, the tech site headed former Engadget editor Josh Topolsky and his crew with backing from SB Nation, launches at 4 a.m. this morning.
The plan calls for smart consumer-focused news that will appeal to a wide audience.
People are eager for the launch. This Is My Next, the site Topolsky and his former Engadget brethren started while figuring out The Verge, got more than three million unique visitors with little promotion.
In advance of the Verge launch, We spoke with Topolsky, SB Nation chairman and CEO Jim Bankoff, and Verge publisher Marty Moe about launching, plans for the site, and where the collaboration might go.
Business Insider: Can you give me an overview of what The Verge is?
Topolsky: First and foremost, we’re a technology-focused news site, and it has a couple of different components…
Moe: …To be clear, we’re a consumer technology company. This is not the land of TechCrunch…
Topolsky: …we doing more web, more software, more culture stuff. We’re technology-, and technology-culture-focused news site. There are a couple of big silos on the site. The first one is the news, 24/7 news cycle, plus a big reviews program, and a big feature program which will entail long form stuff in the sly of Wired and other tech focused magazines. We have a product listing which is growing and is kind of an export tool for the stories we’re telling, direct links from our stories into the produce tool. The third silo is community. We’re doing forums, a variation of what SB Nation has done by letting the community write about what they’re really passionate about. The posts, comments, and forums are all tied in with the product stuff and the news stuff.
Moe: The community will be based around topic interest areas like Apple, Android, or more general conversation areas but ones that give the community the areas of focus they’re most interested in.
BI: There is an umbrella company above SB Nation and The Verge. Can you explain what the new company will look like?
Bankoff: We’re announcing tomorrow morning our parent company name, which will be Vox Media. The mission will be to empower talented web voices and their audiences. That’s what we do as a company. Until tomorrow, the parent company had been Sports Blogs Inc., and frankly that wasn’t even relevant to what we’re doing in sports, let alone what we’re doing in technology. It was necessary to have a new parent company, that’s going to be for employees and the trade, not for the consumer. Vox will be the company, SB Nation will be the sports vertical, and Verge will be the technology one.
Moe: The digital publishing platform, which is at the core of the company, is what’s going to be powering the verticals we’re in, and the consumer technology side is what’s enabling us to bring these different pieces, and pillars together. The large powerful community pillar with a large integrated database, with a strong fast-cycle editorial component, it’s an integrated experience.
Bankoff: What’s different is, they’re different consumer names for different audiences, so tech is one name, sports has another. What’s the same as Marty pointed out, is the leading technology platform, one common sales team, and one common back office team. On the sales front, the audiences are very overlapped. They’re tech savvy, affluent, generally young adults, sewing a little bit more male, sports and technology. It provides our sales team the opportunity to go out and sell against this demographic. It provides our editors the best possible technology to tell their stories and engage their audiences. It provides the audiences with the platform to share as well, via our forums and other community products.
BI: What about future expansion?
Bankoff: First and foremost, we’re extending our commitment to sports and technology. We’re going to continue to grow and invest in those two categories. For instance, YouTube announced on Friday they were including SB Nation in their digital programming. So we’re going to be investing in digital video, in great editors, in great features for the sports side. Same thing on The Verge. First and foremost, we’re going to get those categories right. From there, we aspire to get into other areas as well. We’re launching The Verge tomorrow but the premise is, if you get the best possible web editorial talent, like Josh, and our sports writers, and you provide them with the best possible product platform, so that you have a formula for success in digital media.
BI: Can you put a timetable on this?
We’re going to be aggressive when we see the opportunity but the important part is that we do it right.
BI: What does a successful Verge look like to you, Josh?
