Thursday, June 26, 2008
Blogger Interviews: BallHype creator Jason Gurney
We're running a segment here at The Big Picture where we'll interview some of the biggest names in the sports blogosphere. What's the point? Well, these guys spend countless, thankless hours writing, so a little recognition from time to time is well warranted. Think of this as the blogger's version of a reach-around or something.
Haven't had an interview for a while, but we're joined by a spectacular guest today: Jason Gurney, the creator of Ballhype. Ballhype is a go-to-spot for all bloggers, blog readers and anybody who is literate. Blog rankings, top stories and picks leaderboards make this user-news-generated site a first stop in the morning. So welcome Jason and go hype our shit up. If you don't...
1. The rundown:
Name: Jason Gurney
Age: 37 (oldest interviewee yet!)
Location: Bay Area
Occupation: BallHype and ShowHype
Favorite team: GS Warriors
Time per day spent working on the site and perusing the blogosphere:
A lot. On weekdays it's usually 12-14 hours, somewhat less on weekends. Throw in family duties and the occasional game on TV, and it's a good thing I don't need too much sleep.
2. BallHype has been very successful in its first 14 months. Were there initial concerns that the site wouldn't take off? That bloggers wouldn't find it as useful as they do?
Absolutely. Although we had a lot of pre-launch testing and feedback from a great group of bloggers, so we felt fairly confident that bloggers would find value in it. The question was, would they find it at all? And even if we were able to get them to participate, would we be able to reach out to the much larger population of non-blogging sports fans and make the site relevant and interesting to them?
3. Take us through a typical day, if such a thing exists.
I try to get up early enough to check on things before family duties kick in. Then I generally spend most of the day working on small things -- site content, responding to users, implementing minor features, tweaks, or bug fixes. In the evenings I'm usually able to work on larger projects. Most BallHype users might be surprised by this, but I usually deploy multiple code updates each day. The majority of the changes are invisible, because a lot of the functionality takes place behind the scenes.
4. Talk about starting a, well, startup. Concerns? Fears? Big loan?
Taking the plunge was a really tough decision to make, because there were plenty of concerns: Erin and I gave up a couple of great jobs. We knew that it would be months before revenues would cover even our monthly diaper bill. We had never tried to start a company before. New competitors were popping up every week. But on the other hand, we thought it was a great opportunity to try something that we loved, and we figured we could always return to the job market it we failed miserably -- the economy was looking rosier at the time.
5. Talk about BallHype's biggest competitors and what you guys are doing to stand out and beat out your competition?
We've actually met founders from a few of the other sports social media sites here in the Bay Area -- they're all good guys. I think they feel the same way that we do, that the competition isn't so much between newer sites since the overall sports market is so huge. So in that sense, our biggest competitors are major destinations like ESPN.com or Yahoo! Sports. If we can capture a fraction of the traffic they bring in and direct it to a more diverse set of sources, we feel good about what we're doing.
6. Dream job? Go.
It seems like everyone you ask (MJD providing one hilarious exception) gives some variation of working on their current site, sometimes with more pay. I hate to be a lemming about it, but I'm in that camp as well. Combining sports with technology is like peanut butter and chocolate for me, and I honestly can't think of anything I'd rather be doing for a career.
7. There are all sorts of wonderful blogs out there. A few you'd recommend?
I always find the answers to this question kind of amusing because the biggest blogs invariably get mentioned the most. I ran a quick analysis on your prior interviews, and here are the most frequently-recommended blogs:
1. Deadspin (18 - that's 75%)
2. With Leather (9)
3. The Big Lead (7)
4. KSK (6)
5. True Hoop/TBJ/WIZZNUTZZ (5)
No real surprises here except for maybe the WIZZNUTZZ (which I also love). So, I'll throw out a few that haven't been mentioned in your prior interviews: The Painted Area (reminds me how little I actually know about basketball), Joe Posnanski's blog (if you have a lot of time to kill), Shysterball, Ball Don't Lie and the rest of the new Mottram! empire, The Arbitrarian, James Mirtle's blog, and the BBTF Newsblog (terrific discussions).
