Content in the social Mode

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One underestimates Samir Arora at one’s peril.

Under most everyone’s radar, he built Glam — since rechristened Mode Media — as the seventh largest web property by audience, with 155 monthly unique users in the U.S. and 406 million worldwide. He did that by building a network. That’s what brought us together: our belief in the power of networks. (Disclosure: For a time, I advised Glam.)

Then Arora started experimenting with other forms of media. He opened Foodie as a curation tool gathering food photos with links to recipes and he found out how much traffic he could drive to content creators. At the same time, the company bought Marc Andreessen’s community platform, Ning, and used it to build tools for content creators.

And now he has unveiled a rebuilt Mode atop Ning. With it he is reversing the direction taken by most other media. Panicked by Facebook, Twitter, and the explosion of social, media companies have tried to add social to content (“Share me!”) or take their content to social platforms (e.g., Buzzfeed gloms onto Facebook like an oxpecker on a rhino and now Facebook the spider tempts news companies to publish their content in its web). Mode is going the other way: It built a social platform and is adding content to it.

The new Mode launched with 100,000 pieces of content, with a heavy emphasis on video, from its own creators and sites it’s working with. It has an easy tool to enable curators to gather and link to content from around the web. Those are human curators, not algorithms. It has content creation tools, including a video player. Those collections of content and recommendations will be embeddable (though as I write this, that function isn’t working yet for me). Altogether, Arora says Mode has 6,000 sites in its ad network, 4,000 of its own content creators, and 4,000 sites where it can distribute its feeds.

As is often the case with Arora’s inventions, it takes me a few days to understand his insight. With this relaunch, what I see is that Arora envisions the page-based web shifting to a stream-based web.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately and will probably write more about streams-v-pages soon. But in a nutshell, thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp and so many other social services and thanks also to the form factor of mobile, more and more of our attention is being taken up by streams rather than pages. We in media have little choice but to endeavor to plop our content into others’ streams so it will get attention. Thus the negotiations with Facebook, Snapchat, et al.

Arora has built an infrastructure to create streams for content. At the Newfronts advertising showcase, he bragged that he could take a YouTube creator’s video and program it into all the streams he controls and bring it one million viewers. Snap.

He also sees that the way to build loyalty and thus audience and usage is to enable people to follow the creators and curators they like. That is the architecture that made social media — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, et al — scale. So he has build following into Mode.

Mode’s challenge remains that you probably have never heard of it. It has not been a brand, it has been a network and then it became a platform. Now it needs to develop a media and social brand. And to do that, it is bringing inside all its sub-brands — Glam, Brash, Foodie, Bliss, Tend — under the new Mode. But Mode also has to expand its offerings from its mostly fluffly Glam roots — lots of fashion and lifestyle — and add more business, tech, news, and hard information. That’s what Arora says he will do, growing from 10,000 affiliated content creators to 100,000 — who are paid — and building more content brands. And, of course, he can offer his platform and skills to advertisers, helping them create and distribute — just as Buzzfeed sells its skills rather than merely its space.

At the DLD conference in Munich in January, I interviewed Arora and he offered a clear vision for where media success will lie, finding scale and value in building platforms — rather than just content — that in turn gather distribution at no cost through social connections. He put this complex slide on the screen (which I explain in this post):


At the Newfronts presentations a week ago, he simplified that view of the industry this way:

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Note that to the left are the content creators. They can use the boxes to the right to distribute and exploit their work. Mode is positioning itself as a social discovery platform for professional content. I can’t know whether it will work. But then, I didn’t know that blogs and Twitter would work. I’ve learned not to underestimate that which I don’t yet fully understand.