Counterparties.com arrives

By Felix Salmon
September 7, 2011
Counterparties.com launched today, and was met with great articles from Megan Garber at Nieman Journalism Lab and Jason Del Ray at AdAge, as well as many congratulatory tweets.

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Counterparties.com launched today, and was met with great articles from Megan Garber at Nieman Journalism Lab and Jason Del Rey at AdAge, as well as many congratulatory tweets. I know this because if I visit the “All Sources” page for Counterparties.com on Counterparties.com, I find a long list of people and blogs who have linked to the site today, all powered by the fabulous people at Percolate.

Percolate is a fantastic engine for this kind of thing — a pared-down, ultra-simple website which just tries to link to the best and most relevant information we can find. You show it your RSS feeds and the people you follow on Twitter; it will generate a dynamic list of stories generated by your own personal tastes. Go on, try it out: I’ve got a bunch of invites on the other side of this link.

One of the things that distinguishes Percolate from other, similar services like Summify is that Percolate itself is social: you react to stories by tagging them and adding comments for your friends to read. When I do that from the Counterparties account on Percolate, the tag automatically becomes the tag on the Counterparties website, and the comment becomes the headline you click on to get to the story.

In fact, I rarely do such things myself: the real day-to-day work on Counterparties is done by Ryan McCarthy, who was wonderfully described by Garber as the guy “playing the part of the Human in the production”. The feeds driving the Percolate engine are mine; the voice and personality of the site are Ryan’s. (He’s a genius at coming up with tags like “Hope/Change/Etc”.) There’s nothing automated about Counterparties: everything there is touched and written and placed by hand, and in fact we have a pretty steady stream of stories which don’t show up in the Percolate engine at all but which we include all the same.

A surprisingly large amount of work went into creating this pretty basic site: none of it would have been possible without Liesel Kipp organizing everything, Josh Turk designing everything, and, above all, my consecutive bosses, Keith McAllister and Chrystia Freeland. Both of them understood the idea immediately and intuitively, and managed to rustle up the funding to make it happen and hire Ryan.

Still, this is a basic site, and there’s much more to come. An email newsletter, for one thing, and also a Counterparties widget which I can embed on this blog and which can also be placed on any other page on the internet. And, eventually, some kind of advertising too. I have a dream on that front: just as Counterparties is the first mainstream media website which consists of nothing but external links, I’d love the ads to be the same. Clickable, yes, but in the sense of clickable and dynamic lists of headlines, which take you to great content rather than to the advertiser’s own site. I want to break out of the current paradigm where only idiots click on ads, and go to a place where the ads are just as useful to readers as the main content is. (If you have any interest in experimenting with that kind of model, do let me know!)

Counterparties.com is brand new, and we’re certainly making loads of mistakes — do let us know about anything you like, or dislike, or which is broken in some way. Leave a comment here, email anybody involved, or best of all use Twitter: we’re up and running there, as @counterparties, and would love you to follow us. (One question: should we tweet everything which goes up on the page, or be more selective? And another: do you still want to see daily Counterparties linkfests here on my Reuters blog, and if so, what format would you like them to take?)

As I told Del Ray, there’s nothing hugely innovative here — the idea behind Counterparties is a very obvious one, which thousands of people have had. And you’ll find more than a little of the DNA of sites like BuzzFeed and Atlantic Wire at Counterparties. If anything sets Counterparties apart from other aggregation/curation sites, it’s that it’s significantly more stripped down: we just want to send people away, and we produce no real content of our own.

But it’s also very scalable. Counterparties is built on my interests; it would be reasonably easy, now we’ve done it once, to build similar sites for health, or law, or markets, or domestic news from Canada. I don’t know how we’ll judge its success — we don’t really have any criteria on that front. But I hope that all of you will find it useful and check it out on a regular basis. There should always be some wonderful new stuff for you when you do. And we promise to try to cut down on pictures of white men talking.

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