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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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