So, the first of my launches this week was the relaunch of my 1Eyed project. I thought it might be interesting to some people to pull the site apart because what we've been able to create pretty much encompasses a bunch of the new media ideas and theories I've developed.
First, some background. What is now 1Eyed Sports is based on the concept that sports fans are really, really interested in one team and only peripherally interested in the rest of the teams in the competition. So it follows that a site that focuses on their team but which also keeps them up to date on other important league news should be able to out niche and subsequently out serve a sport-specific site or a general sports site.
1Eyed started two years ago when I began a Blogger blog, basically pulling together all the media coverage I could find on the Rugby League team that I follow somewhat tragically, the Parramatta Eels. It did Ok, I was pulling perhaps 200 users per day at its peak. The next year, I decided that Blogger was too limiting. I wanted to start making the site more of a resource including results and player profiles so I developed a custom site on Lotus Domino and that got me through the season last year. At its peak, 1Eyed Eel was pulling in about 400 users during the finals series and that encouraged me this year to try and extend the single team media site across all teams in the competition and to try and develop a network which would feed off each other.
I contracted the website development work to Paul Montgomery who was able to leverage much of the development that he has put into his Tinfinger and FanFooty sites and this is the new 1Eyed Eel site we ended up with:
1. Business Model. The 1Eyed Sports concept is based on what I'm calling Expert Generated Content. This is the About.com model. You appoint subject area experts who aren't professionals but they're not amateurs either. So our mission is to find journalism-trained Rugby League fanatics who will write primarily because its their passion but will remain committed to it because there is a financial incentive to do so. 50 per cent of our revenue will go to our 'Franchise owners' with the remainder poured back into the site.
2. Minimal front of screen advertising. To me, sites that plaster their front pages with tons of advertising are doing their readers and themselves a disservice. Surely, the goal of the front page is to entice readers deep inside the site, to invite them to stay a while, where you then have the opportunity to serve up far more advertising than if they just stop by to read the front page or a story of two. Screen real estate is your most valuable commodity and I believe the opportunity cost in giving away your front page is too great. There's a very good reason that newspapers don't cover the bulk of their front page with advertising!
3. Heavy cross-promotion between sites. We want our users to skip between sites constantly so we've given over one of the most important spots on our front page to promoting the news that is located on other sites. It amazes me that most of these so-called blog networks do nothing to cross promote except have a blog roll style listing of other blogs on the network. To me if you can't leverage content to get heavy cross-traffic there's very little benefit in being a part of a network.
4. Consistent look and feel. Because we want our users to skip and hop between sites we use an identical layout and feel across all sites. We've kept the layout and design very simple to help achieve that so you hardly notice when you've cross into another team's territory. So while we get cross-traffic we don't alienate the user experience too much extent.
5. Blog-style format. When you get this niche, you aren't posting huge number of stories and for that the longer, rolling blog format works very well. We try and keep stories to four pars, if they're any longer than that they roll over onto their own page. All stories have comments and feature links back to original sources if applicable.
6. User generated content. We've incorporated blogs within our blog. We allow the community to contribute their own content and in return for their words we promise to drive significant traffic to their posts. If you were to start your own Eels blog in WordPress it might take months if not years to build up a couple of hundred page views. You can get that tomorrow by posting to the 1Eyed site.
7. Links to external sources. We're using Tinfinger's scraping service to pull in headlines from other sources. This guards against the possibility that our individual editors may not have caught up on a recent news development and will ensure supporters know that they have one site they can rely on to bring them all of that subject-specific content.
8. Recent Comments. I've found that comments increase signficantly the more prominence you can give them and this enables readers to track the latest comments on the site even if they're on posts that are days old.
9. External Sources. We're not just pulling news from external sites but we've got scores, fixtures, injuries, league ladders. Our franchise owners don't need to worry about populating this stuff, we do it all for them so they can focus on their posts.
10. Resources. In this world of RSS, a website has to give readers a reason other than just posts to regularly visit their site. We've pulled together all the League data we've been able to get our hands on and organised and sorted it so that hopefully we become the site our users come to when they want to check stats or find out when a game is on or who their team is playing next week.
11. Network front door. Go to http://www.1eyedleague.com. We pull all of the content from all of our sites together into one front site for those fans who have a more general interest in League. Obviously the content model is depth rather than breadth. We're focusing on one sport and aiming to deliver the best possible content service for that subject area, but we of course will be looking to spread out to other sports as we (hopefully) prove the business model.
The additional depth of content has already doubled page impressions. If we can achieve the same kinds of numbers that 1Eyed Eel is now pulling across every site on the network, we'll be in the million plus page impressions per month and we can start looking at generating advertising revenue properly. Still, it remains to be seen if we can replicate the success of our flagship site. I'm trying to keep the standards high as to the credentials of our franchise operators but I've still got a fair way to go before we have someone running every time. At some point, I may have to lower my criteria which could impact the quality, which I believe has to be consistently outstanding to establish a credible network that is a viable alternative to MSM sources. I don't know whether the blog idea is going to work yet and it's already apparent that we're going to need to educate people as to what blogs are and what they can do with them. Footy supporters are very used to the Forum model, rather than the blog model. I think a blog model is ultimately a better read/write model but it certainly is going to take longer to establish.
What aren't we doing? RSS feeds. At this stage I still see RSS feeds as a site-by-site proposition. I don't think many of my readers are using RSS and at this stage I have a unique-enough offering that it makes more sense for me to try and convince my users to get into the habit of making regular visits to the website just to check if there are any new interesting posts/blogs/comments.
Let's see how she goes and if you've got any feedback or thoughts whack away!