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):
- Gather.com is poorly designed (I say, a good IA and designer could fix this right up)
- No combination of news items and user comments (Newsvine does this very well, but this could be implemented relatively quickly)
- 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?)
- 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 forOm makes a good point about the irony of launching an ostensibly grassroots journalism venture through a mainstream media source, but PR is PR.
creatingselling 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]
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.