Avi Muchnick co-founded Worth1000 with Israel Derdik. Now he’s setting his sites on grabbing a piece of the news aggregator market with his new site, Plime. Plime differs from market leaders such as Digg, as it allows users to edit the submissions, in a similar way to Wikipedia.
Matt: So, maybe you could tell me a little about how you started Worth1000?
Muchnick: Sure, I was a graphic designer, but got laid off and decided to go to law school… in the interim before school began I had an idea for a quality Photoshop contest site.
Until then, all Iâ€™d seen online were goofy ones done for kicks, but real artists didn’t really participate, or if they did, they got drowned out in a sea of clichÃ©s and Internet memes.
Matt: So, worth1000 was set up for the more talented designer?
Muchnick: well, really to help people learn, but to encourage even poor Photoshoppers to try their best, think hard before making an image, and not just resort to a quick joke.
Matt: Did you expect that level of success with the site?
Muchnick: I hope Iâ€™m not sounding negative about other sites – I do love other sites, especially earlier ones that ran Photoshop contests. I just saw there could be something different.
Yes and no. I hoped it’d be a success, and I thought the system I made was a step up above existing ones in terms of ease of use.
It was one of the first sites of its kind where users could upload and host their artwork. But no, I didn’t really believe it’d take off as it did, and I figured that if it didn’t, at least Iâ€™d have fun.
Matt: I think that in recent years it’s become obvious that a strong community is essential to a site’s success. How did you enable this to grow?
Muchnick: Well the contests were the attraction. All winners were featured on the homepage and had a “trophy mantle” on their stats page. Users saw others getting featured and figured “hey, I can do better than that and win too”.
Competition is a strong impetus for content, but it carries negative effects into a community as well.
Matt: In what way?
Muchnick: It encourages cheating, backstabbing and drama. Not things you want in a community.
Getting around that was the biggest hurdle, we had to develop a special karma system and moderate the community strongly. Get special users to help catch cheating. We did well at it, but it was a serious challenge.
Matt: These are challenges that a lot of sites are facing I think, as user generated content becomes more common.
Muchnick: Yes, copyright issues are going to be the biggest problem of all soon. When users upload content they don’t own, who is responsible?
Right now it’s just a grey area.
The site isn’t responsible unless they donâ€™t take it down once notified, which is a nice loophole that other sites exploit to steal content.
Matt: Can we name names?
They are pretty notorious for posting content without permission, there was a Wired article about that I think.
Matt: So, after Worth1000 took off, you decided to start Plime?
Muchnick: Wwhat’s interesting is that a site may not have rights in the works that are uploaded to it. So, let’s say Ebaumsworld steals stuff off worth1000. Worth1000 might not have a legal recourse to ask ebaumsworld to take it down, because the copyright lies with the original uploader who might not even know or be reachable.
That’s an issue we deal with now a lot.
Back to your question – yes, about 2 years into worth1000 i wanted to expand.
Worth1000 focuses on the arts, and I wanted to have something for everyone.
At the time there was no news site that aggregated content for all topics, then Google news came out, and then topix.net.
I’d started working on the code already at that point, but did it as a side project really, and progress was slow.
Then, last year I showed off a prototype on live TV.
Muchnick: G4 Tech TV – same show that Kevin Rose from Digg used to host actually, that’s how I first found out about Digg.
Matt: Did he steal your idea?!
Muchnick: No, no.
My idea was a bit different at the time; it was a lot more wiki like and self running.
For example, users submitted an RSS feed, which then populated Plime with articles. They also submitted keywords relevant to categories and plime would try to pair up articles into the categories based on the keywords that users added, and the content of the articles.
The system was neat, but I just decided it wasn’t accurate enough. Anyway, Digg was growing strong then, but they only focused on tech news at the time.
Matt: So, you decided to change your strategy a bit?
Muchnick: I thought there was still room for improvement.
We just removed the RSS feed element really, users still could submit directly before and there was still voting before.
I just thought, Iâ€™ll still be the first for all categories, and the first with Wiki like abilities.
