Duncan Riley on The Inquisitr, Leaving TechCrunch, and Blogging
Duncan Riley is a giant in the blogosphere. He’s been on the frontlines for quite some time, be it with founding and running The Blog Herald (a site I’m the current editor of) before selling it off to Matt Craven, or leaving b5media, the blog network he helped build. In more recent years, Duncan has been writing for Michael Arrington’s blog TechCrunch, which he left (still on Arrington’s good side, it seems, although that post is deleted) to start his own venture, The Inquisitr. Soon after that, Duncan clashed with Arrington over choosing not to use CrunchBase for his own company directory.
For some reason it is never quiet and boring when Duncan Riley is involved, which is probably a reason why he is such a prominent fish in the blogosphere waters. So let’s see what he’s got to say about The Inquisitr, blogging, Michael Arrington, and The Blog Herald, shall we?
Congratulations on The Inquisitr, your newest venture! How has these first months been?
Thx. There’s nothing quite like running a site yourself as opposed to working for someone else. The first couple of months have been a lot of fun, and being free to try new things and not worry about the next Techmeme headline has allowed me to be more of myself again in my blogging. The metrics are all headed in the right direction, with the site breaking into the Technorati top 5000 last week, less than 3 months in. The only missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle now is advertising, but now the site has been established a little while hopefully we’ll be successful in that area as well. If not, look for an eBay or Sitepoint listing around December
It is pretty expensive to run, isn’t it? How far are you from breaking even?
In terms of hosting/support no, but paying the bloggers isn’t a cheap exercise. I’m might not be paying top dollar, but I’m also trying to take care of The writers as well, and there’s no rev share or $x per page views in the current structure. Still a while to go in terms of breaking even. I budgeted out 6 months without making a cent from the site when I started it, it is making money now, but certainly not enough yet. The hardest part I’ve found is selling ads when you don’t have enough scale or history, but as the site grows and gets older this is changing.
Have you developed The Inquisitr yourself, or did you hire people to help out?
I completely developed myself in terms of building the site to launch, and all subsequent tech/ template changes/ tweaks. In terms of writing I’m currently employing 2.5 writers (2 tech, 1 pop) who cover the US timezomes, and all three are doing a great job. I looked at some outsourcing initially in terms of layout but I couldn’t find anyone I was happy with, and I may hit the outsourcing path again for future projects. My coding skills only go so far and API’s give me grey hairs.
You’ve built The Inquisitr on a premium WordPress theme, right? What do you think of premium WordPress themes, and would you recommend others looking to launch a site to take this route?
Yes, although as the site has evolved it continues to look less and less like the original. I’ve always been a strong supporter of both sponsored and premium WordPress themes, and I’d happily recommend them to others, particularly as a starting point and as an alternative to a lower quality template, or spending a fortune to have one designed from scratch. There is some amazing premium templates coming out now from people like Brian Gardner and Chris Pearson, and because premium templates aren’t free you can be pretty sure that you won’t see them on your friendly neighborhood spam blog any time soon. The one tip I make when starting with any theme is don’t be afraid to customize it; I’ve always looked at templates from the perspective of them being a starting point you can use to create your own end product.
The Inquisitr brand is building rapidly, with iQ, a job board, QMeme, and Qbase. What’s next?
We’ve got a couple of ideas we’re looking at in terms of a value ad for readers, that will hopefully provide more reasons to visit The Inquisitr, but they aren’t locked in yet. Currently on the agenda is the beta release of QMeme which I’m hoping will take the service into a more serious place as a contender in the meme tracking space. Plurkair, the Plurk Adobe AIR client we released is due for an update as well.
I was asked recently whether there was a method to the madness and to be honest, there isn’t always a set plan. QBase came along after we were approached by Tradevibes, Plurkair met my personal need for a Plurk client, the FriendFeed greasemonkey scripts that have been amazingly popular in the FriendFeed community with thousands of downloads were me waking up one morning wondering how hard it would be for me to add ReadBurner in a tab within FriendFeed. It’s spontaneous, it addresses unmet needs, and some times it just for fun, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Indeed, the less planned they are, the better traffic they tend to deliver
Are you on speaking terms with Michael Arrington after the whole Qbase/CrunchBase thing?
No, and I’d be surprised if he ever spoke to me again. I’ve said publicly that I’m deeply disappointed by the entire thing, and that remains true today. My problem is that I’m not a black and white guy, where as Michael is, and in Michael’s world you’re either 100% with him, or totally against him. The world doesn’t work that way, and neither do I, and there is many shades of grey. In some ways I guess that being on the outer isn’t a bad thing, for example it means I can link to Mashable without repercussions now, something Michael never tolerates, and something I’ve never understood. Neither does Pete Cashmore when I asked him the same question last year.
What did you bring with you from your time at TechCrunch?
That no matter the attention, prestige, pay, travel or benefits, life’s to short to ignore your family. Arrington is significantly older than me and has never been married; if the cost of being successful is being alone then I’d rather be unsuccessful and with my wife and son, and I’m sorry if that makes me soft in the eyes of some people. The best thing about The Inquisitr is being free to set my own timetable and taking a day off if and when I want to (and I hired a weekend writer to allow me to do just that). Sure, I still work long hours and spend far too much time in front of a computer (or iPhone) and the work/ family balance isn’t perfect, but its a damn lot better than it use to be.
What advice would you give people looking to launch an editorial site, to avoid these things?
You need to consider blogging like you would any other job, be it a great job. When you love doing something it’s easy to become so engrossed in it to the point that you forget to keep some perspective. Jobs are allocated times in your day, and so should blogging. Use blogging as a way to be more flexible with your family time, as an opportunity not a disadvantage. For example, one of the things blogging full time has allowed me to do is to take my son to school, and pick him up (Mr Mum, or Mom in US English).
Finally, I almost dread to ask this, but what’s your take on The Blog Herald’s development over the years since you sold it, you being the founder and all?
I don’t dread it at all. I will admit to having missed it greatly for the first 3-6 months (quitting a blog is like quitting drugs), but time allows you to move on, and The Blog Herald helped define me as a blogger, and I’ll never forget that. The first new owners, with Matt Craven as editor did a solid job. Under the third owner, Splashpress, it really went downhill for a long time. I mean that as no great disrespect for Splashpress, who are an ambitious, interesting company, who have helped a lot in defining blogs as a sales proposition over the years, but they didn’t really look after the site.
I’ve admitted publicly that I actually unsubscribed from it for a long while. When I started The Blog Herald the number one aim was for the site to be the go-to place for the latest news within the blogging community, and it did how-to articles as a value add well before Darren Rowse launched Problogger. Unfortunately for a significant time it turned into a second rate Problogger that was the master of nothing. In the last 6-9 months, with the inclusion of folks like Chris Garrett, TDH, and Matt Craven, it has become a good read again, and I read it, via Google Reader, daily.
To be fair in all of that (particularly to Splashpress), the space The Blog Herald operates in is very different to the one I launched it in to. This was a time pre-Web 2.0, and I can remember covering some Web 2.0 apps that sort of related to blogging, and being a little lost on where the line was. The greater Web 2.0 movement has surpassed blogging as a news focus, and it’s a challenge The Blog Herald faces. I’ve been asked more than once to go back into the blogging news space, however my new loves are within the Blogging 2.0 space (Disqus, distributed commenting, FriendFeed) and microblogging. If I was to enter the space again, I’d be focusing on being the first with all major blogging related announcements, but more importantly, in relating how these matter to the average blogger. News alone does not make a great blog post, relating the story, and why it matters, is always the defining point between an average blog and a great one.