Techmeme founder: Give me human editors and the New York Times

Thinking robot

Gabe Rivera is a quiet high priest of the tech and media world whose websites, Techmeme and Mediagazer, use algorithms to pluck headlines and shape news coverage. But Rivera himself holds some very traditional views about the role of editors and how people like to read. At a gathering in New York on Wednesday, he pulled back the curtain on his operation — part way at least — and talked about what he might do next.

In case you’re unfamiliar, Techmeme is a must-read news aggregator for Silicon Valley types that also acts as a gold star dispenser for tech writers who vie to appear on it. Rivera, the site’s founder, is thoughtful and soft-spoken in person but comes across on Twitter like this:

Rivera has made an out-sized impression on tech journalism not only as an influencer but also for his use of robot-style publishing. Techmeme and its sister site Mediagazer both rely on online signals to determine if an article should appear and also whether to move it up or down the page. Only in the last four years has Rivera introduced human editors, based in time zones stretching from Bulgaria to Australia, to help the robots do their jobs.

At the event in New York, which was hosted by media company Outbrain, Rivera explained to Business Insider’s Steve Kovach why algorithms will never be able to curate as effectively as humans.

“A lot of people who think they can go all the way with the automated approach fail to realize a news story has become obsolete,” said Rivera, explaining that an article can be quickly superseded even if it receives a million links or tweets.

This is why Rivera now relies on human editors to shepherd the headlines that bubble up and swat down the inappropriate ones. He argues any serious tech or political news provider will always have to do the same.

Rivera is also not enthused about social-based news platforms — sites like LinkedIn Today or Flipboard that assemble news stories based on what your friends are sharing on social media. Asked if Techmeme will offer a social-based news feed, Rivera said don’t count on it.

“People like to go to the New York Times and look at what’s on the front page because they have a lot of trust in what editors decide and they know other people read it. We want to do the same thing,” he said. “There’s value in being divorced from your friends … I’d rather see what’s on the front of the New York Times.”

As for the business of Techmeme, Rivera says the site relies on three forms of advertising, all of which could be considered “native advertising” — the mantra now being preached in publishing circles. Specifically, Techmeme makes money from sponsored posts, job listings and event posts.

Finally, Rivera offered a frank and sanguine take on his plans to tune up his sites for the mobile age.

“I think the mobile site gets the job done but it could be snappier. We should do our own app. But we have 2 developers and one of them is me.”

(Image by Sarah Holmlund via Shutterstock)

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