Interview with Marshall Kirkpatrick. (Time 26 min)
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Marshall Kirkpatrick is the former editor at ReadWriteWeb, a major tech news and information blog that squarely competes with other big blogs such as Mashable and TechCrunch. Kirkpatrick has left the world of full-time blogging and is now the CEO of his own startup, Little Bird. About three years ago, Kirkpatrick and I were at a conference and he was showing me a few homegrown techniques he used to catch trending stories faster than his competition and then write about them. I asked Kirkpatrick to come on Hacking Media Production to talk about those tools, how he created them, and what would he use today if he were still blogging for speed and success.
Tips to find and report on industry trends in real time
Great real-time search tools can level the playing field: ReadWriteWeb covers Silicon Valley from outside of Silicon Valley. Founded in New Zealand, most of the site’s original reporters were in Portland. They couldn’t be on the ground making key relationships so they needed to use data, systems, and tools to stay competitive.
Speed of discovery and production is key: If you want to compete in that upper echelon of tech journalism you need to discover and produce quickly. Kirkpatrick said with tech journalism, that first 90 minutes is critical. If you don’t get your story out during that time, you will miss out on the initial excitement of the story and subsequently the social media sharing. That traffic translates into increased revenue and brand recognition. Being the first place to learn about something adds a lot of value.
Subscribe to RSS feeds via SMS or instant messaging: Kirkpatrick bases his initial success on using these alert systems that would let him know about breaking stories the moment they were made available. Email didn’t come nearly as fast, didn’t alert him when the story broke, and he wasn’t looking at it constantly. To get the news from the source, Kirkpatrick would subscribe to the RSS feeds directly from the vendors. His competitors would hear about the same stories a lot later either via emails from PR people or through their RSS reader that was not pushed to them. This is what Kirkpatrick did back around 2005. Today, the race to create alerting systems has become more complicated and it’s getting higher and higher. When Kirkpatrick left TechCrunch, where he was hired on as their first writer, he wrote about this technique and others in an article entitled, “Open Sourcing My TechCrunch Work Flow.”
Many years later, Kirkpatrick took advantage of a tool called Fluidinfo which gathered all outbound links from a specific website. They searched their own site to find 1500 companies they’ve written about and linked to at least two or more times. Then they threw the following assignment to Mechanical Turk and asked people to go check out all these companies and find the blog and RSS feeds for these companies. It cost them a total of $60 to do the project and they got a huge OPML file of RSS feeds from the blogs of companies they had written about at least two or more times. Then they wrote a bot that would check the feed every two minutes. If any new item appeared in any of the feeds it would shoot that link to a group Skype chat room that all ReadWriteWeb reporters would see. This allowed them to watch 1200 companies in real time and see the stories before any of their competitors were able to.
Pay attention to the feeds that deliver the best news: Kirkpatrick doesn’t try to capture everything, he just focuses his efforts on those sources that consistently push out the best information early.
Follow aggressive users of Delicious for the sites you care about: Look at all the companies and websites you’ve deemed worthy to write about in the past. Then search the URLs of those companies on Delicious and see what people have bookmarked. Those bookmarks are shown in reverse chronological order. Then look down to see who were the first 20 people to bookmark a story about a company that you later wrote about. Repeat that a few hundred times. Every time, just paste those 20 names. After running that over and over again ReadWriteWeb was able to find 15 people who on five or more occasions had been one of the first 20 people to bookmark a story ReadWriteWeb later wrote about. Kirkpatrick and team simply subscribed to those 15 people and were consistently able to find cool new startups and products just following those active bookmarkers.
To get expert opinions, take advantage of your Twitter followers: Kirkpatrick’s team wrote a bot to scrape the Twitter bios of all the people following their company and staff members. They then did a search for people with relevant keywords in their bio. If they found someone relevant, Kirkpatrick would DM them with his phone number and email asking for an urgent quote to get in a breaking news story.
Don’t try to get everything: If the story is breaking, the total time spent researching and gathering quotes was between 15-30 minutes. Don’t wait on something unless it’s critical for the story. If new news comes out, you can always write another blog post.
Use Little Bird to find and connect with influencers: Today, Kirkpatrick has combined what he’s learned to find key people and stories to start his business Little Bird, an automated system to discover the key influencers and experts on any topic. The application also gives you a set of tools to engage with the influencers and their content efficiently.
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Creative Commons photo attribution to TenSafeFrogs.
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