My favorite part about our submission rounds are the metrics we can pull:
People visit blogs because of the interesting content, well at least I do. The extraordinary growth of blogs in the past year could be attributed to many factors, but one factor I like to think about is that more information is now available to everyday citizens because of the Internet, and more regular people now have the opportunity to voice their opinions via their blogs. More information, more people online, more opinions. However, more people and more blogs means that more people read blogs and are itching to find good ones, and that concept was the beginning of 9rules. People are looking for good content to read, and we want to find and present that content to them.
9rules is focused on content, but what exactly is this content and who is producing it? This new version of 9rules has essentially three different types of focused, topical content available for readers to check out:
The foundation of 9rules is based around our strong network of members (now at 260+) and the great content they generate. Members are organized into Communities (Programming, Entertainment, Comics, etc.) and their blog entries are aggregated in two main areas: the homepage and on their Community pages. Out of the 260 members about 20% will publish an entry on any given day, so throughout all 7 days of the week we have fresh content from our members. We don’t try to suck readers in with internal 9rules links to their content — we link directly to their articles and sites to maximize the traffic going there.
Featured Blog Articles
Our 9rules Featured Blog is a weblog run on the 9rules site that is written and edited by members. The entries are categorized by Community and focus on great content throughout the Network (written by other members) and the blogosphere (written by anybody.) We have individual Featured Blogs for each Community, with all the entries aggregated into our main Featured Blog and on the homepage.
9rules Notes is our brand new, third type of content. Notes is based on normal forum software, however each individual forum thread and reply is styled to look like a normal weblog entry, so it appears as though you’re writing blog entries that are directly published onto 9rules.com. Each Community has its own Notes section (Design, Photography, etc.) where anyone can post topical entries that show up directly on that Community’s main page. Newly posted or replied to Notes are also featured directly on our homepage, with a direct link to the author’s URL of choice. The Notes installation is pretty basic right now, however full forum functionality will be added soon including user profiles, favorites, RSS feeds, and a lot more.
If the main 9rules site were nothing of any value, then we wouldn’t be drawing any traffic and would therefore not be doing our job which is highlighting (and moving traffic to) 9rules member sites. The premise of our company is that we provide value at our own 9rules.com website — enough to bring visitors in — and then we give them a multitude of ways to explore content and then eventually leave our site and visit a member. Unlike other “portals” (nasty word!) where they try desperately to lock visitors into their site, we make our living moving traffic off our site for the reasons stated above.
There are two basic types of user sessions involved when someone visits 9rules:
- They went to a weblog they liked and started browsing around. After reading some content they found a 9rules leaf logo on the sidebar and decided to click it.
- They go to 9rules.com and browse around, trying to find a site. They visit some Communities, read some entry titles, and then click on a title to visit a member blog.
We have to provide enough functionality and value on 9rules.com to 1) let 9rules readers find a blog they want to read, and 2) have people who come to the site for the first time (presumably by clicking on a member’s leaf logo) find enough things they like to keep coming back. With member entries, Featured articles, and now Notes, we have three different types of topical content ready for them to check out.
Design Growth, or, You Can’t Stay Web 2.0 Forever
Some of the feedback we’re receiving about this new design mentions that our new look isn’t as “Web 2.0” as before, and we’re taking that as a huge plus. Gone are the light pastels and the rounded corners; new design features include darker colors and a focus on functionality instead of superfluous design elements. The new design actually harkens back to our design from June of last year, back when we only had about 30 members. Replace 30 members with 30 communities and you’ve got a design that’s similar architecturally. We truly had to ditch the old design because if you broke the pixels down you’d see that we wasted a lot of screen real estate on non-content elements like gigantic rounded headers, huge RSS pull boxes, and rounded containers. Too much talk and not enough walk, and every single design iteration we go through we try to fit as much “walk” in as we can.
