Guy Kawasaki on why Twitter is key to Alltop

Bambi Francisco Roizen · November 3, 2008 · Short URL:

Internet celeb, VC talks about his blog directory, the 'flywheel'

When you have 21,000 followers on Twitter, you've got a marketing engine that's pretty unique. It's no wonder Guy Kawasaki leverages Twitter to feed his new company Alltop, a news aggregator of 250-and-growing topics, from venture capital to mixed martial arts.

"It's the flywheel effect" with Twitter, said the indefatigable entrepreneur, investor and now author of a newly-published book, Reality Check. Guy came into the studio recently to be our guest host on Vator Box, and to be interviewed in Vator Talks, a segment in which Ezra Roizen and I interview the guest.

"You’re using Twitter as your network engine?" asked Ezra.

"I have 21,000 employees who are helping [build and market Alltop]," said Guy, whose unrelenting enthusiasm is hard to mask as he sports his trademark smile. "The people on Twitter suggest a topic," he said. "We get marching orders on what people like... Then people add blogs that we should include [in these topics]."

Not only does the Twitter community suggest and feed the topic, they broadcast the topic because they feel ownership in either creating the topic or helping to build it, said Guy. 

As he puts it: “Twitter is key to Alltop."

Not only does Guy have a huge following on Twitter, he reciprocates by following back. He also actively increases the number of people he follows, in order to get them to follow him back. The concept of "link love" - whereby it's customary, polite and/or prudent to link to someone if they link to you, applies to the notion of following.

This idea of scratching-my-back-if-I-scratch-yours works on Alltop as well. 

"Are these “Friends of Guys” Web sites?  I asked, referring to the top feeds on the topics pages and to the statement on the site that says: “We take care of our friends. If sites or blogs help us, we help them.”

Guy explained that often his Twitter followers suggest a topic, build a topic by suggesting relevant blogs and market a topic. If this person also has a blog to link to, Guy, or his founding partners Kathryn Henkens and Will Mayall, will link to it somewhere.

"If you’re an adoption blogger and you suggest that we build adoption.alltop, we’ll give you good billing," he said.

Additionally, every time Alltop adds a topic due to a suggestion, "we tell them this rare honor is bestowed on you. So, most people write an article about being on Alltop… there is this built in incentive that you should tell  people that you were added to Alltop. In fact, publications like USA Today, LA Times, feel like they have to be listed."

But Alltop is also very selective. The placements are very much determined by Guy. It's as top-down as it gets. There's no community vetting in this process. 

"We don’t rely on user-generated votes," said Guy. “We’re anti-Digg model; we’re not believers in wisdom of the crowds... It’s subjective... It’s not a democratized thing."

The first 30 feeds that are in any Alltop topic are hand selected, he said. In many ways, Guy and his two founders are curators, putting together a directory of their favorite feeds. Many of the sites selected are not well known. Sometimes, they're needles in the haystacks, such as StuffWhitePeoplelike, a site that tops Alltop's humor site.

"We think those are gems," he said. 

Alltop was inspired by Thomas Marvin, who created PopURLs, which lists Digg, Delicious, Reddit as well as Fark and HuffingtonPost as the top sites to visit. But Thomas Marvin didn't want to broaden out PopURLs to other topics beyond business and technology, said Guy. So Alltop was created.

Today, Alltop has 250 topics from beverage, wine, cricket, humor, basketball, etc. And, Alltop's traffic is twice as big as PopURLs, according to Compete.

I'm a big fan of Alltop. It's a nice aggregation of relevant sites that I'm familiar with or that I trust. Also seeing the top five latest feeds of the top 50 sites in a topic makes it easy to get caught up with all the headlines you need to know.

Yet, in this my-media-portal world we live in, it's surprising that Guy doesn't allow any personalization, not even of the placement of the feeds.

"There are people who want to personalize their news," he said. "But that’s not our vision. Alltop is an airport. It’s a way to get to another destination."

In many ways, it's refreshing that Guy isn't trying to get into the community-driven or personalized news business. There are already many community-submitted news aggregators, from Digg, Reddit, Newspond, Fark, TechMeme, and Socialmedian to broadbased-aggregators of content, such as FriendFeed.

