The Tech Block relaunches to become a platform for independent tech writing
There are more than 44.6 billion posts hosted on over 101 million blogs on Tumblr's network. Over 63 million blogs are powered by WordPress, and there's a collective 49.3 million blog posts published to those sites each month. So when the Tech Block's Abdel Ibrahim says that it can be hard to find good content among the many posts published each and every day, it's less an opinion and more a statement of fact.
Ibrahim, together with Brian Housman and Keith Esernio, founded the Tech Block in 2011 to highlight quality content that might have otherwise been lost among the Web's noise. The site, which has been bootstrapped since its inception, today launched a new version of its website as a continuation of this founding goal.
"There are a lot of independent people who write interesting things, and the truth is that people are not able to find this stuff because the way the Web has been structured so long, and the way we subscribe to content, is very old," Ibrahim says. "There really is this disconnect between this content that exists and the ability to read it."
The Tech Block promotes content in two ways: With "Features," which are written by independent bloggers and then edited by the Tech Block, and with "News," which are links to other websites curated by the Tech Block. PandoDaily readers will likely be familiar with the Tech Block's approach to breaking news, as it's similar to our own PandoTicker, which is meant to gather breaking news without perpetuating the "Me too!" blog-clusterfuck.
"Feature" stories take a variety of forms, from typical blog posts to videos or photo essays. Some are created by the Tech Block itself, but most are contributed by independent bloggers, who cross-post the content on their own websites and the Tech Block. Today's relaunch is meant to highlight this cross-posting capability, which Ibrahim says was unclear in the previous design.
Ibrahim says that the Tech Block hasn't brought any revenue in since its launch in 2011 and declined to discuss business plans in an interview prior to today's relaunch, but a page on the new site is actively soliciting sponsorships for both the News and Feature pages. That's where things might get a little thorny.
Publishers making money off of content they received for free has been an issue ever since editors started pitching writers with "exposure." Content has a price, the thinking goes, and writers can't pay for meals with an intangible construct. The Tech Block has been able to avoid this issue by bootstrapping the service and focusing on product over revenues, but once it starts making money off its efforts, it wouldn't be surprising to see professionals call foul.
But, frankly, the Tech Block isn't publishing content from professionals. It's publishing independent bloggers who, ostensibly, appreciate the chance to work for exposure, whether that's because they want to break into professional blogging, or because they want the things they write to be more than a few bytes on Tumblr's servers. The site makes it clear when content has been posted elsewhere, claims no exclusive rights to contributors' posts, and has embraced the indie blogging scene as the foundation for its entire service.
"We believe wholeheartedly that there are a lot of people who could benefit from this type of service," Ibrahim says, for the reasons detailed above. "In a way we're taking things that no one would ever see and becoming this destination where people can say 'Oh, if I go to the Tech Block today, I can read one, two, three pieces from regular people.'"
Many, if not all, of the Tech Block's contributors were producing this sort of content for their personal blogs anyway. Speaking as someone who was among that group -- publishing on a personal blog, not on the Tech Block -- just over a year ago, the chance to publish something that would be read by more than the three people who visited my blog each month would have been mightily appealing.
The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about his experience writing for "exposure" and cross-posting from his own blog to the Atlantic's website after Nate Thayer "kicked up some dust" by publishing an exchange with an Atlantic online editor asking him to re-purpose an article for the site with no compensation. Coates agreed to write because he wanted that exposure, the chance to reach a larger audience.
Will the technology-obsessed equivalent (if such a thing exists) to Coates rise up through the Tech Block? That's impossible to predict. But if someone as widely respected as Coates -- and many other writers and reporters -- was willing to write for the chance to be heard, it stands to reason that a fair number of unheard-of, independent writers would be happy to do the same, whether they want to pursue writing as a career or not.
The Tech Block is positioning itself as a place for writers to accomplish just that, and for readers to find some quality content that they would have otherwise missed. It's like one of those corkboards you see in hipster coffee shops asking you to check out a band's latest EP or come see someone's "art showing" in the corner, but for technology writing. Whether that's a good or bad thing will vary from reader to reader and between writers.
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]