Posts from Weblogs

Headlines

One of the issues in all of the concerns about “fake news” is the way headlines are used on the Internet. Newspapers and magazines certainly took the construction of headlines into account to drive readers into the stories. But on the Internet, headlines have become that and more. They are the links themselves that fly around the Internet and “convert” someone into coming to your site and reading a story. They are “clickbait.” If we want to address the veracity and authenticity of content on the Internet, we might want to start with headlines.

I’ve had my issues with headlines for years. Many years ago, I allowed a number of publications to repost content I write here at AVC on their online publications. The publication that does that most frequently with my content is Business Insider. You can see the hundreds of posts that BI has republished on my author page at Business Insider. When they started doing this maybe seven or eight years ago, I would notice that they would leave my post intact, verbatim, but rewrite the headline. It would drive me crazy because I view the headline as an integral part of my post. I think about the words I use to title my posts. So I would send them angry emails and most of the time they would change it back. But it was a lesson in the difference between a headline that I liked and a headline that would drive clicks.

I also have seen hundreds of stories written about me, USV, and our portfolio companies that have sensational and often inaccurate headlines followed by stories that are essentially correct and well reported. It drives me nuts but I don’t often do much about it.

It makes me think that someone, or some company, or some open source community ought to build software that parses headlines and the stories that follow and rate them for how well the headline represents the article. That “headline veracity ranking” could then be offered to anyone who presents headlines to readers. That would be social media like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc. That would be email applications and browsers. That would be search engines. Etc, etc, etc.

It would be nice to see some competition in this sector so that one company doesn’t become the arbiter of what is an accurate headline and what is not. That doesn’t sound like a good outcome. But if this is done via open source, or is community powered in some way, this could be a very helpful tool in getting publishers to behave and represent their stories accurately.

And that would be a wonderful thing for the Internet.

Some Thoughts On The AVC Community

The community here at AVC is possibly it’s greatest strength. But like most things, it is also it’s greatest weakness.

Over the past five years I’ve gone from the most active community member, to a regular participant, to an observer, to an avoider.

I wrote yesterday’s post for an entrepreneur (and every entrepreneur) who wanted to know what the Trump election means for startups.

As I wrapped up the post, I thought very seriously about closing the comments because I knew what they would become. But I didn’t do it. Because that’s a slippery slope. What is the bright line test for when I should open comments and when I should close them? Frankly I’d rather just shut them down rather than turn them on and off whenever I randomly feel like I should.

But I cannot accept the behavior that goes on in the AVC community whenever politics, or gender, or race, or taxes, some other hot button issue is raised, either by me or by the community when a thread gets hijacked and goes astray.

There is a lack of respect. There is a lack of civility. It makes me crazy. So I just skip the whole damn thing.

But I am enabling this behavior because I choose to make AVC a community instead of just a blog. So it is on me that AVC turns into a cesspool some days

As you can tell I am struggling what to do. I’ve thought about banning certain long standing members of the community. But I also don’t want to censor people. They should censor themselves though.  That’s the problem. They can’t

So that’s where I am. Fed up to my eyeballs and pissed off and struggling with what to do.

If nothing else, consider this a warning. If you don’t police yourself, the community here will be history. There is a very big piece of me that wants that to happen.

AVC Down Time?

Yet another post about something I supposedly don’t actually care about 🙂

I am pursuing a theory that the cause of the AVC down time that I posted about last week has to do with a burst of traffic from social media (mostly Twitter) that happens right after I publish a post on AVC.

I almost always experience this downtime in the 5-10 minute period right after I post. That is also frankly the time when I pay most attention to AVC each day. After that I tend to move on to other things.

So I am curious. For those of you who have experienced this downtime (I realize many of you have not), do you recall when it typically happens to you?

Follow Up To Yesterday’s Post

I really had no agenda with yesterday’s post other than to let all of you know that I am well aware of the reliability issues but don’t have any plans to address them at this time.

But when I walked out of our weekly team meeting yesterday afternoon I had three unanswered phone calls to my cell phone from the same number in Utah. I returned the call and got Bluehost, the web hosting company for AVC.

I have not talked to Bluehost yet, but I will.

It seems that they are more eager to fix this issue than I am.

It would be even more awesome if they could just fix it instead of calling me. But I understand that I may need to do something on my end.

So I will talk to them and maybe these reliability issues will get fixed after all.

