot about his thinking behind investing, advising, and building product in Silicon Valley.

Great snippets about the early days of WordPress, entrepreneur pitches, and Yuri Milner and his new investment strategy.

Steve Case talks his game

One thing I love about being in the Bay Area is that there are so many interesting events related to my industry going on all the time. Just up the street MacWorld is going off as Steve Job’s counterpoint to the CES show in Las Vegas last week. A lot of us at Six Apart are Mac fans so it’s not surprising that one of our developers went on record to gush about Apple’s latest.

Last night I headed down to Stanford to catch Howard Rheingold’s Literacy of Cooperation class and ran into Niall Kennedy who told me about a Walt Mossberg/Steve Case event over at the Computer History Museum. The format was an interview and Steve retold stories from the early days all the way up through the AOL/Time Warner merger.

Steve got his early training in marketing at P&G and one of the first lessons he learned was the value of the “free sample” in the consumer market -now we know the origin of those giveaway CDs. We also heard about his first foray at running online forums in which his strategy was to bundle access with the computer manufacturers and also make the “peripheral” modem part of the standard PC bundle. Apple was first, Tandy (Radio Shack), and then IBM. It was only when “the Apple deal blew up in our face” that Steve was forced to remove the Apple brand from the service that the AOL brand was born. Apple basically pushed Steve into the consumer business.

As someone who built a business on member-generated content and later the Chairman of a traditional media company, I was curious on Steve’s opinion of weblogs. There was a Q & A segment at the end and I took the opportunity to ask Steve this question. He was strongly in favor of this explosion of new voices and predicted that the media brands of tomorrow will rise up out of these new voices. When I followed up to ask about the role of editors in this new world, he noted that, “once you give the tools for everyone to be a publisher, you find out that not everyone is a very good publisher. There will always be a need for editors.”

[picture by Niall Kennedy]

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