In this new homepage design, there are no superfluous design elements that aren’t there for a purpose: decisions guided the placement of every pixel, and every pixel has meaning. Our focus is now on Communities so naturally we needed a way to get users into a specific Community as fast as possible, and the list navigation on the top was the best way we came up with. A dropdown hides options, an inline link list is difficult to skim, and if we skipped the list it would take two clicks for a user to find the subject they want. Also, on the bottom of every page (except the homepage) is another community browser for quick access no matter where they are.
We thought pretty hard about this design, simply because we know this architecture and design will be staying with us for awhile as we grow out our new features. Here are a few small design elements you might not have noticed:
- Colors matter. Green titles are for blog entries, red titles are for the Featured blog, and blue titles are for Notes. On a Community page we use the same color scheme to denote the sections of content on the page, without resorting to large colored boxes or vertically wasteful and gigantic headers.
- Member focused. One of the problems we’ve had in the past (and still have to some extent) is unrelated content. A member might write about Apple 70% of the time and be a member of the Apple Community, but the other 30% they’re probably writing about their job, or what they ate for lunch, or the car they just bought. The way our site was setup, all those entries would get dropped into “Latest Entries” for the Apple Community, and it would throw off readers looking for entries about Leopard or the iPod nano. We contemplated some advanced filtering techniques, category RSS feeds, member tagging, 9rules site pinging, but in the end we found none of those really solved the problem, and that was that we were highlighting the wrong thing. A quick entry title may have absolutely nothing to do with what the entry is about, and readers won’t figure that out until after they click. What we did in this new version is highlight members and member sites instead of simply the “Latest Entries” from a given community. Now we have member listings with a screenshot, some member information (profiles are coming!), and the last 5 posts from the member, all of which let the reader make a more informed choice about just where they’ll be placing their outbound click.
- Notes Tagging. We’ve silently implemented tagging into 9rules Notes just so we can observe and tweak before we yell it from the rooftops (which we won’t do anyway.) It’s useful because a tag can span across multiple Communities, so it’s a quick meta-search for people looking for very specific content. Here’s the “web” tag with my cartoonish-looking title 🙂
So there you have it! New design, new features, smarter layout, and more functionality. Good stuff 🙂
One of the things that really attracted me to blogs (and now to 9rules) is the idea that one singular person can build up a veritable army of loyal supporters. He or she can build their personal brand from absolutely nothing, ending up with tens of thousands of daily readers and advertising revenue to replace a full-time job.
When blogging was still in its infancy it was thought of as a waste of time with no business value. Over the past few years however, people are now labeling it “the new journalism” because individual bloggers have broken news stories that traditional journalists might have overlooked or where afraid to touch. While others may still be comparing blogging to journalism, I see weblogs as far surpassing journalism for many reasons, but the most simple reason is that there’s no middle-man between you and your readers.
I opened up my feedreader of choice this morning and it seemed as though my entire list blew up with chatter surrounding the 111 sites that were selected out of the 700 who submitted (Paul forgot hyperlinks on the 9r blog entry, Tyme has a big clickable list.)
The official entry received over 50 trackbacks, and my Feedster and Technorati feeds for the “9rules” query blew up with hundreds more hits from bloggers who talked about the list. It seemed like I couldn’t go anywhere in the blogosphere this weekend without reading about 9rules — a concept and feeling that is fantastic considering all the hard work the team and I (and the members) have put in over the past year or so.
We may not have a Techcrunch profile, San Francisco offices, open bar parties, or 7 figures of VC money, but we do have thousands of people who want to join the 9rules Network along with a massive group of evangelists who support us 100%, and I wouldn’t trade those in for anything else in the world.
We’re just past the halfway point in the Round IV Submission Round and I’m proud to say that we’ve (so far) dramatically passed our expectations as far as the number and quality of weblogs who wish to be part of 9rules.
As Paul noted, we were at 1 submission every minute for the first hour, and after 9 hours we were at over 290 sites. Now we’re far past that, and will be easily surpassing the previous round record of 509 blogs to set a new “record” for us. Pretty exciting if you’re a member of 9rules, a reader, or just a fan 🙂