An animal news site named after an extinct bird is very much alive and kicking.
Kenneth Lerer, cofounder of The Huffington Post and chairman of BuzzFeed and Betaworks, knows a thing or two about driving traffic. For one thing, listicles of cute animals work. At The Dodo—a news site his firm Lerer Ventures funded—stories about endangered animals, exceptional pets, and the plight of killer whales at SeaWorld have been driving clicks. Within its first month, The Dodo—cofounded by Lerer's daughter Isabel and former Salon editor-in-chief Kerry Lauerman—received 1 million views. What's most remarkable is that the online publication did so without hiring a single developer.
The story behind The Dodo is a tight-knit family affair. Lerer said his daughter, who is pursuing a PhD studying the emotional relationships between people and animals at Columbia University, had talked about building a different kind of animal news site over the dinner table for six years. When the idea for The Dodo finally began taking shape, a mutual friend introduced him and Isabel, The Dodo's editor-at-large, to Lauerman, the site's editor-in-chief.
In January, The Dodo launched with less than a dozen writers and no programmers, powered entirely by RebelMouse, another Lerer Ventures portfolio company founded by former Huffington Post chief technical officer Paul Berry. Named one of Fast Company's Most Innovative Companies in Social Media in 2014, RebelMouse is best known for its social aggregation and curation tool, which funnels users' various social profiles to one destination. RebelMouse has also built a content management system (CMS) for brands and emerging publications to curate and publish original content. With this CMS, design work for publishers largely boils down to creating a logo and choosing fonts.
Without the need to dedicate resources to product, design, or development, The Dodo's staff has focused solely on editorial tasks, publishing about 40 posts a day. "Now that we've launched, it's perfectly evident that it's because of RebelMouse we were able to grow to this size so rapidly," the elder Lerer told Fast Company.
The success of The Huffington Post was in large part driven by its SEO dominance and social media savvy. RebelMouse aims to replicate that, honing in on the latter with a content management system that is inherently social. Like its consumer-facing pinboard-like curation tool, the publishing platform aggregates user-generated content—except it does so en masse across people's social media profiles with a designated hashtag, such as #thedodo.
The RebelMouse platform provides contributors with an analytics dashboard that reveals how their posts perform on the site, in newsletters, and on social networks. Lerer said about 60% to 65% of The Dodo's traffic comes from social networks, and he expects that number to grow. With RebelMouse, The Dodo's website is also automatically optimized for tablets and smartphones.
The straightforward tools on RebelMouse's CMS cater to writers who want to create posts quickly and easily. For example, to add a main photo (or GIF) to a post, users can upload a file or insert a link to an image hosted online, such as Flickr. The post then updates automatically, displaying a large splashy image at the top of the screen—truly What You See Is What You Get. The same goes for video links, foregoing the need to fuss with embed codes.
"We haven't even scratched the surface for what RebelMouse can do for us," said Lerer. The RebelMouse CMS also lets The Dodo's more influential contributors create social petitions to mobilize people around causes. One petition to end dolphin hunting in Japan has been signed by more than 62,000 people. Lerer said The Dodo will soon add capabilities to curate related social media posts for petitions.
While the social CMS has freed up The Dodo to focus on content, Lerer cited another reason why using RebelMouse is preferable to building a custom CMS: "Who wouldn't want Paul Berry to run your tech?" he asked.
[Image: Flickr user BioDivLibrary]