Friday, April 20

What the? I'm an employee again?

Originally uploaded by thatjonesboy.

SURPRISE! Today I started a new job: Editor and Social Media Manager for CARSguide. A real job, with super and holiday pay, for a real company, where someone else collects the mail and remembers to pay the utility bills. Also a real company with paperwork, with some processes that don't yet make sense to me, with a payroll dept and an IT dept and a photo ID card.

Why would I go and get a real job, after spending the last few years in Web 2.0 startups? And why CARSguide, since it appears to be a very Web 1.0 business? (The 'Listings 1.0' model of "take the print content we already have and put it on a web page"?) It may not even be News Digital Media's highest-profile online business (see if you can find the network distribution CARSguide currently has on

Several related questions, for which there are several related answers (and at this point, if you don't give a cobbler's about my career change, I perfectly understand - here's a more entertaining post from Ben Barren, with bonus eye-candy. You're excused.)

Here's my thinking:

I just love database-driven businesses. I love all the goodness you can derive from great big thick wads of data, whether the data is editorial content, user behaviour, shared bookmarks, or classifieds listings. I worked at Sidewalk for the promise of building a massive database of lifestyle reviews. I worked at Yahoo! because of its unique and massive hand-built web directories and all those consumers generating search results. I co-founded HomeScreen because it was a chance to work with big databases of DVD product data, metadata (such as reviews and recommendations) and user behaviour.

Let me count the ways I love big databases. They are usually built with the cooperation of big online audiences, and if they work as they should, they generate network effects, provide 10,000-foot views of online ecosystems, and are one of the few content types that are still worth something when it comes to strike a distribution, licensing or sales deal.

Unfortunately, the Australian market doesn't have a lot of opportunities for big database-driven online businesses. In online listings, some of the key spaces are already a foregone conclusion - a betting man wouldn't put his money on your chances of dislodging AdWords, Yellow Pages, Seek, or Largely still under the radar, the car listings market is still very winnable for a business that has a few outside-the-box ideas up their sleeves. Yes, we think we have some outside-the-box ideas at CARSguide; no, I'm not going to tell you what they are.

It's rather 'startup-ish' at CARSguide. More startupish than you'd expect for a big online media company like the parent. It's not goofy or whacky, (thankfully) and there's no Aeron chairs (it's OK, I have my own, salvaged from Web 1.0.) But there's a new CEO with a fresh perspective, lots of new and open hires, big plans still at the whiteboard stage, and a lot of space between where we are now and where our goals have been set.

Yet, unlike a startup, we also have a major media company backing us; so we have a real marketing budget, great content in the pipes, the ability to hire the people we need, and a network for distribution. It will also be nice to spend some time in a business where there are already other people pick up the mail, pay the bills, and clean out the fridge.

I also love editorial content. I started my career as a writer, and I still love to write (poorly) every day. This role gives me the opportunity to be an editor again. Today, I got to tighten a few paragraphs here and there, craft a caption or two... oooh, it feels so good to whip out my Strunk again.

Social Media is, like, soooo HOT right now. Yes, obviously when you have a buzzphrase like "social media" in your job title it's like owning a Porsche 911 - even pedestrians catching a glimpse of you assume you're an utter wanker. But as any 911 driver will go on about for hours and hours if you let him (it's invariably a him); even when he pops out on a supermarket run, he's having arguably the best driving experience known to mankind. It eases the pain of appearing to be such a wanker.

I'm prepared to wear the odd raised eyebrow, the occasional snicker out of earshot, and I'm sure those who know me assume I'm already comfortable with being a wanker. As its right there in my job title I'll need to take the fall if it all goes horribly pear-shaped in the end, but I believe CARSguide has an opportunity to do some innovative things in the social media space.

Oh, boy, do I love cars. I can bore you silly about writing off my first car (a yellow Mini S 1275, since you didn't ask) on my way back to school after passing my driving test. There was a stop sign, but I was sure I could beat that milk truck, until I didn't. About the character-building heck of being a Leyland Marina owner, or the joy of owning a custom Bedford van, a Peugeot 306 GTi or a Mini Cooper S Convertible.

Mini Cooper S Convertible

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