I liked her instantly, how could I not with a name like hers? Allen Stern published a great chat with Gina last year at Center Networks.
Gina Trapani is the Editor of Lifehacker, a publication founded in January 31, 2005. One of the hot properties of Gawker Media, the online powerhouse considered one of the most successful and visible blog-oriented media companies. Lifehacker is about life hacks (hence the name) and lives by the motto: Computers make us more productive. Yeah, right. Lifehacker recommends the software downloads and web sites that actually save time. Don't live to geek; geek to live.
While many print publication editors are now setting their sights on the new media promised land, Lifehacker was born online and has grown to become a regular destination for a high number of readers. According to the site's meter, it averages 475,872 visitors per day with about 3,331,103 visitors per week and an average of 4,000,587 page views for the same time. That's a lot of eye balls.
I asked Gina to visit with us here and tell us more about Lifehacker and her editorial philosophy.
This year you published a book -- Lifehacker: 88 Tech Tricks to Turbocharge your Day. How do the web and traditional publishing fit together?
Gina: Readers are shifting more of their attention online, but new media and traditional publishing complement one another and will continue to do so. Newsy blogs deliver stories faster than magazines and even daily newspapers can, but you don't get the kind of research and editorial polish that you do in those outlets.
As an online-only writer, the book experience was very enlightening. While the book pulls together ideas in a comprehensive and cohesive way that the site doesn't (and can't, as a daily blog), I missed being able to update and edit things after the fact. Especially since it's a technology book, some suggestions became obsolete after just a few months on the shelves.
Magazines also have such a long lead time to print that I laugh when I see stories in a new issue that were discussed online a weeks ago, or when new developments came about after the article was written but before it hit shelves. So there's timeliness online, and polish and comprehensive analysis in print. Both are important.
How do you keep things relevant and sustainable at your publication? What is your definition of success?
Gina: At Lifehacker, our goal is to look at current topics in technology and ask, "what here is actually useful?" That sounds very simplistic, but so much tech media is about just touting the new next thing precisely because it's new. We keep things real by asking what the reader will gain from the product. We also cast a wide net and go beyond just tech -- we'll run Martha Stewart type tips about reusing common household objects in unexpected ways or figuring out the best way to approach the boss about working from home. So we address a large audience, and keep things as useful, accessible, and topic-oriented as possible.
My definition of success is handing a reader a useful tidbit that saves time or makes life easier in a small way.
What is your strategy for inviting contributors?
Gina: It's changed over time, but I always keep an eye out for other successful bloggers, intelligent Lifehacker commenters, and helpful reader email. We'll zero in on someone who looks like a possible contributor by checking out their blog, comments or email first, and then approach them about trying out a guest writer trial to see how they do.
Do popularity and voice play a larger role in your selection than your
Gina: No. For us, it's less voice and popularity and more know-how. Since we're mostly a tech help site, it's all about whether someone knows what they're talking about and can explain it in plain English. The combination of tech AND communication skills is the key for us.
Where do you draw inspiration? Do you read other online publications? Which ones? How are you influenced by them?
Gina: Inspiration is everywhere! It's online, and in print magazines, and on television, and in overheard conversations on line at the grocery store. When my sister needed help setting up her wireless network, I turned it into an article. Figuring out how to best wire my computer's power strip turned into a post. Primarily though, my sources are online. I keep up with over 200 web site feeds to track what's going on in the tech world, and what bloggers are talking about. One of Lifehacker's earliest influences was Merlin Mann's 43 Folders, a Mac-only productivity blog.
Do you feel threatened by the idea of user created media? How is what
you do different from user created content? Is there still a place for
traditional editors in the 21st century?
Gina: Threatened? Not at all! Just the opposite -- I feel supported by it. Many of the stories that run on Lifehacker came from reader comments on previous posts. We constantly feature user-generated videos posted to sites like YouTube and Metacafe, and those posts give those users more exposure and drive more traffic to our site. It's a win-win. Lifehacker wouldn't exist without user-created content.
I'm a blogger more than a traditional editor, so I guess I would say that what I do is absolutely user-created media. But, you see, the line between reader and editor blurs. That's a good thing. But I do think there's a place for traditional editors, too. I couldn't have written my book without them! :)
Any aha moments you'd like to share?
Gina: The one big evolution we had at Lifehacker was moving from an editor post-only format, to enabling users to post comments on stories. When that happened, the site just came alive! But ensuring you get quality comments is still a difficult thing. Avoiding spammers, trolls, and readers who really don't care is always a challenge. So we use an invite-only system. A reader posts an initial comment, and if it's an intelligent contribution, our moderator approves it and that reader can comment freely and immediately from there on in.
At first there
was a lot of push back, saying that our invitation system was elitist.
I can see why readers might think that, however, we have some of the
highest-quality comments you'll find online anywhere at Lifehacker.
Readers treat their Lifehacker commenter rights as a privilege, and
don't want to lose them, and show their best faces when they post.
While the system isn't without flaws, it's been a huge success in that
it's made our content that much more compelling.
Thank you, Gina. At the end of her interview with Stern, Gina predicted that "we're only just beginning getting human knowledge onto the web." In what ways do you see knowledge becoming main stream from life streams on the web?