How will gawk.it make money?

As I’ve mentioned before, gawk.it primarily serves two groups:

1. People who search.

2. People that blog and want to offer a powerful conversation-search feature to their audience.

With those two groups in mind, and thanks in large part to Fred Wilson’s latest post, I wanted to think a bit out loud about ‘how can gawk.it actually make money?’

Before I can entertain any ideas though, I think it’s probably best to start by listing some of my core beliefs/assumptions around money and current gawk.it functionality.

So here they are:

1. Search and discovery MUST be FREE (unless your data set is highly niche, unique, and valuable – ie. Lexus Nexus).

2. Offering search and discovery features to blog readers MUST be FREE for bloggers.

OK - so right out of the gate, I’m basically saying the core features, the very things that make gawk.it awesome, useful, and interesting are also things that I MUST NOT CHARGE for.

Seems like that could be a real problem.

Servers cost money (cheaper than it used to be, but still not FREE).

User acquisition costs money (or will if I want to continue to grow the service).

Developer time takes money (even though I’m the developer, every second I spend on gawk.it is a second I am not earning for another gig).

The sad truth is even personal projects and simple hacks are full of hidden costs that can really add up.

So what can I do? How can gawk.it figure out a way to survive…nay…THRIVE?

Well, if you put a gun to my head today and forced me to be honest about how gawk.it is going to financially thrive, I would have to say I’m really not sure yet.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a bunch of random thoughts and ideas on the subject.

Here are a few I’m going to be exploring in the short term:

1. Analytics and Analysis.

Gawk.it can provide a lot of detailed information about what searches are occurring throughout our system (both on just a specific set of content/interests and across the system as a whole).

This is a valuable bit of information, especially for bloggers that are looking to better target their audience’s interests (ie. write more about the things people are searching your content for).

We can also provide a lot of information around what other content is flowing through the system…who has sim. content to your posts/comments? Who are the active, high-signal, people for a given conversation? What are the current search trends? Etc. etc. etc.

Is it compelling enough to convert some percentage to pay? Yes, I think we can absolutely make it compelling enough.

Would they pay enough to make gawk.it insanely profitable? Probably not on it’s own, but it could be a nice little chunk of the solution.

2. Alerting and monitoring.

Gawk.it is all about the conversation…and by nature, conversation is an evolving and constantly moving thing. New perspective, new data, is being added to it all the time.

Wouldn’t it be nice, and a HUGE time-saver, to have software just tell you when the conversations might be interesting to you? Even better, wouldn’t it be nice for the software to go out and discover the conversations that might be interesting to you on it’s own?

These are dreams and ideas I’ve played with in one fashion or another for quite awhile now…so you can bet I’ve got a lot of interesting ideas for how to accomplish this within the world of conversation search.

Is it a big profit solution? Again, probably not on it’s own…and there is a very fine line on what parts of this will need to be free vs. what someone will pay for. However, I do believe there is a certain percentage of people (and especially brands/businesses) out there that would really benefit from powerful conversation alerting (and therefor pay).

3. Traffic.

One of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about around gawk.it lately is the idea of 'topic hubs’ and grouping blogs or conversations of sim. topics together for people to experience 'deeper search and understanding’.

The advantage of these hubs to the person doing the search is of course a more complete 'whole picture of the conversation’ for whatever they are searching…but I think there is also a very large advantage to the bloggers here as well, as these hubs can help drive more, new, readers to the best content and conversations (I think this raises the value and level for all involved).

To be clear, I’m not entirely sure how these hubs will work (especially on how I want them to be setup, defined, etc.)…so I’m even less clear on if there is a profit option in here yet…but I do know it’s an idea ripe with potential and so I’m VERY optimistic that there is a profit angle in there as well.

…So those are just three things I’m thinking about around the 'how gawk.it makes money’…there are a handful more I’ve been brainstorming (all even more wishy-washy than what’s listed here now) and a few others I’ve intentionally left off the list for now (ie. ads since I would like to not rely on that model as an answer at this stage).

But what I would REALLY LOVE to hear is what you think about all of this?

Love or hate any of the ideas I listed above? See anything obvious I’m not thinking about? What do you think is the best approach to make gawk.it profit (or at the very least be indefinitely sustainable)?

Please let me know in the comments!

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This is the personal blog of Kevin Marshall (a.k.a Falicon) where he often digs into side projects he's working on for digdownlabs.com and other random thoughts he's got on his mind.

Kevin has a day job as CTO of Veritonic and is spending nights & weekends hacking on Share Game Tape. You can also check out some of his open source code on GitHub or connect with him on Twitter @falicon or via email at kevin at falicon.com.

If you have comments, thoughts, or want to respond to something you see here I would encourage you to respond via a post on your own blog (and then let me know about the link via one of the routes mentioned above).