Soup Of The Day: Anthony De Rosa Is The Most Influential Social Mediaite You’ve Never Heard Of
The game started late. A passing rain shower meant that it didn’t get underway for an hour-and-a-half, past 8:30. A lot of fans didn’t stick around to see the first pitch. The die-hards – far fewer than the advertised attendance of 33,000-plus – did.
It paid off. In the bottom of the ninth, with the Mets trailing the Angels by a run at Shea Stadium, a pinch-hitting Marlon Anderson drove a 3-1 pitch into right-center. The outfielder misplayed it. Anderson, not known for his baserunning, motored around the bases, meeting the tag at home plate. He smashed into the catcher, busting his lip – and forcing the game into extra innings.
In the top of the tenth, a Darin Erstad single put the Angels up a run. In the bottom of the inning, with two outs, two runners on and a full count, Cliff Floyd drove a ball over the right field fence, winning the game for the Mets.
That game in June 2005 rewarded patience – and baseball fans. Well, Mets fans anyway. It rewarded Anthony De Rosa, a New Jersey native, Rutgers grad, and Mets fan in the original sense of the term: fanatic. De Rosa outlasted several of his friends that night, watching every pitch.
At the time, De Rosa was writing regularly for MetsBlog.com; he would go on to found his own Mets blog, HotFootBlog. The guy loves the Mets, and the way he expressed his love at that point was by writing about them.
It was an offshoot, in a way, from his early days exploring the Internet. He is enough of an online veteran to draw a distinction between the old Internet, with its BBS‘s (Wikipedia is helpful on that one, youngsters) and online communities like Compuserve and Prodigy, and the Web. He particularly notes pre-Huffington, pre-Time Warner AOL – a once-dominant force that seemed determined to bring the bite-sized web in-house. That community was formative for De Rosa.
“I think the point I realized [the web] was a mass medium was when AOL came around,” De Rosa told me recently. “You started to see people use it more as a way to put up things that they were interested in. You started to see people gather around celebrities or world politics or technology…. Now the communities were dictating what was interesting to them. They were talking amongst themselves.”
An engaged De Rosa joined those conversations: “I started to see that that communication about information would start to be a more social thing – that it would be going from top-down to flip that on its end.”
Little did he know he’d be one of the people doing the flipping.
From writing casually for a few Mets blogs, he’s now a juggernaut in the world of social media and – particularly of late – in using it to curate the news. He’s been an invited speaker at industry conferences like SxSW, Social Media Week, and Toronto’s Mesh. In the past two months alone, he was quoted by David Carr in the Times, cited by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show, interviewed Times‘ chief Bill Keller (generating a maelstrom of discussion online), and been praised by the editor of Salon.
He has 8,200-plus followers on Twitter (impressive for a non-celebrity), is included on 626 Twitter lists (very impressive for a non-celebrity) and has a stunningly high Klout score of 81 (what comes after “very?”).
But what he’s perhaps best known for is Tumblr, a platform now seeing 8.4 billion monthly pageviews. The Times proclaimed him “the undisputed king” of Tumblr, deservedly so. Mashable named his blog, SoupSoup, one of the best tumblogs of 2008; it’s currently one of the top 250 blogs in the world according to Technorati. It has nearly 30,000 posts, with an average of 22 posts per day since its inception in late October, 2007. The number of followers a blog on Tumblr has isn’t public; De Rosa indicated that he’s currently “just short of 25,000.”
In other words, between his Tumblr followers and his Twitter audience, more people see De Rosa’s updates than attended that Mets game. That’s what you call a platform.
SOUP AT WORK
De Rosa does have a day job. He’s Product Manager for Reuters Media, a position that affords (necessitates?) such a robust online life. Where other bosses might shy away from an employee so active on social media, De Rosa and his employers saw the advantages – particularly, increased engagement with Reuters content, including assuring that De Rosa had his own space to write. A recent interview he conducted with outgoing Times editor Bill Keller on that Reuters blog, next to Reuters’ ads, created a maelstrom of online commentary and sharing – in part because of Keller’s steadfast commitment to keeping social media at arm’s length. Reuters opens doors for De Rosa, to be sure, but his personal platform pulls back the window shades.
Actually, De Rosa seems them as platforms, plural. Each is distinct: the content he pushes out to Twitter is not necessarily the content he shares on Tumblr. This isn’t a ploy to force people into using Twitter or Tumblr – it’s a recognition and utilization of each platform’s strengths. (He admits that he’s less active on Facebook, in part because of the time demands produced by generating unique content on two platforms already.)
A decision to build audiences on two platforms doesn’t automatically create a large combined audience, of course. De Rosa seems as mystified at how the audience arose as anyone else, attributing it to the regularity of his updates and his reblogging and retweeting. But, again, that doesn’t automatically create an audience either.
The crazy thing that happens on Twitter–it’s an old school journalist’s worst nightmare–is that people are just spreading rumors. So having good journalists (Anthony De Rosa comes to mind) who are filters and say either “I got someone on the phone to confirm this” or “The New York Times has confirmed ‘X'” is important.
What she calls filtering, others (myself included) might call curation. It’s picking out interesting items of information, sharing, validating and correcting them on the fly. “Filter” is passive. What De Rosa does isn’t passive.
The genius of Twitter and Tumblr as platforms is how easy they make curation. In each, a single click pushes a single bit of information out to one’s own followers. It’s as immediate an implementation of Dave Winer‘s law of the Internet – “the more you send them away the more they come back” – as you can get. But you have to send them somewhere good.
