An interview with David Smooke, Founder of HackerNoon, and new ways to turn remote teams’ chatter into publishable content.
Founded in 2016, HackerNoon is an independent technology media publishing platform founded and run by David Smooke and Linh Dao Smooke. The site works with over 7,000 contributing writers -- an innovative approach to crowdsourcing content -- and publishes about 30 stories per day.
That, along with a certain editorial point of view and personality on tech stories, has garnered a loyal following.
David Smooke, CEO & Founder of HackerNoon, said in an interview on the Growth Manifesto podcast: “...Our model is contributors own their content, and they give it a non-exclusive license to HackerNoon, and we can edit and distribute it. <...>it’s between social media and traditional publishing.
If you publish on Forbes, it’s a lot of pitching; it’s a lot of back and forth, it’s kind of a clunky login and submission of content.
So having a good contributor experience is there, but every post goes through a second human, and there are quality control issues, there are content improvement efforts, so that’s like just a better experience.
I think the second human rule is something; everyone should use when they post online.”
The site is also known for its approach to technology -- with its founders focused on long-term growth and the best way to answer publishing challenges.
While most traditional publications struggle for leadership, the Smookes are blazing new trails and looking at new ways to tackle challenges.
When HackerNoon separated from Medium, instead of building on WordPress or Moveable Type or any other standard content management platform, Hackernoon built its own tool to allow for growth.
When they wanted an emoji system to like, laugh, smile, etc., at specific images and lines, it was created on blockchain as a way to track comments.
“Slogging” -- a portmanteau of Slack and Blogging -- is their new innovative content effort and a new way to think of crowdsourcing your remote team’s chatter.
Why waste the witty banter -- and the occasional sudden insight -- on the depths of your slack archives, when you can turn them into publishable content?
We interviewed David Smooke concerning slogging, and the answers appear below edited slightly for length.
David Smooke, Hackernoon
What is the idea behind slogging?
Slogging, or Slack Blogging, emerged from HackerNoon’s internal use of Slack. Looking back on the last year, our tech lead had published 30,000+ Slack updates but only 12 HackerNoon posts. So we made an application for tech leaders to convert insightful Slack discussions into well-formatted HackerNoon posts.
Is this driven by Slack adoption?
Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that it wouldn’t exist without our admiration and usage of Slack as a community writing application. No, that Slogging is not yet available in the Slack app store.
To date, it’s only been used by a select group of recently published HackerNoon authors in the Slogging.Slack.com environment. You can read the first 55 slogging posts on the HackerNoon #slogging tag. For quality control, every submission goes through a Slack admin and a HackerNoon editor.
As we continue to work out the UX and editorial workflows of converting high-quality internal discussions into well-read public posts, we’ll be launching the second instance of Slogging. It’s called Quoticle (Note: link leads to a WIP landing page), which we define as an article composed of a list of quotes.
It’ll leverage the Slogging application to be our HARO (Help A Reporter Out) competitor -- a new way to get your expert quote published in a HackerNoon story.
Is it an attempt to make shareable content out of Slack conversations?
Yes, most definitely. How many insightful discussions are lost to the ether? As technologists in particular and professionals in general, we spend the majority of our workday having conversations in mostly private spaces (like Slack and their competitors).
What if a fraction, the best fraction, of this massive content library gets published? Slogging, hopefully, will proliferate insightful and professional conversations.
Is this an option you intend to make available on your platform only? Offer to other platforms?
Once the app is publicly available, we’re interested in working with Slack’s top tech communities and Slack’s top tech customers.
The administrators of those Slack instances will be able to submit their best historical and future Slack discussions as stories for publication by simply clicking “...” and selecting “create slogging draft” within Slack.
A HackerNoon editor will review all slogging story submissions.
HackerNoon has already published hundreds of tech companies, and I think Slogging can also be a way for us to be a more integral part of the content creation process.
In the future, I’d be willing to integrate Slogging into more content management systems and content applications, but for now, readers can exclusively read Slogging posts on HackerNoon.
Who is the ideal writer/user and reader for slogging content?
To be honest, it’s too early to tell. But if I were to guess, it would be someone whose day job is something other than writing full time.
Slogging would be a great place for them to turn their content which usually is viewed only by their teammates into public pieces that can potentially be viewed by hundreds, thousands, or even millions.