Guy is happy making his lists and expanding his topics. It doesn't cost much to run this business when all you're doing is linking and not producing the content. It's a "lifestyle" business that he would love to run while sitting in his underwear at home, he said. Apparently, Alltop is already profitable and making money via advertising and sponsorships

But Guy, who started Truemors and sold it soon after launching, doesn't strike me as someone who wants a lifestyle business for an entire "life."

Everyone has a price.

“This is a lifestyle company," he said. "On the other hand, Yahoo started off as Jerry and David’s favorite Web sites. This is Guy’s and Will’s and Katherine’s directory of favorite feeds."

And, that means you'd sell for $500,000? I asked.

Not that amount, he answered. "I'll take $2 million."

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Bambi Francisco Roizen

Founder and CEO of Vator, a media and research firm for entrepreneurs and investors; Managing Director of Vator Health Fund; Co-Founder of Invent Health; Author and award-winning journalist.

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What is Twitter?

Twitter is an online information network that allows anyone with an account to post 140 character messages, called tweets. It is free to sign up. Users then follow other accounts which they are interested in, and view the tweets of everyone they follow in their "timeline." Most Twitter accounts are public, where one does not need to approve a request to follow, or need to follow back. This makes Twitter a powerful "one to many" broadcast platform where individuals, companies or organizations can reach millions of followers with a single message. Twitter is accessible from, our mobile website, SMS, our mobile apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, our iPad application, or 3rd party clients built by outside developers using our API. Twitter accounts can also be private, where the owner must approve follower requests. 

Where did the idea for Twitter come from?

Twitter started as an internal project within the podcasting company Odeo. Jack Dorsey, and engineer, had long been interested in status updates. Jack developed the idea, along with Biz Stone, and the first prototype was built in two weeks in March 2006 and launched publicly in August of 2006. The service grew popular very quickly and it soon made sense for Twitter to move outside of Odea. In May 2007, Twitter Inc was founded.

How is Twitter built?

Our engineering team works with a web application framework called Ruby on Rails. We all work on Apple computers except for testing purposes. 

We built Twitter using Ruby on Rails because it allows us to work quickly and easily--our team likes to deploy features and changes multiple times per day. Rails provides skeleton code frameworks so we don't have to re-invent the wheel every time we want to add something simple like a sign in form or a picture upload feature.

How do you make money from Twitter?

There are a few ways that Twitter makes money. We have licensing deals in place with Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft's Bing to give them access to the "firehose" - a stream of tweets so that they can more easily incorporate those tweets into their search results.

In Summer 2010, we launched our Promoted Tweets product. Promoted Tweets are a special kind of tweet which appear at the top of search results within, if a company has bid on that keyword. Unlike search results in search engines, Promoted Tweets are normal tweets from a business, so they are as interactive as any other tweet - you can @reply, favorite or retweet a Promoted Tweet. 

At the same time, we launched Promoted Trends, where companies can place a trend (clearly marked Promoted) within Twitter's Trending Topics. These are especially effective for upcoming launches, like a movie or album release.

Lastly, we started a Twitter account called @earlybird where we partner with other companies to provide users with a special, short-term deal. For example, we partnered with Virgin America for a special day of fares on that were only accessible through the link in the @earlybird tweet.


What's next for Twitter?

We continue to focus on building a product that provides value for users. 

We're building Twitter, Inc into a successful, revenue-generating company that attracts world-class talent with an inspiring culture and attitude towards doing business.



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Online magazine rack organized by topics.


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Fark is a satirical news forwarding site.  The Fark community identifies
odd, funny and entertaining news stories from across the Web and Fark
presents them in a clever and engaging way.

In January the site had over 4 million unique visitors and 60 million page
views - and there's tremendous growth potential beyond these numbers.  The
Fark community also submitted 60,000 stories and posted almost 900,000
comments in January alone.

In addition, the site is in a pivotal strategic position as it directs
substantial traffic outbound to other sites (Fark generated approximately 50
million outbound clicks in January).


Guy Kawasaki

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