Home-made mash

Pete Cashmore launched Mashable from his home in Aberdeen in late 2005. He was looking for the next big thing of his generation and the internet provided tons of opportunities. "I realised that by going purely web based I could grow something," he recalls.

"I started writing and thought I was going to start a web company. I didn't realise that the writing would be the company. People started reading it, and over the year I saw the traffic picking up. Mashable was one of the top 10 blogs within a year and a half. Then we started getting advertising at a stage when everyone was saying that blogs won't make any money. I think our first ad was UserPlane, a chat company that paid around $3,000 for a month, and I thought that was phenomenal."

Today 11 people work on the site. Last year Pete moved to San Francisco, but now divides his time between Silicon Valley and Scotland. "There are a few reasons I went to San Francisco, partly because of the time difference – in Scotland I got up at noon and worked until 5 or 6am, partly because that's where the hub is.

"It's worthwhile, but also when I'm in Scotland I get a lot more work done. I'm able to focus, there are no distractions and you make better decisions when you're surrounded by people who are realists and not caught up in the scene. Asking people who aren't in tech what they think is the way you build something massive."

It's a recipe that's definitely worked for Mashable. The blog is attracting more than five million page views per month and major web tracking services including Alexa and Compete are predicting that it's about to take the lead over TechCrunch. Much of the traffic is coming from Twitter.

The site's Twitter account (run by Pete) has 700,000 followers and is featured on the Suggested Users list, but Mashable posts also get retweeted a lot. "Twitter is a very large and fair referrer of traffic, although it's hard to tell what amount Twitter is referring. It shows up on our referrer stats, but so much usage is on desktop applications and we're probably undermeasuring it by about a half. Twitter isn't insignificant in terms of traffic but what it's really significant for is engagement.

"We've noticed that when we tweet about posts, we get a lot more people talking about Mashable on Twitter and elsewhere. It's a source of very engaged people. They're used to contributing content in a very low barrier way.

"So it's not to do with how much traffic, it's about the type. We're a social media guide, and it's the best traffic we could have. Twitter is key for Mashable because it's got a social media audience."

It's an interesting symbiosis. As long as Twitter is growing, Mashable will do the same and vice versa. So it's no surprise that Pete sees Twitter as leading all the major trends this year (shortform content, self-publishing, mobile and interconnectedness) and has even incorporated it into Mashable's ad strategy.

Twitter Brand Sponsors is a "sociable ad" format that enables companies and one charity that use Twitter to engage with their customers by syndicating their tweets into the Mashable sidebar for a month. The aim is to make the ads less annoying, but also more interesting and engaging.

Right now the site isn't for sale but Pete says it's always incredibly tempting to look at how much you'd get when you have something of value. Eventually it might make sense to sell Mashable, but Pete thinks it's currently worth more than any amount he's been offered. For Mashable, the Web 2.0 revolution is far from over.

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First published in .net Issue 191

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