Stay tuned.

AVC Reliability Issues

For a number of years, AVC has been plagued by nagging reliability issues. There are times when the page won’t load. Regular readers are familiar with this issue. William sent me a screenshot this morning of one typical issue:

Here is another typical error message:

I have come to believe this issue is related to my web host, Bluehost, and CloudFlare which provides a host of services for AVC.

My goal in posting about this is not to try to fix it although I know the comments will be filled with suggestions and that I will get a ton of email suggestions too. Thank you in advance for that.

The truth is I am not particularly compelled to fix this issue. If it was magically fixed, I would be thrilled. But I’ve come to view it like some of the annoying things about me that the Gotham Gal puts up with on a regular basis. It’s all part of the relationship I have (and you have) with AVC and I’m OK with it.

New Disqus iOS App

Disqus, the USV portfolio company that powers the comments/community here at AVC, released an iOS app this past week. You can download it here.

The Disqus mobile app has two primary features.

The first is the ability to follow channels and discover content and conversations in those channels.

Here’s a screenshot of my home tab which features this discovery capability:

disqus home tab

The second primary feature, and possibly more interesting to the AVC community, is the notifications tab where you see your comments and related activity:

notifications tab

notifications activity

I have found that Disqus works really well on the mobile web now (a big improvement over where it was a few years ago) and so I mostly review and respond to comments in line in the browser, but it’s nice to have this mobile app to be able to read and respond quickly to all of your activity.

I expect that Disqus will follow with an Android app in due course and I also believe they will add features for the publishers (ie me) into these mobile apps as well.

Following AVC On Twitter

I stopped manually tweeting out all of my blog posts on my main twitter handle a year or two ago. It just didn’t feel right to me. But you can still follow AVC on Twitter if you want.

This exchange yesterday reminded me that I should let everyone know this.

So if you want to get my daily blog posts delivered on Twitter, follow AVC.

AVC – A Publishing Dinosaur

I was listening to Benedict Evans and Chris Dixon talking about micropayments, ad blockers, web and mobile publishing, and a few other interesting topics this morning and they were making the point that publishers have to go to platforms where their audiences are these days (Facebook, Apple, Medium, etc). I thought about that in the context of AVC and realized that we are most certainly a dinosaur. I publish using a wordpress instance running on a server in the cloud on my own domain. Direct traffic is the largest form of traffic AVC gets. Organic search still drives as much traffic as social. RSS still generates a meaningful amount of traffic (it is called (other) in the chart below).

all traffic channels

Within the social category, Twitter is king and Facebook is an also ran.

social category

Referrals come mostly from Twitter and Hacker News

referrals

All of this results in 250,000 web sessions a month, plus RSS and email which about double that. Over the course of a year, it’s over 5mm user sessions across web, email, and RSS.

This pales in comparison to a real commercial publication. But it’s not too bad for a small community tended to by a single operator.

We are most certainly old school in terms of the way this audience comes together.

Maybe that’s why the audience has been flat for over five years now.

2008 to 2015

But it still works very well for me and hopefully for all of you too.

Ten Years Of Techmeme

If you were blogging about tech in September 2005 when tech.memeorandum.com launched, you knew about it and you read it. There was a time when AVC posts would regularly be on Techmeme and AVC would regularly be on its leaderboard. That has not been the case for years but I still read Techmeme every day. It is as valuable a source of news for me as anything else.

Gabe wrote a short post about Techmeme yesterday on its 10th anniversary. There are few things in there that I’d like to react to.

