Q&A with Newsana co-founder Ben Peterson
Newsana wants to elevate the conversation and create a curation community that provides meaning to its members. Belinda Alzner caught up with co-founder Ben Peterson to ask about how they hope to capture the Internet’s short attention span and who Newsana will be beneficial for.
Newsana wants to elevate the conversation and create a curation community that provides meaning to its members. The start-up is currently in private beta but will be going public in a few weeks. I have had the opportunity to check out the site over the last few weeks as a private beta tester and now, I caught up with co-founder Ben Peterson to ask about how Newsana hope to capture the Internet’s short attention span and who Newsana will be beneficial for.
A screenshot of part of my Newsana homepage, as it looks right now, in the beta phase.
J-Source: First things first. Give us the elevator pitch for Newsana; what is it, exactly?
Ben Peterson: Newsana is an online community of news junkies who are passionate about finding and discussing quality news and ideas. Members share and vote on their favourite stories of the day; the top five stories, per topic, are then surfaced and showcased on the site for the rest of the world to enjoy. You can think of Newsana (sort of) as a high-quality version of Reddit.
J-Source: Who do you hope will use Newsana? Is it journalists or the public at large? And who will benefit from Newsana?
BP: In short, Newsana’s core members share our vision: they are people that want to find and discuss the best of the Internet. This includes, but is not exclusive to journalists. We believe Newsana will be a great tool for professionals and hobbyists of all sorts.
J-Source: Newsana is currently in private beta. What suggestions have you received from your beta users and how have you used them to improve the Newsana experience so far?
BP: We have about 150 private beta users right now—who have been FANTASTIC. They’ve been busy finding bugs and suggesting new features. Early next week we’ll be launching: A) email notifications, B) an improved navigation system and C) personalized homepage sorting, all based on member feedback.
J-Source: You left Journalists for Human Rights, an organization of which you were co-founder and executive director, to co-found Newsana. What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered in building a start-up? How are Newsana’s challenges different from your experience starting jhr?
BP: Well, back in 2002 JHR was start-up too, so I’ve been down this road before. The advantage I have now is that I have some experience behind me (I was right out of university when we launched JHR). But starting both JHR and Newsana has been an absolute pleasure. I don’t think there is anything more gratifying than having a vision, building that vision into reality, and then seeing people benefit from it. I’m keenly aware that the jury is still out on Newsana, but the early indications have been quite positive.
As for the challenges involved, there are always difficulties anytime you want to create something from scratch. At JHR, our problems were primarily around figuring out how to create sustainable change in many of the most underdeveloped countries in the world. At Newsana, they are more of a technical nature—how we build a great website that provides maximum value to our members. But I’m not a guy who sits around and worries about the challenges. I like to see opportunity and then navigate the best path to it—up and around whatever pesky obstacles might try to get in the way.
J-Source: One problem that many start-ups face is, of course, funding. What is Newsana's funding model and how do you hope to make it a sustainable business?
BP: We’re lucky to have a great group of angel investors who believe in the Newsana vision. As for our monetization plans, our first priority is to build a big and strong community. Once we have a strong user base in place, we’ll be able to explore different revenue streams. These will have to bring in revenue, but they must also enhance, not detract, from the overall user experience. It’s always a mistake for community-based sites to put revenue ahead of the community experience—there is simply no business if there is no community. Doing this properly will be a bit of a learning experience, but, at the end of the day, it’s just another of those pesky obstacles to overcome.
J-Source: How will Newsana become an essential part of its users day? How do you make it reflexive for them to check Newsana every morning and pitch throughout the day?
BP: Firstly, the site has to be good enough that people to want to come back regularly; if it doesn’t absolutely rock, then we’re doomed. So, we’re offering our members a number of things they won’t find anywhere else all in one place: the most important news on the subjects’ they’re most passionate about; intelligent discussions with other people that care; public recognition for their contributions; all packaged up in a beautifully-designed site.
Secondly, we need to remind our members to come back from time-to-time, so they get in the habit of returning. To do that, we’re sending weekly email updates from the founders, and soon we’ll be notifying members of site activity related to them (if another member comments on their story, for instance). The idea is to create a really positive feedback loop—so our members know how much they are truly valued.