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Techmeme's Gabe Rivera makes news aggregation profitable

November 19, 2009 |  1:29 pm

Gabe rivera techmeme
Gabe Rivera, founder of news aggregator Techmeme. Credit: Mark Milian/Los Angeles Times.
Don't tell News Corp.'s Rupert Murdoch, but technology news aggregator Techmeme is raking in profits.

Rather than visiting the front pages of every newspaper or choosing a few out of brand loyalty, as Murdoch hopes consumers will do, aggregators put all of the Web's big headlines of the moment onto one page.

There's no shortage in news aggregation. General news readers might go to Google News, a computer-generated engine that pulls in more than 25,000 newspaper websites and authoritative blogs. Left-leaning political consumers might visit the Huffington Post; right-leaning ones might go to Drudge Report.

For tech news, Techmeme, with its smart computer algorithm for culling interesting links, is at the top. A space once dominated by sites like Slashdot and Digg, Techmeme is now the undisputed top influence for the Bay Area tech elite.

Today Techmeme launched a mobile site that's formatted for smart phones to appease news junkies on the go.

It sounds almost laughable that a 4-year-old property, being such a powerful voice in tech, took this long to build a phone-optimized interface. But Techmeme founder Gabe Rivera is not trying to build a trendy, cutting-edge site with its own comment system and social media share features.

Rivera is, to an extent, mimicking the medium that loudly whines about his breed of aggregation. "It feels like a newspaper," Rivera said over lunch last week in San Francisco. "It feels like something you can rely on."

Techmeme became even more newspaper-like last year when Rivera hired his first editor. Fans groaned at the idea of trusting a human to select news in a fair and balanced way. But the site is doing just fine. Better, Rivera argues.

Now, Techmeme has three full-time editors -- including Los Angeles-based Rich DeMuro, a former Cnet reporter -- with contributions from Rivera and a part-timer. "We have people who mostly cover, at least during the week, all 24 hours," Rivera said.

However, Rivera's algorithm is still the backbone. It's the secret sauce that allows small, no-name blogs to reach the top of the pile every once in a blue moon. It does so based on a formula that takes into account who's linking to a page and how influential those sources are, Rivera vaguely explained.

But rather than code in small tweaks to the system in order to fix mistakes, as he had been doing for years, Rivera went with the human touch. He realized that "the most cost-effective thing would be to hire an editor," he said.

"The algorithmic changes continue," Rivera said. "But then once we started that, we discovered new opportunities for the two to work in tandem."

Rivera has similar projects covering politics, celebrity gossip and baseball. But Techmeme is the flagship. 

"Techmeme is the product that is the most valuable, that I'm most proud of, that pays bills," Rivera said. Indeed, it's profitable and has never accepted an outside investor.

But Rivera predicts that Memeorandum, "the unfortunately named political site," as he calls it, could be the next big thing. Watch out, Google News.

-- Mark Milian
twitter.com/markmilian

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