Mahalo: Building a Great Resource, but Losing Steam

We’ve been hard on Mahalo, as we were unimpressed by the idea and the initial execution. However, over time the site has become a useful resource, which is far more than you can say for the vast majority of Web 2.0 startups in the past 18 months. Mahalo is now a vast resources, with tens of thousands of pages on popular topics and a number of well-written “how to” guides. The model may not be innovative, but at first it seemed to be working– the site took off like a rocket from launch, quickly ramping up to become a top 1,000 site on Alexa.

However, since February of this year, the site appears to have been declining or staying flat. What is the cause of this? It may be that Mahalo’s search results in Google are declining. It may be that they’ve simply run out of enough new articles to create that spur interest in searchers. Perhaps the biggest problem is that Mahalo’s top-down model creates very little incentive for users to contribute or interact on the site. This limits the power of the site to drive passionate users and build a community that promotes itself around the web.

Can Mahalo reverse the trend? Absolutely. The site has a ton of traffic, is actually useful, and has the potential to build a real community that can bring the site to new heights. The trick will be to figure out how to create a mutally beneficial relationship between the site’s users and its contributors. The site should focus on ways to create valuable content from its community at a rate that vastly exceeds the current pace.

TC50 = Snooze Fest

There simply weren’t enough interesting companies to make this interesting at all. In a very transparent move, the organizers tried to get some sizzle by having B-List Hollywood actor Ashton Kutcher present his latest “company” which is actually a blog with animation attached. Boring. 

One thing that did come out of this is that it clearly defined things. DEMO is where actual technology happens, TC50 is where parties and fake Web 2.0 “companies” show off their wares to bored journalists and scenesters. It may have been “fun” if you’re into that sort of thing, but in terms of actually introducing innovation and interesting companies, it was a total dog.

TechCrunch Redesigns to Help Stem Pageview Decline

TechCrunch has redesigned their index pages in an obvious bid to deliver more pageviews to advertisers. Just 6 months ago, it would have been inconceivable that the flagship of Michael Arrington‘s Crunch empire would need such a shot in the arm, but the traffic measurement services don’t lie:

 

 

Alexa Pageview Graph

Alexa Pageview Graph

 

 

Competes Pageviews per visitor also shows the decline

Compete's Pageviews per visitor also shows the decline

 

Techcrunch blocks public info on Quantcast, but heres a small sparkline showing the last 4 months

Techcrunch blocks public info on Quantcast, but here's a small sparkline showing the last 4 months

The site actually looks pretty good with the new redesign, but that’s not the point of this post. What’s to blame for the sagging performance? Increased competition from traditional players such as Cnet, AOL, and the NYTimes? Increased migration from the web to RSS readers? Lack of bubbly exits and exciting news coming from the startups covered by TC? Probably a combination of all three. Luckily, it seems that the conference business is booming, as TechCrunch50 threatens to sell out of $3,000 tickets.

Joost Will Not Survive 2008

joost.png We told you from the start that Joose was DOA. Why? It’s not browser-based. If you’re creating anything mass-market right now, it had better be work in a web browser. This isn’t 1999 or even 2003, when apps like Skype or Napster were downloaded in the tens of millions, making people rich and introducing new ideas and new ways to use the emerging network. Ever since the rise of embedded apps, such as YouTube, Google Apps, Webmail, Flash-based games, Scribd, etc., non-browser stuff has been even more useless then it was before.The web is so much more powerful then anything else out there, you’d have to be an idiot not to center your applications in the universal web-access device– the browser.  Joost’s website has been down recently, but as Mashable notes, did anyone even notice? Mashable’s audience is the target audience for Joost, early-adopters who will try any web app once and stick with it if it delivers value. 90% of them say they use Joost rarely if ever. 

Social Media Boulevardiers

 boulevardiers

Several of you wrote to ask what a “social media boulevardier” is. Let’s not get hysterical, I’m not trying to go all Umair Haque on you and invent my own jargon to make you feel stupid. A boulevardier was a fashionable Parisian man of old, who dressed well and lived well, flitting from place to place to see and be seen. More often then not, however, the boulevardier spent little money and was an observer rather then a true participant. A Parisian cafe-owner, for example, would love to have a few of well-dressed boulevardiers sipping absinthe at the bar– it made the place look fashionable and provided a nice backdrop. The last thing he’d want, however, would be an entire restaurant full of skinflint nobodies taking up all the tables. Likewise, lots of community-based sites struggle with users who flood the site with pageviews, but do little to increase actual value. Keeping the boulevardiers happy while still bringing in the regular customers is a tough balancing act, and one that every site needs to juggle.

Mixx.com: Nice Site, Shame About the Community

mixx_logo.png

Digg wannabe Mixx has been at it long enough now to give them a hard look.

Unfortunately for them, it appears all their clean code, slick design, integration with large sites like LATimes.com, and good intentions hasn’t been enough. The main thing about a site like this always will be strength and content of the community. A passionate, dedicated community with shared wisdom and a point of view? That describes Digg, Fark, Metafilter. So far the main community that seems to have embraced Mixx is people who want to “succeed” in social media. In other words, people who want to use social sites like Mixx to help their own failure-worthy businesses. These are “users” in the worst possible sense, people who want to “use” Mixx, rather then the core community on Digg, which wants to improve the site. The most visible evidence of this is that most of the most popular stories on Mixx are current events, breakthroughs in technology, etc. but rather crappy how-tos on how to run your “startup”, how to spam social media, and what a great site Mixx is.

Further adding to the misery, the “groups” area, which is the very first thing in the top navigation bar, is not useful, and the groups themselves are faceless link aggregators rather then anything unique, vibrant, or useful.

Mixx is proof, thus far, that even with the best tools, building a valuable online community is very, very tough. Even more difficult is changing the site’s community profile once its hit a certain point. Normal people like me who just want to find interesting news will be increasingly turned off by the site, and social media boulevardiers will continue to rush in, creating a useless echo chamber.

Digg Peaked in 2007… Or Did It?

I’ve said it before, but must say it again– Alexa, Compete and Quantcast are not serious tools for analyzing web traffic. However, they are useful for comparing sites in the same basic genre, and for looking at the growth of various sites over time. Digg Traffic from Alexa According to Alexa, Digg peaked sometime in late 2007, and has been slipping ever since. Compete and Quantcast show modest gains since late 2007. Which is right? Probably both– Digg’s core audience is over-represented in Alexa’s numbers, and some of them have moved on to other sites, others have gotten older and have less time to spend on the site, and for some the novelty has probably worn off. The slight gains that can be seen on Compete and Quantcast mean that Digg is reaching more mainstream users, which is a plus. However they must be somewhat worried that A. they’re not growing that fast and B. the core demographic appears to be slightly less crazy about the site then they were last year.