People often talk about how the social web makes the Internet seem like a small town, and now former VentureBeat and Valleywag editor Owen Thomas says he wants to give the web “its own hometown newspaper” called The Daily Dot. The site — which is still under wraps, with just an email sign-up form — is a new startup founded by Nova Spivack, former newspaper executive Nicholas White and PR consultant Josh Jones-Dilworth, and with recently-added Thomas as founding editor. All the group will say about is that the site will do “open-source journalism” and that it will treat the web like a community.
In an email that has also been posted online, Thomas says the site’s writers will “forge links not between pages but between people, and if we do our jobs well, we will find an audience that wants to help connect the dots.” In an interview with me on Friday, the former VentureBeat executive editor — who admitted he got a kick out of announcing the new site on April Fools’ Day — said he was initially skeptical of the idea, but as he talked more with the founders, he came to see it as an opportunity to get back to one of his first passions: namely, online community.
An early staffer at Suck.com, the highly-thought-of satirical spinoff from Wired magazine, Thomas says one thing he admired about the site was that it was aimed at digital natives — not covering them from afar, like most traditional media, but as part of that community. Much of what passes for media, he says, is still “repurposing and shovelling crap online and trying to make the old models work,” much like the Daily Dot’s almost-namesake, Rupert Murdoch’s iPad newspaper The Daily.
In terms of what the site will actually do, Thomas was frustratingly vague. He said crowdsourcing stories will be one part of it, but there will be traditional staff writers as well. He said initially there will be a newsletter, because newsletters “are retro — newsletters are cool again,” and eventually, the site will become a community of communities. As for the road map to get to that point, he said “the road map hasn’t really been defined yet.” Then he added:
Do I sound just like one those ***hole startup founders who’s cagey about everything? I hope so — that’s what I’m striving for.
Thomas is probably best known as the editor of Valleywag, a satirical — and occasionally nasty — site run by Nick Denton’s Gawker Media. After working at VentureBeat for the past year, Thomas said recently that he had gotten the entrepreneurial itch and wanted to start something new (which venture investor Paul Kedrosky quickly added to his list of top 10 reasons why we are in another technology bubble).
Spivack, meanwhile, is a serial entrepreneur and startup advisor who founded the early ISP EarthWeb in 1994 and then moved on to work with Stanford Research International and the DARPA artificial-intelligence project known as CALO. He also started one of the first attempts at using semantic technology to build an information-sharing network — a site called Twine — and is an advisor to a number of companies including Klout (Spivack’s bio notes that he has flown to the edge of space as a space tourist, and was also once a production assistant on Star Trek: The Next Generation).
Nicholas White, the other co-founder, was, until recently, VP of audience development for Sandusky Newspapers, a private company founded in 1822 that has newspaper and radio holdings in major markets across the U.S. and roots in Sandusky, Ohio. White says he recently moved to Austin, Texas to start The Daily Dot.
The details of what the site is going to actually do may be unclear, but one thing is for sure: Putting together Thomas — best known for his sharp-edged, gossip-style commentary about the Valley and some high-profile slap-fests with a few of its prominent citizens — with someone like Nova Spivack, whose ventures tend to be at the brainy end of the spectrum, should be an interesting mix.