The Truth About Mashable

Maybe you heard:  AOL is rumored to be purchasing Mashable.  It’s circulating amongst serveral sources.  Whether or not it’s credible isn’t the point – it’s about time we took a look into Mashable and put out in the open what most quietly think about the site.  And the rumor of their purchase make it perfect to discuss now.

Whether you actually like Mashable’s content is moot:  no denying they are successful in terms of numbers, beating out rival top technology blog TechCrunch in raw traffic in May, 2009 – although having far less RSS subscribers (TechCrunch has more than 4 million to Mashable’s paltry 345K+).

But while they’re successful from a numbers perspective – are they truly worth the rumored 15-25 million internal valuation?  And, more importantly, are they actually influencing those who really matter in the technology/marketing crowd?  I’m hesitant to say the answer of either of those is yes.

Now, before I point out the emperor has no clothes I will say Mashable isn’t all bad.

They have linked to my blog and referenced me in posts on more than one occasion.  Adam Ostrow is a great guy and even wrote up one of my campaigns when I was a PR strategist.  The creator Pete Cashmore is clever, no doubt – I’ve referenced his cunning in a post on social media as a buzzword.  Many of the writers there such as Tamar Weinberg are brilliant.

That’s the good.

The bad?

They are focused on quantity over quality

One could argue they are the Demand Media of the technology blogosphere.  They churn out content for the sake of churning out content.  Getting them out of my RSS reader was a relief.

Think I’m exaggerating?  They have a mind-numbing 158 posts just about Twitter being down as just one example.  That’s the internet equivalent of running a story on TV because there is a car accident.  What’s the news here?  It’s worthless (note in the screengrab they’ll even post these stories multiple times daily):

No filter for guest posts

Mashable does have high quality writer’s and guest posters.  No doubt.  But they also allow equally horrendous social media charlatans to post.  Not calling anyone out (although I’ve called out people in the past) because there are so many examples of this, it would be unfair to pick on one or two people.  Basically – if someone comes to you to try and sell marketing or technology services and their only proof point is having guest posted on Mashable…run.

They’re exaggerating their community size

Mashable claims 2.2 million people in their community, as noted in the above graphic.  Sure, if you combine all their metrics, including their mammoth Twitter following of 1.8 million+ followers (they are on the suggested user list, which delivers a slew of low-quality/inactive followers) it would equal out.  But the numbers are bloated.  The truth is  no one has a million followers on Twitter.  It’s an attempt at social proofing, but is overkill – the numbers are too far fetched.  The 345K RSS number they’re not showing, while still inflated (as is everyone’s) thanks to FriendFeed, is at least plausible.

They’re an SEO product

If you keep a technology or marketing blog, I bet you share a SERP or two with Mashable.  And unless your post went  popular, Mashable who constantly pumps out content (quality or otherwise) is probably outranking you for it.  I actually wouldn’t have a problem with this, but it comes at a disservice to search visitors who might otherwise have come across genuine advice versus that churned out by the “Twitter/Facebook/social media content machine.”  I’ve been trying to research things and came up with Mashable results up top in Google, only to scroll lower and find the real story.  Also, their entire model of sourcing as many guest bloggers as possible (again, quality or otherwise) plays into feeding both the head and the tail of Google.

TechCrunch is known for snark/breaking news, ReadWriteWeb is known for depth

What is Mashable known for?  Exactly.  It’s the classic Target,  K-Mart and Wal-Mart situation.  K-Mart lost because they had no identity and got stuck in the middle, whereas Wal-Mart became known for deals and Target skewed to the higher end.  While K-Mart was successful for awhile, eventually their lack of brand identity ruined them.  And that’s exactly what will happen here.

Wrapping up

None of these things are bad if you’re Mashable – they’re great.  They helped position the brand as appealing to the masses, then advertisers, and potentially for purchase if the rumors are true.  However I highly doubt any marketing, technology or web pros worth their salt find blinding insights from Mashable daily.  That’s just not what they provide.

Update:  Pete Cashmore, CEO of Mashable left a comment – see my response in an updated post here.