I guess it’s half true now. I wasted too much time getting to market – there are lots of features Iâ€™ve since shelved that I spent months on.
Matt: I think that if you had got to market sooner, you may have captured some of the Digg market share, but the WiKi feature is still a unique selling point.
Muchnick: Thanks. The biggest problem with the site now is the lack of a FAQ or otherwise indicator to random guests that it is a Wiki, that they can add new categories, change the look of a section, or edit posts.
I have a great group of worth1000 members helping test and critique it each day as we add features (and remove redundant ones).
Matt: It must be a great benefit to have a loyal user base that you can get to test stuff?
Muchnick: Definitely… it means not having to test from scratch and having a solid launching pad for when I’m ready to really get it off the ground.
We have 300,000 members I can show this to when I am ready to increase traffic, members who have already expressed an interest in the site we made.
Matt: So you haven’t actively promoted the site?
Muchnick: We put a bar above worth1000’s homepage, that’s it. It’s a very good way to keep the traffic consistent until all bugs are worked out
Matt: Ok, so what’s the user base like on Plime right now? Because I signed up today, and I’m 11th on the weekly leader board.
Muchnick: There are 750 beta testers I think… About 100 members visit each day. About 2000 guests visit each day. About 20-25 people post articles each day.
The interesting thing is that the number of guests is growing each day.
The challenge will be to have members want to submit content, and of course, once it’s ready, we have a whole community to help with that.
We have 5000 article clicks each day.
Matt: I think that you have a good set-up to entice generators – the leader board, a points system and a friends feature.
Muchnick: the leader board is basic for now. When it’s done it will be more like Worth1000’s setup, with stats and trophies. It will turn it more into a game. We’re also going to make the system more personalized.
Matt: I think that’s a really great way of getting people to work for free, like the Google page that gets users top tag photos.
Muchnick: Itâ€™ll learn what you and your friends like, and show you more of the same.
Yes, that’s a really fun tool – it’s funny you mention working for free.
Have you ever heard of chacha.com?
Itâ€™s a search engine that is powered by user guides, who are paid to help people browse.
Anyway, compensating users is always something Iâ€™ve thought about in some form or another.
On worth1000 we’re spinning off a new company that lets artists sell their work on custom gifts, so in effect, artists would be using worth1000 to promote their work and make money on sales.
Not sure how that could work with Plime… yet.
Matt: Are you producing the gifts yourself, or farming that out to someone like Spreadshirt?
Muchnick: Weâ€™re actually acting as a go-between between the artist and a few different manufacturers. I believe we have 6 signed on right now. The artist will choose who does order fulfilment, based on the manufacturerâ€™s wholesale prices and their product line.
Some manufacturers specialize in specific items.
What’s cool is that because we have good volume as a group of sites, we get better pricing than if an individual artist or site would do themselves.
Matt: This is something that I’m really interested in, mass customisation.
I think it’s exciting how user generated content is becoming real-world merchandise, and eroding the desirability of big brands amongst a certain demographic.
Muchnick: Yes definitely. Knowing that a t-shirt you own is unique to you, and isn’t worn by every other person you see, is great.
Matt: I think that now this is possible, we’re going to see the true demand for this. Obviously not everyone can do it. If you lack imagination, then it’s easier to go and buy a brand name, but the extra effort is worth it.
Muchnick: Yes, I feel the same for how we consume information as well.
News used to be: go to CNN, see the same exact page.
Matt: Now you can customise what you consume intellectually as well.
Muchnick: Exactly. There are so many great sites that now customize information to exactly what you want, it’s an amazing time to be alive, as cheesy as that sounds.
Matt: No, I think that you’re right. We’re definitely in an age where information is the most valuable commodity, and these sites are experimenting with different ways to plough through that information in a sensible way. The only problem I can see is that they only work if you’re well aligned with the community. They won’t work as well for the average person in the street.
Muchnick: Which means in 10 years from now, all business people will be really, really internet savvy, as they were the teens from now.
I can’t imagine what web 3.0 will bring.