Vox Media brings back ‘This Is My Next’

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This is My Next. (The Verge)
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Back in 2011, when Vox Media was pretty much just the SB Nation network of sites, its first new project made a big splash: The staff of Engadget, which was owned by AOL, moved over to Vox and started a new technology site there.

Dedicated originally mostly to product reviews, the site, called “This Is My Next,” ultimately grew into the fuller-bodied tech site, The Verge, as readers know it today. Product reviews remained an intermittent feature of the site, but the branding for “This Is My Next” was dropped.

Today, “This Is My Next” makes a comeback in the Vox Media stable. It launches as a vertical within The Verge, with a combination of shared design and branding elements and its own distinct traits—and its own business model: affiliate revenue.

“Every product that's referenced has a product module,” product manager Lauren Rabaino told Capital. “Which you'll see, will include how we rated it and a few listings of third-party affiliates where you can go and make the purchase. The listings are algorithmically generated, but it's a list of up to five options. Those are all vetted, we set up the algorithms in a way that will show [sites] that are highly recommended .... So if a user clicks and follows through and makes the purchase we get a small share of that.”

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They are, of course, not the first tech-product review site with an affiliate revenue business model. The Awl network, for instance, has had great success with The Wirecutter. But The Verge's assistant managing editor David Pierce thinks the market is big enough to support a variety of reviews sites, and since Vox Media already has a community of tech enthusiasts who read The Verge, they've got an audience for their own take on the space.

"I truly don't feel competitive with any of those sites," Pierce, who will be editing the vertical, said. "I think there's lots of room in the world for us. In a lot of ways they're very right. I use The Wirecutter all the time, they're simple and useful. For us we have a really wonderful community of people who have this big trust of things we built."

For Vox Media’s oldest readers, it’s a welcome return, Pierce told Capital. He reopened the dormant Twitter account for the old site last Friday, and has managed to attract more than 5,000 followers in a matter of days tweeting nothing but cryptic pictures that teased the relaunch of the site.

“I spent a month trying to figure out who had the credentials to this account and finally got access to this last Friday,” Pierce said. “I got all excited about it. It took so little to spark this kind of excitement about this. We have this huge portion of the audience that doesn't remember This is my Next; also we have this big group of people who loved [it]. We had 347 followers left over when I opened the account from people who forgot they were following it and I had Sam Sheffer, the social media mangager, retweet [my first tweet] ... hoping to get 500 followers before we launched.”

Pierce said the vertical responds to the question tech sites get so often from readers: “Which cellphone/tablet/laptop/streaming device should I get?”

“Anyone who is in tech or writes about tech knows, I spend most of my time telling them which laptop to buy,” Pierce said. “Or people say 'so I want a new cell phone and I have 33 requirements which one should I buy?' Let's just try to solve those for people right now.”

“The products we're going to review are, A: things we we feel knowledgable about; and B: things we get asked a lot about,” Pierce said. “I have a list of 210 categories. So that's going to take us a while. Some are really weird and probably won't see the light of the day.”

One item Pierce admits might fall in that category, though he'd be interested to review it: the umbrella.

“You walk in they all look roughly the same,” Pierce said. “You don't know what you need until you buy something that doesn't have it. An umbrella is an umbrella but some are two dollars and some are 60 dollars. But on This is my Next we're showing people our work, how we came to that decision.”

Pierce said he doesn’t yet know whether the vertical will draw on the expertise of existing Verge staffers or get its own staff. But he thinks one thing that will set apart product reviews that come out of the Verge brand is the trust the site has built with readers.

The decision to split it out of The Verge’s main content stream is about preserving The Verge brand.

“Our standard of storytelling is so high that sometimes some things don’t meet our criteria,” he said; frequently, that would include details of new electronics products. “This gives us a way to offer [reviews] in a way that's quick and useful to people. It's super simple and straightforward.”

The site that launched today, according to Rabaino, is the “minimum viable version” of the site.

“Part of what I love about The Verge and Vox Media is that we learn as we go and iterate in public,” Rabaino said. “For us it's a matter of ‘let’s just get it out there.’ But we also want this to be big and useful as quickly as possible.”