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David Smooke Talks About Where Hacker Noon is Headed Next

Detailing the main goals of the company and what metrics Hacker Noon uses to measure its success

From the challenges faced establishing the popular site to developing a new publishing platform set to rival Medium, David Smooke (CEO and Founder of Hacker Noon) talks about what the future holds for the thriving tech publication.

What were the biggest hurdles you faced establishing Hackernoon?

There were a number of times I think other people would have given up on the project. When things are new, they are exciting and fragile. It took almost a year to go from “traction” (i.e. hundreds of thousands and then millions of people reading the site) to revenue. 

We funded the growth of Hacker Noon via revenue from my startup marketing clients. We relied on free software. And then it took almost another year for revenue to generate a second job beyond myself. And then when we were finally stabilizing as a steady profitable two person business, our Medium content management system changed the terms of their software, blocking us from controlling the link choices on our site. So we raised ≈ $1.07M from 1,2K people via equity crowdfunding to replace our Medium content management system with our own custom-built content management system. 

It was a pretty tough migration, our domain had 60K+ pages (stories, profiles, tag pages, etc.), with lots of rich media. Many people doubted our ability to move from just a publishing company to also becoming a software company. But, guess what, we made 600+ iterations this past year to create an exciting and stable platform (that is up over 2k slots in Alexa ranking since July 2019). I feel privileged for the opportunity to work on this.

So much content is published on Hacker Noon, with that and so many writers how do you continue to efficiently publish quality content?

Well I’ve hired better editors than I am. Hopefully, in time they’ll hire better editors than themselves as we scale we create more editorial rules. Rules like: what formatting, citations and link policies actually improve the reading experience? What headline style drives relevant readers? 

In publishing 50k+ stories, we’ve learned a lot about how an editorial staff can improve quality. We also have plugged in more technology in the editing process: spell check; fact checks and recommended curation. We will continue to embed more technological solutions for our editors to improve story quality. 

In the future, we hope to move more of this functionality into the hands of the community. By using systems with mechanisms like delegated proof of stake, we can work towards community editors, curation and distribution that is closer to meritocracy by subject matter.

How do you see Hackernoon growing and what are your biggest goals for 2020?

The company’s three most important metrics are time reading, words published and revenue generated, so everything we do is about trying to move those numbers in the right direction. 

It starts with iterating every day on how we can become a better place for people to read and write on. We’ll be rolling out more ways to contribute micro-content, such as contextual annotations and inline comments (currently in beta and hosted on a blockchain), as well as, more ways to curate. Upcoming functionality we’re working on is: recommended reading, emoji reactions and story collections.  Overall, we will work to provide more value to our readers. 

For contributing writers, we will iterate on stats page, the writing experience, and drive more readers back to their respective corners of internet by flowing more traffic through their profile call to actions.  For the sponsor we will roll out placements by tag. Overall I believe ads should never be personalized by browsing activity. The better way is to map placements to content relevancy.  For example, Seen by Indeed can place ads like “Interview for Data Science Roles at Facebook, Google & Amazon” next to curated stories about data science, machine learning, and other related content. 

What do you think the next big niche for tech is going to be – AI, Big data, data privacy?

Anyone can visit our all the tags page to see the volume of stories we publish by tag. We’ll be providing more filters and data there to let any site visitor see what technology content is trending. 

We’ve experience a big rise in cryptocurrency and blockchain already, but the rise of automation and artificial intelligence are also massive. Even within my own company AI and machine learning could be used by editors to sort story submission quality and/or make recommended changes based on historically track changes. 

In terms of data privacy, a revolution against personalized ads and bad tracking process could be approaching. Ideas like ‘data as a property right’ have been floating around. Overall I think it is wrong for ads to target people based on their browser history on other sites. That sentiment underpins how we set up sponsorships with Hacker Noon. I’m also optimistic about peer to peer internet infrastructure, as a near 0% transaction fee is a world I want to live in. Plus, I’m excited for whatever else curates its way to the top of the Hacker Noon homepage.

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