  1. Techmeme’s original goals were to “1. Recognize the web as editor, 2. Rapidly uncover new sources, and 3. Relate the conversation.” These are awesome goals and made the site what it was and what it is. Techmeme does a better job at number 3 than anything out there, ten years after showing the world how it is done. Sadly they do not do a particularly good job at number 2 and have not for years. Gabe tacitly acknowledges this with this bit “However, as Techmeme became the first stop for tech news for a growing and influential segment of the tech industry, other goals became imperative too. In particular: strive for comprehensive coverage of the day’s most significant tech stories, and post big, breaking news story quickly.” I can get the “big breaking news” anywhere and don’t value Techmeme for that. But I understand that others do and frankly Techmeme can and should do whatever they think makes for the best site for the largest audience. But I do miss the time when solo bloggers made up most of the links. Those kind of voices are still out there and there really isn’t a great way to find them unless they are software engineers whose links show up on Hacker News.
  2. Techmeme survived each and every effort to supplant it. Gabe writes this “Later the phrase “Techmeme Killer” would appear fairly regularlyin headlines, most notably when Google itself introduced a would-be “Techmeme Killer”. Even after Techmeme survived Google’s Techmeme-killer, services like ePlatform and TechFuga would still elicit comparisons to Techmeme, while TechCrunch would later say of Tweetmeme, a Techmeme-like aggregator of tweets “If I were Gabe Rivera, I’d start worrying now”.” I’ve ranted on this before but nothing annoys more than the “xyz killer” headline. The fact is that that supplanting a category creator and market leader is not easy, as much as the media would suggest that it is, and Gabe and his team have done a terrific job of continuing to produce a great site day after day, year after year.
  3. Techmeme has never taken outside investment, allowing them to run the business as a “cashflow business” that creates a good living for the team. Gabe says this “I always hoped it would be possible to build and sustain Techmeme without the aid of venture capital or debt. Not so much because of real or perceived issues around independence or autonomy, not because “bootstrapped” is an impressive badge of honor, and not because I disliked investors (some of my best friends are VCs!) But rather because the media business we envisioned by its nature was just not destined to become the “unicorn” VCs always want, at least in its first of several possible iterations. So proving sustainability always seemed necessarily part of the plan. Moreover, in casual conversations with investors over the years most ideas for expansion suggested to me seemed destined to fail in my estimation (a fate borne out in a few cases by actual companies that carried out such plans).” Most businesses, including many that do raise VC including some we have invested in, should not raise VC. Kudos to Gabe for understanding that and financing his business another way (revenues).

Techmeme is an “internet treasure” to use the phrase my friend Mark taught me. I visit it every day. So do most of the leaders of the tech sector. It’s a fantastic resource and it’s been a pleasure to watch Gabe and his team build it into what it is over the years. Happy 10th anniversary Techmeme.

Some AVC Stats

Mario Cantin asked me to post some stats on the AVC readership in the comments to yesterday’s post. So here is some data from Google Analytics, Disqus, Feedblitz (which powers the daily email), and Feedburner.

Here are the high level google analytics stats for avc.com for the past twelve months:

avc readership TTM

That works out to be about 240,000 sessions per month and the average number of users per month is about 180,000. New visitors represent about 50% of visitors so about 750,000 visitors in the past year have come to avc.com at least once before.

There is a loyal readership that reads via email (using feedblitz). The total email subscribers right now is 10,972. These people read the daily post in their email and often reply to me via email and generally don’t participate in the comments.

There is also a RSS audience though it is relatively small. Feedburner provides these stats:

avc feedburner stats

The 14,804 total RSS subs number includes the 10,972 that subscribe via email via Feedblitz. I power Feedblitz via my RSS feed via Feedburner. The “reach” number is the daily number of people who actually read the post. That’s about 60%. The people who subscribe via email or RSS are truly regulars although they don’t visit the website and they normally don’t comment.

If you buy that reach number, then roughly 8,500 people a day read AVC via email or RSS. That is about the same number as the daily sessions on AVC. So I’ve generally assumed a daily readership of around 15,000 people.

The commenter community is much smaller. Over the past year, 4,036 people have commented on AVC and have left a total of 46,100 comments (an average of 126 comments a day). Certainly a lot more people than that read the comments, but I don’t have a number for that group.

The geographic distribution of people who visit avc.com (a subset of the total audience) looks like this:

avc geo distribution

I’ve been told a number of times that avc.com is blocked in China but I have never verified that and it may not be true now or in the past. If it is true, I am very proud of that fact.

Here are the top cities and countries:

avc top cities

All I have to say about this list is “fuck yeah Buenos Aires”.

 

avc top countries

 

I just turned on demographics yesterday so this data is brand new and only reflects yesterday. I will publish it again after a few months as one day of traffic may not be representative (you can click on the image to see it in a larger form):

avc demographics

The avc.com readership is young and male. No surprises there. The 19% female audience something I don’t feel great about and hope to change over time. I got some great suggestions on how to do that yesterday in the comments.

That’s about it for now. I hope you enjoyed this data dump. I try to do this once a year but Mario said he’s been reading AVC for over a year and hadn’t seen a post like this in his “tenure”. So we’ve fixed that now.