Discovery Acquiring HowStuffWorks

As a former employee, I’ve been asked a few times this morning for my thoughts on Discovery acquiring HowStuffWorks. I’m proud to see the company on a path towards gaining more of a real presence in the industry, and hope that my friends who are still there do well as a result. I do think their focus has become quite blurred over the past few years, that it strayed from the core of what makes HSW interesting, and that they’re late at best in understanding the extent to which a professional content creation company needs to be a part of the larger world of conversation going on through online content. Hopefully, Discovery can help put them back on track and embiggen all that. I shared the below in the TechCrunch comments:

“A good day for Atlanta and for current HSW folks. I wish both parties well, and glad to see a company I used to work for get a payday. The writers and editorial staff past and present should be particularly proud.

But the video angle is puzzling. A little bit of history: Before The Convex Group started to turn it into a megamart of loosely related page inventory (Mobil Travel Guide, Consumer Guide, evergreen tips and galleries), this site used to be known for its core mission: satisfying text-and-pictures explanations to interesting questions. Clear, simple explanation as entertainment. Then it became sort of a clearinghouse for all sorts of informational content with video as one of those sorts. They also ramped up a pretty interesting home-grown video initiative back then, but they haven’t done much to build a community around that or really push it as a standalone alternative to their tried-and-true core article format. No embedding afaik, no concerted effort to build community to current social media standards. They are just now starting to accept video submissions, but the process seems to be geared towards institutions really, not individuals, and it will be moderated with no explanation of exactly what the standards are beyond “safe” and “not advertising”. It’s not a platform that exists yet for comparison to the leaders. On the other hand, I imagine a big content brand like Discovery really liked how “safe” it will be.

I don’ t know if the numbers are accurate on traffic but it’s perhaps ironic that Alexa says it peaked in 2005, in that that’s when the push to integrate lots more peripheral but not really HowStuffWorksy content began and the focus started to blur.

My hope is that Discovery turns the mission back towards what HSW was known for in its heyday, trims out the peripheral stuff and streamlines the site, and takes users seriously in terms of community development.”

Here’s the full conversation on TechMeme.

TDavid at Things That Make You Go Hmm offers some related thoughts on how Discovery should grow their video strategy:

“I think the relationship will work better using HowStuffWorks content on the TV shows than trying to focus on video content from the TV show. Here’s an even better idea: take user submitted how stuff works like content and put it on TV — now that would be good for both. At the least Discovery needs to make it easy to embed in websites a la YouTube rather than forcing people to view only at HowStuffWorks.”

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