Below is a transcript of an interview that I recently conducted with Guy Kawasaki. It was great to hear his fascinating perspective on the state of the news business — and to learn more about his latest projects. If you haven’t checked out Alltop yet, I strongly encourage that you do.
This article was first published on NowPublic.com
NowPublic recently had the chance to catch up with Guy Kawasaki, a leading venture capitalist with Garage Technology Ventures, former Apple evangelist, and a highly respected web entrepreneur and blogger.
We spoke to Kawasaki about his most recent ventures, Alltop.com – a single page, news aggregation site, Truemors.com – a citizen journalism-styled, news sharing and storytelling site, and his thoughts on the future of news
NowPublic: Can you give us a bit of background of what motivated you to create Alltop?
Kawasaki: First, philosophically, there’s so much great information on the web, but it’s very hard for most people to find it. Google finds ten million matches for every topic. RSS is a big help, but only if you understand what RSS is, how to use it, and where to find the feeds. Also, there is the initial problem of finding sites and blogs that are worth aggregating at all. So we do all of this for people and provide an “online magazine rack” for people. Second, we noticed how much traffic popurls was sending Truemors, so we figured there must be something to aggregations. Theoretically, once we have topics set up, all we need to do is make sure the servers are running. How cool is that?
NP: What other new categories are you working on?
Kawasaki: We’re adding four to five topics a week. Since Books and Art, we’ve added Crafts, Beauty, China, and Virtual. At some point we could have every topic in the universe, but then we’d just be another Google. Which, come to think of it, wouldn’t be so bad.
NP: Who do you bring in to help determine which sites will be aggregated for each category?
Kawasaki: The story of how we pick topics and what goes into topics is very interesting. I’m not a big believer in the wisdom of crowds. However, within crowds there’s usually a handful of people who really live and breath a topic and want to share their knowledge. The single best way I have found to tap these folks is Twitter. I get suggestions for new topics all the time on Twitter. We implement most of them. In fact, the people who suggest topics usually already have a great list of feeds. Without Twitter, Alltop would not be nearly what it is today. I dare say that I get more value out of Twitter than anyone on the planet.
NP: Are you personally a fan of highly-customizable feed readers and websites?
Kawasaki: I’m not. High levels of personalization and customization is for the uppermost 1% of the Internet. The state of the art of RSS feeds is much too troublesome for most people. With customizable feed readers and websites, you can do almost everything we do for you with Alltop. The issue is whether it’s worth the trouble for most people to find a feed reader or customizable site, find the sites and blogs that interest you, find the feeds of those sites and blogs, and then set up the feed reader or customizable site.
NP: How do see the relationship evolving between “curated” (editorialized) and automated content?
Kawasaki: There is no right and wrong or good and bad. There’s only what works for you. We are closer to Mahalo and Wikipedia in that the selection of topics and feeds within a topic are highly subjective, unautomated, and not crowd sourced. Our topics and feeds are “crafted” not automated. In your terms, Alltop is the automation of curation. Or, you can think of Alltop as the anti-social media site. Your contributors might find topics like Science.alltop.com and Design.alltop.com excellent sources for stories for NowPublic because we are checking hundreds of sources every ten minutes. Many of these sources are far off the beaten path, and their stories should reach more people.
NP: With Truemors, which is an open access, news sharing, and storytelling site, what has your experience been like working with participatory media (so-called ‘citizen journalism’)?
Kawasaki: Truemors was wide open, but it’s not anymore. We found that a handful of “truemorists” that we know and gave accounts to yields a much higher quality selection of news. Anyone can still post, but if you’re not a truemorist, the posting is held until someone on our side approves it manually. Truemors is effectively trying to “curate” news from hundreds of sources and provide “NPR for your eyes” in the sense of eclectic human interest news.
NP: You’ve also enabled the public to be able to post stories to Truemors in a variety of ways. People can phone, text, or email stories, but they can also add breaking news updates through the “Twitter News Network”. What kind of impact are microblogging applications, like Twitter, having on news?
Kawasaki: When the dust settled, the posting method that worked is via the web. Very few people used any of the cool methods we were so proud of. And now with truemorists holding the keys, it’s virtually exclusively web postings other than the Twitter News Network. Having said this with regard to Truemors specifically, Twitter can have an enormous impact on news. One particularly good example is Newmediajim who is an NBC cameraman who’s flying around with the president on Air Force One.
NP: By opening up more and more distribution channels for content, we’re faced with an increasingly overwhelming onslaught of information. How do you personally navigate this ocean of infinite choice?
Kawasaki: Here’s a funny story. I use NetNewswire to keep track of all the feeds in Alltop. At one point, I had more than 3,000 feeds; these feeds generated 20,000 stories per day. Now I get my news from several Alltop topics like Mac.alltop.com and Socialmedia.alltop.com as well as paper pubs like the San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury, and Wall Street Journal.
NP: In the world of social media, there has been a web 2.0 trend toward “hyperlocal” and “hyperpersonal” news, how do you see Alltop and Truemors fitting into that spectrum?
Kawasaki: I suppose at some point Alltop and Truemors can get hyperlocal. Right now, the closest that we come to this is China.alltop.com which isn’t that local, I guess. But it will come down to the numbers: Is a hyperlocal topic so local that no one wants to advertise on it. Or, if we’re lucky, maybe because it’s hyperlocal, advertisers will find it attractive. All of this is TBD.
NP: Do you see a future beyond advertising and sponsored content for Web 2.0 companies?
Kawasaki: Just like other Web 2.0 companies, we’re making it up as we go combined with a large dose of wishful thinking. Alas, in my most hallucinatory fantasies, I see selling “sponsored feed” positions at the top of Alltop topics ala Google’s sponsored links. Now that would be something.
NP: And finally, in the spirit of your “top ten” keynote format, what do you see as being the top ten biggest changes and challenges ahead in how we consume news and information?
Kawasaki: You’re kidding me, right? I just answered ten questions, and now you’re asking one question that needs ten answers. Do you think I only give press interviews all day long?