In the short term, we’re focused on adding value to HackerNoon writers. In the mid-term, we’re focused on elevating and validating the Slack discussions by tech companies and tech communities.
In the long term, I think Slogging can help grow any site, product, or community that has insightful discussions on Slack.
Does HackerNoon do any white labeling or licensing of its proprietary tech like your CMS?
We don’t at this time. We built our own content management from the feet up. Currently, it’s powering HackerNoon.com and a couple of dev environments.
I don’t think it’s mature enough (yet) for all the primary user types of a community-driven publication, which are readers, writers, editors, sponsors, and administrators.
As we further develop the experience for each primary user type, we create a more sustainable digital economy. In the long term, I do hope to power more sites with our content management system.
We also built our own award voting software, which powered Noonies 2019 and 2020. We continue to test and iterate on the product, and we’ll be launching more voting software instances in 2021.
What was the idea behind your emoji responses?
The emoji responses -- and more broadly, how to facilitate value from readers to writers -- are/is something we’ve been playing with for a while.
We first demo-ed emoji reactions at GitHub’s HQ in SF and more recently earned a grant from Mozilla to take our emoji reactions inline.
An emoji requires just one action from the reader to convey a range of reactions to the writer. As most sites and blogging platforms only offer “like” buttons or emoji reactions on the story level, it can be difficult to impossible to tell what part of the story resonates with the reader.
By taking the emoji reactions inline, we are capturing where the value transfer actually happened, which is super helpful imho (sic). We are working on ways to use this data to drive relevant distribution on HackerNoon and across the internet at large.
You had mentioned blockchain as being part of your growth in your Growth Manifesto interview -- does that continue to be true?
For blockchain functions to gain adoption, their performance and ease of integration must be better than the non-blockchain alternatives.
The decentralized web ecosystem is still young; the technology is powerful, and the UX is catching up. Recently, we integrated Web Monetization, which is built atop Interledger, for HackerNoon writers.
This allows writers to accept micropayments via the browser, based on the amount of time reading from others in the Web Monetization ecosystem. What we like about the underlying technology is that it is focused on interoperability, meaning it can be integrated with any payment method, including blockchains, credit cards, and even new ones that haven't been invented yet.
Here are the first 2,277 web monetized stories published on HackerNoon.
Are blockchain articles getting mainstream attention?
#Blockchain is the most used story tag on HackerNoon.
On HackerNoon, subject matter like programming, bitcoin, startups, software development, artificial intelligence, and entrepreneurship all have similar time reading created levels to blockchain.
While blockchain has become a buzzword in some sense, it is real, in some sense, that whoever makes the best database wins the internet.
On the homepage itself, we’ve been curating #decentralization above #blockchain because even though it has fewer stories, we think it’s a word that better encapsulates the bigger trend of the internet’s evolution.
To maintain an authoritative voice in the industry, we have editors who are selective about the blockchain content we post on HackerNoon. They are definitely getting more mainstream attention, and we are trying our best to give the most attention to the highest-quality blockchain articles on the web.
Do you see future uses for blockchain at HackerNoon? With other publishers?
Absolutely. As we publish a lot about cryptocurrencies and blockchains, our contributing writers have given us plenty of ideas about how to integrate blockchain technology.
I’m optimistic for (and will be keeping my eye on) blockchain’s potential to distribute hosting costs, index content, check for plagiarism, and even do some basic fact-checking.
As I’ve said before, I still think HackerNoon’s highest potential route could be the Time Reading Token.
What do you expect from crypto and the BTC bull run in 2021?
I think we are very, very early in the digital cash revolution. People generally get too caught up in coin prices’ fluctuations.
Humans are irrational, coin prices are irrational. But if that’s what grabs the attention of the masses, so be it. When you think about the digital cash revolution,I think it’s more useful to think about what currency is backing every transaction?
And how is that percentage moving from government currency to a cryptocurrency?
The pandemic in 2020 has made us more of web-based culture than ever before -- we spend more time reading, watching videos, and otherwise consuming content. If you could graph the rise of content next to the rise of BTC, I wonder if they might track parallel since they are being driven by the same cultural and behavioral shifts.
It’s encouraging to see a new publication expanding its digital footprint by experimenting with the nexus of content and technology -- opening up new ways for their own and other publications to think about publishing, monetize, and, by hook or crook, create compelling content.
Image: Courtesy of Hackemoon
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