Betaworks, the social media incubator and venture firm based in New York City, has slowly been morphing into a company that focuses on launching and operating projects — a whole lot of projects in recent months. The company has been working on five launches over the next five weeks, including one today, something in the music space next week, and Betaworks’ first game product coming shortly, Betaworks CEO John Borthwick told Om Malik during an interview at paidContent Live on Wednesday.
Betaworks has developed a model for these rapid launches and development cycles (100 to 150 days), and the company relies heavily on data to see if they stick in the marketplace. On Wednesday Betaworks launched Poncho, a super simple weather app; a couple weeks ago there was Giphy, a search engine for GIFs, which Borthwick said was so popular that 2 million users crashed the system when it first launched. Before that there was tapestry, a collection of mobile tappable stories.
But when Betaworks isn’t churning out its own content, it’s slicing, dicing, merging and mixing the content of others. One of the things that Betaworks is most famous for is its acquisition of the former social reading site Digg for a reported $500,000. Betaworks then merged it with some of the tools of its sluggish News.me creation.
Borthwick said that when the company bought Digg it had $250,000 a month worth of legacy costs, with $10,000 in monthly operating profits. Digg was jacked up and it had to pull out the needle, said Borthwick. After switching over to Amazon, building a new stack and relaunching with Betawork’s algorithms, Digg now costs closer to $20,000 a month to operate. “That’s the math of the cloud,” said Borthwick.
The overhaul seems to be working. The new Digg, and its users, are highly mobile-centric. Fifty percent of the traffic during the week and 55 percent on weekends comes from mobile traffic, said Borthwick. It was closer to 5 to 6 percent mobile before the relaunch. Digg now has a couple of million “active, rabid” users, said Borthwick. The Betaworks team pays particular attention to the amount of engaged users on Digg, which is high.
Attention is being fractured into a bipolar fashion, leading to condensed, fractional content on one hand and uber long-form content on the other. It’s Twitter vs House of Cards and Homeland, explained Borthwick. To build media companies and products in this era, you have to keep an eye on both, said Borthwick. To address that long form content market, Betaworks has created some tools over the past year around long-form story telling.
Not all of the innovation will come from newly launched media projects. Borthwick said he admires the work that Forbes and Bloomberg have done, as well as new media sites like The Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and Upworthy.
CHeck out the rest of our paidContent Live 2013 coverage here, and a video embed of the session follows below: