THE ROCKETBOOM INSTITUTE OF INTERNET STUDIES SELLS LABORATORY, KNOW YOUR MEME
[note this news was broken a bit earlier than I was prepared for and now it’s spreading and people are wondering whats up with Rocketboom, so I’m still editing this article but wanted to get it out there!]
Today at Rocketboom I’m happy to announce the sale of Know Your Meme to The Cheezburger Network. Cheezburger recently raised $30M and offered a super seven figure deal (I’d like to tell you how much exactly but they wanted to keep that confidential.) Before diving into the sale, I entertained another serious buy-out offer, entertained an offer for investment from a premier investor, and even considered turning it into a “double bottom line” company, but all in all, everyone advised and I agreed that this was by far the best deal to be done (esp. because I was 100% owner of the company with no other investors or partners involved.) When I took the idea to the Know Your Meme staff and got everyone’s complete conviction, I decided to hand it off.
I feel a bit of sellers remorse because I love Know Your Meme so much and I feel proud of having created a business that people love so much. But now, I’ve done what I wanted to do and personally, I get my greatest fulfillment from the innovation process. The framework of the site is now established, successful and able to run on it’s own. In fact, consider that this very valuable property only requires two-full time and two part-time paid staff members to keep the site operational and growing. The rest happens through an incredible community of passionate moderators, editors, researchers and contributors, all there because, like me, they just love the work.
The website traffic has seen tremendous growth recently, now about 3 million unique visitors per month with about 20 Million page views per month. And the community of people on the site is the kind of community most people dream of having, with super-high participation levels with an established voice of integrity and academic rigor.
When Rocketboom first launched http://knowyourmeme.com in 2007, I put it out there as a wiki for memes, meant to accompany the regular segments inside of our daily Rocketboom programming which I was writing and producing at time. There was actually a need for a place to collaboratively document memes because the two primary platforms of fame each had severe handicaps for this particular field.
The first platform of note, Wikipedia, one of my all time favorite sites, is just too rigid and exclusive for documenting memes. Quite often, the important sources and critical facts are rejected by the elite editors, and the ability for anyone under the sun to come in and hack it up can be way too overboard and frustrating.
The other platform of note, Encyclopedia Dramatica is not a site that is comfortable to be on for most people, unless you are okay with racism and pornography in all of your content, but surprisingly, a lot of people are.
The wiki factor is a super interesting one that most people miss with regards to why Know Your Meme works. Aside form the branded voice which came right out of Rocketboom’s look-and-feel, the platform is kind of a tweak on Wikipedia, technically speaking. KYM is a full fledged, custom CMS built from ground up on Rails and instead of being a free for all, articles are “owned” by just a few researchers (I hate the word “user” BTW) on a first come, first serve basis. As a result, researchers at Know Your Meme feel a sense of ownership and control over the articles.
One of the biggest challenges I faced at KYM had to do with advertising. I regularly received inquires from advertisers who wanted to “get in on the memes”, and effect the editorial for their marketing purposes. In order to preserve the integrity of information, I had a formal business policy against this and I never once entertained a deal of this kind, but I noticed they often tried their best as inconspicuous “community members” to accomplish their marketing objectives on their own. Obviously these companies employ people just like you and me who are clever and clued in enough to understand what to do. There are also several cases of memes which I suspect became popular as a result of being created on KYM by advertisers and marketers themselves. There is place for everyone at KYM, its a tricky balance with the editorial nevertheless. Despite what you might expect from any buyer no matter who they are, I am pleased to report that future plans for Know Your Meme will actually focus on maintaining and strengthening the journalistic integrity.
Regarding advertising “around” the content, I can’t help but send a shout out to Henry Copeland of Blogads who was one of the best partners I have ever worked with. Blogads provided us a plug-and-play sustainable and soon-to-be profitable ad solution for the website. If you are ever lucky enough to get Blogads to add you to their exclusive list of clients, you will have found the best display ad revenue and solution I have ever found.
As most people who rely on display advertising know, revenue is not an easy business to crack, even in today’d day and age. Cheezburger is also expert as this business and will no doubt have great success in adapting their model to the Know Your Meme site.
Though surprising to most people who are unfamiliar with the high CPM rates garnered for online video, I think the video program stands to generate 8 to 10x the revenue the site can earn over the same period. Together, it’s a serious win.
Ah, the show. Explicating memes as academic scientists in lab coats was hit right from start. Though KYM started from within Rocketboom as a segment, it wound up much bigger as a platform. ‘Not sure what will happen to the show, perhaps the original scientists will come back. As for Rocketboom, this is exactly the kind of work we do best and you can be sure there will be plenty more internet culture content to come. Aside from our own programming, Rocketboom has recently established deep partnerships building shows for other partners and networks (you will be hearing a lot about this soon.)
As custom, I want to thank the Rocketboom and Know Your Meme staves for everything they have done. Especially, I want to thank Barry Pousman and Molly and the rest of the Rocketboom staff Ash Sechler, Ben Cheek, Brantley Jones, Bob Geile, Brad O’Farrell, Demetrius Wren, Ella Morton, Matt Finlin, Matthias Sundberg, Pete Dybdahl, Rob Coker who have ALL been *awesome* in sticking this out and remaining gung-ho throughout. Also, as always, a special thanks to Greg Leuch and Chris Menning for their ongoing support. As a result of the sale, I rewarded Rocketboom staff with thousands to tens of thousands of dollars as bonuses. Same for the KYM staff, even though they are all moving on to work for Cheezburger. I’m so happy for Brad Kim, James Wu, Don Caldwell and Olivia Gulin who are the full on go-to meme experts who have moved on happily with the site.
Major thanks also of course to the Cheezburger folks and to my lawyers and everyone who offered advise along the way, especially those true family and friends who offered invaluable inspiration Courtney and Blair, Xeni, Jonah Peretti, Josh Kinburg and an extra major thank you for always providing an invaluable perspective, Dave Winer.
Usually you think of platforms spawning content, though Rocketboom is in a unique position of establishing content which spawns into platforms. Stay tuned for some seriously big news on Humanwire, Magma and more news like the news today which I wish I could discuss already!!
See also….secrets please……