Gather.com Has a Marketing Problem, not a Product Problem

I was chatting with a buddy on IM today about how Gather.com is getting raked over the coals by some bloggers following a story on them in the Boston Globe (reg may be required).

Looking over Michael Arrington's complaints about Gather, I see three tactical issues, and one strategic (my comments in parentheses):

  1. Gather.com is poorly designed (I say, a good IA and designer could fix this right up)
  2. No combination of news items and user comments (Newsvine does this very well, but this could be implemented relatively quickly)
  3. Revenue sharing won't hook bloggers (this is a strategic problem, as no bloggers = no business. Maybe they've got something else up their collective sleeve? Or maybe they're not after the geek audience, and are looking to build a community around average news-reading folks who this might appeal to more?)
  4. Gather uses a taxonomy, not a folksonomy (they could drop this and go with tags, since they encourage tagging)

Arrington's problems with Gather are all fixable. My take is that Gather seems to have a marketing problem more than a product problem. They should take the 'sphere's feedback and use it in future product decisions, but more importantly, they should get their employees blogging. I have yet to see any Gather employee's feedback to the criticism, although there is a comment on Om Malik's blog left by what looks like a PR guy repping Gather.

Speaking of Om, he says of Gather:

[Gather investor Jim] Manzi, who should be remembered for creating selling software that was so cumbersome that it makes Microsoft Outlook a paragon of consumer friendliness, is now an expert on Media, and how it needs to be reinvented. Oh please! Now if he really believed that, I bet you, the first story on the company would not have appeared in Boston Globe, but instead in the open media. Never mind the nagging details. [emphasis his]
Om makes a good point about the irony of launching an ostensibly grassroots journalism venture through a mainstream media source, but PR is PR.

The more important issue is: how can Gather possibly expect to create a "new" news site if its employees don't actively embrace the blogging medium? Conversation doesn't happen through PR, it happens through people!

There's a lesson here for any company, big or small: there are a ton of smart, interested people out here willing to give their opinions on your product. If you engage in conversation, and explain the trade-offs you thought through when making a decision, you're bound to get good PR, you'll learn a hell of a lot, and your audience will respect you, because you are respecting them.

Marketing is no longer all about reach; it's now also about influence, conversation, and a good product.

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Comments (Post | Latest)

1. Eric Berlin said on Jan 18 2006:

Very interesting piece and apt response to Arrington's column, Kareem.

Blogcritics.org, an online magazine made up of 1,200 "superior bloggers," does meet most if not all of the criteria you've set. We're very grassroots-oriented, so every person on staff -- from founder/publisher Eric Olsen on down -- is a writer and blogger at heart. That's why we feel we cater so well to bloggers who both want to improve their writing and vastly increase their audience exposure at the same time.

The big challenge for us is marketing: how do we get the word out on a "grassroots" (read: no VC cashflow here) budget. This challenge is compounded by the fact that what we've evolved into -- and this is something I've realized over the past few months -- into a hybrid news media organization in that we offer fully edited news, opinions, and review pieces (at a rate of 60+ published per day) that retain the fresh, eclectic, and personality-driven flavor of the blogosphere.

Eric Berlin
Executive Producer
Blogcritics.org

2. kareem said on Jan 19 2006:

Eric,
Thanks for the response. You do have a challenge, but it's also a big opportunity. Two immediate ways I see to build the blogcritic reputation: 1) do what you just did, get active commenting on blogs... and 2) reach out to journalists--find ways to help them tell your story creatively.

Good luck, and I'll check out BC every now and then.

Kareem

3. Eric Berlin said on Jan 21 2006:

Thanks very much, Kareem!

And yes, we're doing both very actively right now. One of the coolest things is that I get to find way to great blogs like this one.

/not so subtle pitch to become a Blogcritic...

4. Bob Johnson-Perkins said on Apr 29 2007:

It would seem that Gather.com has a big problem as the site has been of line for 3 days or so.

Maybe they are re-programming?

Best Wishes

Bob Johnson-Perkins

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About

Hi, I'm Kareem Mayan. I co-founded Education Revolution.

I am a big media refugee.

I advise WorldBlu, helping them build democratic companies.

I moderate a council for Creative Good.

And, I helped bring Barcamp, a technology un-conference, to LA, which is where I live.

More about me.

Opinions stated here are mine alone.

Contact: blog -at- reemer

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