“People kept telling me that they were bored with the Internet,” said Choire Sicha, an “ancestor of ephemeral Gawker” and soon-to-be published book author (not to mention a former Observer editor and columnist), who was calling into The Observer from his “home office” in the East Village this afternoon.
“It’s sort of like, it’s so compartmentalized and pushed into little categories into what can be covered and what can’t be covered. I like being surprised! That’s the great marvel of Matt Drudge,” he said, referring to the still ubiquitous editor of The Drudge Report. “Like he’ll always tell you about the supernova or something. Everything is exciting and weird and unexpected.”
“I thought like, ‘Oh, good, I want to do something that helps people not be bored,’” he continued. “That’s sort of not a business plan but it’s a great direction to go in.”
This morning, after a week and a half behind a password-protected wall, Mr. Sicha and Alex Balk, both former editors at Gawker and Radar Magazine’s defunct Web site, radaronline.com, launched TheAwl.com, a blog that covers news, ideas and obscure Internet minutiae of the day. The tag line: “Be Less Stupid.”
“It was birthed from the following thoughts,” according to the ‘About’ page on the site. “What if there were a website that zippily surveyed a wealth of resonant, weird, important, frightening, amusing bits of news and ideas? And what if it weren’t totally clogged with reality show linkbait?”
“We don’t have a specific category to fill,” Mr. Sicha explained to The Observer. “We don’t have a beat to target. We’re interested in what does spike our fancy or our brains or whatever—or what’s left of them.”
Although there will be some overlap with Messrs. Sicha and Balk’s familiar territory of “Manhattan media insiderness,” as Mr. Sicha put it, they’ll cover a broad range of subjects. “I don’t want friends of mine horribly mystified when they arrive at the Web site,” Mr. Sicha said. Today the site offered a post mapping Gawker’s office seating chart, a video of a Miss USA contestant responding to a gay marriage question from Perez Hilton, and an item linking to a Reuters article about physicist Stephen Hawking being taken to the hospital.
Also along for the ride are Mary HK Choi, former editor of Missbehave magazine, who wrote about food (“which bacon-flavored treats are the right ones”), and former Gawker editor and author Emily Gould on “Social A’s”—a response to The New York Times‘ ‘Social Q’s‘.
“It’s almost like the Huffington Post model, but we don’t have a house in LA where we throw all these parties… or a paycheck,” Mr. Sicha joked.
Or hefty venture capital funding, which The Awl tried to raise, according to David Cho, the site’s business manager. Mr. Cho worked on business development at Radar with Messrs. Balk and Sicha before it folded in October 2008 and its site was sold to AMI.
Mr. Cho said the site has been in the works since then, but the team struggled with building a space that would be attractive to advertisers. Mr. Cho told The Observer that the The Awl had a few false launch dates because advertisers had signed on only to pull out at the last minute. Their current advertiser, Butterfinger, came in at the 11th hour, according to Mr. Cho.
So they launched out-of-pocket, with a bare-bones site (design-wise), that will evolve however their audience, and possibly advertisers, want it to.
The site is already getting feedback. BoingBoing writer Joel Johnson recently IMed Mr. Sicha: “He was like, ‘This is the ugliest website I have ever seen!”
“I was like, ‘Yay, thank you!’” Mr. Sicha said. He explained: “We wanted it to be super paired down because we can pop stuff on it, rip it off, tear it apart. I think it’s sort of entertaining to grow in public.”
“I think because we false started so many times, we tried to give people this pre-made site for people to invest in, based on what we thought people would like, rather than what are people responding to on the current site,” Mr. Cho said. “We just want to create quality content without infringing on it with advertising.”
“In a great, ideal world, [The Awl] would become something of a newspaper. Will that happen? Maybe!” Mr. Sicha said, before adding, “I want to make this an Anti-Tina Brown-y launch. We’ll grow as it grows, or not. It’s not exactly as low level as an afternoon Tumblr project though, no offense against the Tumblr projects of the world.”
For a site covering such broad topics, Mr. Cho said he is courting advertisers based on the site’s voice, which distinguishes it from other aggregating sites like the Huffington Post or the editors’ old site, Gawker. “Media buyers in New York know this: there is a type of New York person, a person who wants to kind of have all these little nuggets of information to keep up with their friends on a day-to-day basis,” he told The Observer. “What we have is Choire and Balk’s voice, which helps people kind of feel a greater sense of attachment to the site.”
“In a lot of ways, it’ll be like if Choire or Balk were IMing you and are like, ‘Hey look at this,’ and also, ‘Emily Gould says this,’” Mr. Cho continued. “Balk and Choire are so good at writing on the Internet, they are probably two people who do it best.”