Topolsky: Highly trafficked would be the first success. In my mind, we are already at the success we’re after, because the content we’re producing is high quality, very valuable, as a reader and a guy who is passionate about this stuff. I think we’ve created a site for readers that is at parity with the technology that they’re using. We’re doing something, and treating the site like that, trying to give people this organic experience of, you’re reading news but you want to learn or talk about product information. You want to go deeper… and we’re giving people the tools to do that. The success is there, obviously the traffic has to come and people have to love what they see and read, and I think that’s going to happen, but I believe in the product we’re building, and I believe in the technology, which is the same that attracted us to SB Nation. When I first talked to Jim, I thought, “This really cool, the ever-developing technology that we’re building on.” A successful Verge looks like a place that becomes the new top bookmark for technology enthusiasts. This also becomes, if not the top bookmark, but one of the many bookmarks of a broader audience, because we’re going to be able to tell stories that resonate with a broader audience. You can measure success in many different ways. Obviously we want to be a go-to destination for consumer technology news and information. I think we get there, we will get there, so I think we start by telling great stories and delivering better content then anybody else has.
BI: I was impressed by the success of This Is Next. Three or 3.5 million unique visitors, are you surprised how well that has done with little promotion?
Topolsky: Yeah, actually that’s why I say I think we’re already seeing success. We were blown away by the response from people when we started doing This Is Next. It was very casual, let’s start writing and keep all our content in one place instead of spreading everybody over 10 different sites because everybody left, and wanted to work together. The success has kind of blown me away and that people responded so rapidly to it. I think that says a couple of things that make me excited about The Verge. People, when they read good stories, they’re hungry for good content. They really want to read in depth stories, the good stories. They want to be able to understand the narrative of this stuff, and we can do that. I think this is inherent in the nature of people who follow technology, they like the idea of new things. You never know until you know, and it’s one of the things that really excited me. These sites that have been around for ages, Gizmodo, and all the other blogs out there. You don’t know if people are going to care about your new thing. You heard people say, these are the tech sites, and these are the tech news sites, and I think what we discovered is this audience needs and they want it, and they’re excited about it, and the success of this was surprising. Not completely unexpected but definitely the response was a bit surprising.
Bankoff: The fact that Time Magazine called it one of the best blogs when we were just using it to post content, we knew we were, from my perspective, a sign that we were a great team.
Topolsky: Everybody in the tech world watches Techmeme. We watched those posts on Techmeme, from not being on there at all, to being on the top 10. Above Engadget, Gizmodo, all these sites we love, we read, and we know. Brands that have been around for ages. I think very quickly, people were like, “This is a new place to go to get news we like,” and that was very encouraging. One other thing I want to say really quickly, we don’t think of this as a blog. We think of this as a hybrid. A combination of traditional media, quality and authoritative voices, with the speed and looseness of the techniques of blogging. I mentioned tech blogs, I do see this as an evolution of this stuff, and it’s new on a lot of level, I think.
Bankoff: Part of the appetite for this really relates to the emergence of consumer technology as a truly mainstream cultural force, as one of the most dynamic things about our economy. Also, from a consumer point of view, one of the most fascinating things for consumers and one of the things consumers are most, kind of using in their daily lives, so the notion of a site and a team that is truly kind of treating the category with the authoritativeness and the seriousness of this emerging stature in our culture is really something that we’re seeing in terms of the appetite and the interest in what we’re doing. That applies to advertisers as well as the consumer audience. We were really blown away about the level of advertiser interest for tomorrow. We’re announcing two more of our blue chip launch sponsors. The first was BMW. Sony and Samsung are no onboard as major launch partners, and there will be more and more announced in the coming weeks.
BI: It seems like it’s a great time to be starting something like this. TechCrunch is having it’s problems and Engadget is different than it used to be.
Topolsky: I think one thing to think about with all that stuff is, we do take this really seriously, and we’re making investments in quality. Besides the technology, one of the things that was super attractive about SB Nation was Jim, and the company at large wanted to invest in great writers and great technology. That’s something I feel like is a big component. You mentioned Engadget changed, I can’t really speak to that but I will say that it’s really important for us to be keep the quality where we had it at Engadget, and to keep that moving up.
Bankoff: That’s a key component to our audience strategy, and our business strategy. We see the desire for blue chip brands, premier brands, to be associated with and to reach the audiences of a truly premier destination, and premium content.
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