On Deadspin and the elements of a sports social network

Will Leitch is leaving Deadspin, which begs the question: Is Deadspin still Deadspin without Will Leitch?

Using our metrics at Buzz Manager and Sports Media Challenge, we’ve consistently ranked Deadspin as the most influential sports blog on the Internet. Anybody who pays attention to sports blogs probably could come to the same conclusion. It generates a healthy number of comments. Its community has spun off several other sports blogs. Its traffic rivals sites that have been well established. Will has (infamously) appeared in mainstream media and has earned himself a job at New York Magazine. It seems very obvious. So what do I think about when I’m figuring the same thing?

In my work lately, I’ve been breaking down online social networks into three pieces that I’ll analyze individually and as a group. The Platform, the Content and the Community. There are all kinds of ways to analyze these things, and this particular way seems to lend itself well when I’m talking to marketers and sponsorship people. We can take a quick look at the platform first and then touch on the others another time.

The Platform
When I’m looking at the platform, I’m thinking broadly and generally about the usability of the site itself. Does the site allow me to comment anonymously? Does the site allow me to comment at all? Can I write my own posts to be included on the blog? Do I have to be a registered member? Can I “follow” particular members? How does the site handle images? Hyperlinks? How many stories appear on the front page? Can I “up vote” or “down vote” content that I like or dislike?

Deadspin is one of the blogs in the Gawker network and benefits from having several succesful sites in the network. The best practices from individual Gawker blogs get carried into the others. There initially wasn’t a whole lot of dynamic jazz to the site and comments were kept to a minimum (by actually not allowing them). It was straight content. Will didn’t even really use the “jumps” and the titles of the individual posts weren’t self-explanatory. There was no such thing as a user “profile” or Digg-style up votes or down votes. Most of the functionality that’s on Deadspin today was added after the initial launch.

So the platform was somewhat weak for a social network, but the site took off anyway and fancy things were added later. I’ll write about the content a little later, but the big lesson here is this: YOUR PLATFORM IS NOT CONTENT.

You could have the weakest, most threadbare social networking platform out there, but if your content is great and/or your community is great, people will come and figure out a way to participate. On the flip side, you could have social networking tools that are just completely loaded with the latest features, streaming video, thousands of options for customizing user profiles, but if there’s no content or community, you have the online equivalent of an empty house.

To be continued in parts the second and the third…


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