8. Most rewarding part of the site? Most frustrating?
Most rewarding has certainly been the growth over the past 14+ months. We're very grateful to sites like TBP that helped to get the word out in the early days, because our marketing and advertising budgets have been nonexistent.
Most frustrating? Home furnishing spammers. Seriously, we're getting a story or two posted every day advertising divans, duvets, roller blinds, bedsteads, etc. I really don't get it.
9. What was the motivation to start the site? Were you that much of a sports blog reader that you felt compelled to compile them under one roof?
Sure, I've been reading a lot of blogs over the past few years (although not nearly as many as the Henry Abbotts of the world). One thing I really like about sports blogging is the general sense of camaraderie that seems to dominate. There are feuds and disagreements, of course, but it's a lot more common to see bloggers recognizing others who have created something cool. As a result, sports bloggers seem friendlier than people who blog about politics, technology, or even celebrity gossip. This was one of the reasons why we thought the BallHype application would be a natural fit for sports.
10. The one flaw of "user-generated news" seems to be -- and correct us if we're wrong -- that a great post that is super funny, provocative and has some PG-13 nudity could not get many links for whatever reasons and then BallHype users wouldn't know it existed. Is that a concern? Do you feel that popularity based on incoming links is always the best way to get the best material out to the masses?
Not necessarily, which is why we combine voting on the site with the inbound link tracking. We're now up to more than a thousand new stories added per day, so it's becoming a little more challenging to get noticed, but I think high quality pieces, regardless of MPAA rating, are generally well received and hopefully discovered by other bloggers who use the site for researching stories.
One flaw we do wrestle with from time to time is near-duplicate stories. Because we don't exercise editorial control over the story ranking, sometimes the votes and links lead to multiple takes on the same story ranking high on our home page. In some cases, this is appropriate--after the Super Bowl, you expect to see a bunch of different angles covered. But in other cases, we have a pair of stories that are so similar they don't both belong. We aren't yet sure how to reconcile that with our current ranking model.
11. With social networks and other Internet-y sites always changing and improving, is there pressure with BallHype to keep developing new stuff? Ever run out of ideas for these new things? Don't you ever say, "Damn, this site is awesome. I'm gonna create an ass-groove in the couch today and watch re-runs of M*A*S*H"?
Sometimes I wish we would run out of ideas -- forget M*A*S*H, I'd be happy if I had the time to watch more live sporting events. Yeah, the pressure is there to keep developing, but it's more a problem of too many ideas, too little development time, than a need to keep up with the Internet Joneses.
12. You're having dinner with four people -- two athletes, one hot celebrity and a dead president. Name 'em. And, of course, why?
Athlete #1: Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo. There aren't many 7-foot humanitarians who can speak nine languages in the voice of Cookie Monster.
Athlete #2: Occidental College hoopster Barack Obama. I'll ask him how many public schools will be turned into Madrasahs when he's elected president.
Celebrity: Angelina Jolie. Easy on the eyes, good with knives, and has some skeletons in the closet.
Dead: John Quincy Adams. Any ex-president who skinny dipped in the Potomac and kept an alligator in the white house is welcome at my table.
(Past interviews; also found on right sidebar: Dawizofodds; Matt Ufford; The Mighty MJD; Jamie Mottram; The Big Lead; The Cavalier; Will Leitch; Dan Shanoff; Dan Steinberg; Brooks; Unsilent Majority; J.E. Skeets; Henry Abbott; The Dugout; NFL Adam; Bethlehem Shoals; Orson Swindle; Big Daddy Drew; Brian Cook; Awful Announcing; JoeSportsFan; Matt Mosley; Chris Mottram; Dave Lozo; Christmas Ape).