That’s what De Rosa excels at. As Walsh notes, you can trust where he sends you. And if he shouldn’t have sent you there, he explains that, and explains why. If he’s not sure the information is accurate, he tells you that, too. That’s the authority at the heart of Walsh’s statement.
Then, there’s finding things to share. De Rosa has an experienced eye for what’s interesting in global politics, and the media, and the web, and sports, and cultural events, and New York City – and so on. He also has sophisticated streams of information. There’s the Reuters wire, which must be the equivalent for De Rosa of giving The Wire‘s Bubbles a heroin IV. There’s who he follows on Tumblr.
And there are the 1,300 people he follows on Twitter. I asked him about that one; the stream from the 400 or so I follow is often overwhelming. His secret is lists. He’s maxed out his twenty personally-selected lists (“…the thing that kind of annoys me about Twitter is you’re only allowed to have twenty lists…”) and follows another… well, a lot. Lists allow him to filter out the noise from the raw stream; he isolates those focused on particular topics as a “monitoring tool.” He considers Twitter lists to be fairly equivalent to the Reuters wire – even in terms of early accuracy. “At the end of the day, the messages that are being posted [on Twitter] aren’t any different than when you go to sources and you talk to them,” he points out. “You still have to connect the dots and make sure that information is reliable.”
(After I’d interviewed De Rosa, ReadWriteWeb posted an article indicating that Twitter itself had only a small number of “power users” working for the company. They defined “power users” as those with more Twitter lists. Oh, and I found that link on De Rosa’s Twitter feed.)
The roadblock, then, is the old-fashioned journalism, that work that Joan Walsh values. Like others – including NPR’s Andy Carvin, with whom De Rosa is sometimes compared – De Rosa wishes that Twitter had a better system for separating the wheat from the chaff more quickly.
It has one. Users like @AntDeRosa.
EXPLORING THE PLATFORM
In July of 2009, De Rosa was hired at Mediaite as one of the site’s inaugural columnists; in March of last year, sports blogging juggernaut SBNation picked him up as editor-in-chief of the site’s Tumblr. “Anthony was one of the first people hired because of what they achieved on Tumblr,” says Rachel Sklar, Mediaite’s editor-at-large – originally hiring DeRosa – and advisor to start-ups including SBNation. That’s in part because of how closely tied to Tumblr his identity was: “For a long time, I only knew him as ‘Soup.'”
Like Mark Coatney, who was spirited away from Newsweek’s Tumblr to work for Tumblr itself, De Rosa positioned himself as both master of the platform – and innovator in how it was used.
In 2009, De Rosa partnered with Richard Blakeley (then editor-in-chief of Gawker.TV) on Neighborhoodr, a Tumblr-based local news tool. The mandate of Neighborhoodr is simple: empower local residents to share updates about their communities quickly and easily. The site now covers 113 cities in the United States and 32 cities internationally. In 2010, TheNextWeb declared that “Neighborhoodr gets it right as a hyperlocal news source.”
De Rosa gets it right as a news source, too. In February, NBC New York pegged him as one of the twenty best local news sources on Twitter in NYC. And then there’s that Klout score. Debate aside, the tool reflects a genuine level of influence. De Rosa’s score of 81 compares favorably to the New Yorker‘s Susan Orlean with a score of 67 and the Times‘ David Pogue at 76. He’s far closer, in fact, to the Klout score of 85 maintained by none other than Ashton Kutcher.
And on Twitter, Kutcher has 735 times as many followers. (Between the time this piece was finalized and when it was published, SBNation announced a new advisor: Ashton Kutcher.)
WHY HE DOES WHAT HE DOES
Now, the story behind his tumblog’s name, SoupSoup.
Short version: his friends have called him Soup since middle school. Long version: it’s because he saved someone from choking.
One day at school during lunch, Anthony was sitting at the same table as a girl who began to choke on a chunk of chicken from her chicken noodle soup. Somewhere (a movie? TV show?) he’d come across the Heimlich maneuver. He came up behind her and, after a few unsuccessful attempts, forced the chicken loose. From that day forward he was Soup. Old friends still call him that; he answers to it.
(Why SoupSoup? Why doubled? It’s an Internet tale told so many times before: “Soup” was taken.)
The point of the story is this: a simple piece of information that he’d come across potentially saved someone’s life.
Not to be melodramatic, but sharing similar bits pieces of information has become something of an obsession of De Rosa’s. If you’ve just recently come to know him, it’s probably because of the curation he’s done around the events of the Arab Spring. He’s vastly broadened his audience by performing that simple task, passing on information – particularly about what’s happening in the Middle East and North Africa. During Tahrir Square, during the run-up to military action in Libya, now with the crackdown in Syria – De Rosa has been a whirlwind of links from sources in multiple languages, moderating and refining on the fly. There’s an urgency to it that makes clear he’s not simply sharing news to build his Klout score.
I asked him why he expends so much effort on these events.
I think it’s a combination of newsworthiness and how big an effect that particular news can have on the world as a whole. I think the Middle East and what’s happening in North Africa is having a wide-ranging effect. I try to focus on things I think have will have a lot of scale and be of interest to as many people as possible.
Americans have a short attention span. But I think it’s an important story to monitor because it’s affecting us in ways we may not even realize. Maybe I try to advocate a little, but I think you can acknowledge you have biases to sorts of news you think are important.
On social networks, there’s no need to worry about ratings or attracting an audience. People are more interested in getting information.
He went on.
If people are informed – even if it’s just showing them that the rest of the world supports what they’re doing – I feel like that’s where I could do my life’s work. Continuing to be part of that conversation that allows others with more influence or power to enact change.
He’s saying, in effect, that there’s always something worthy of our attention there. To the extent that he can keep presenting those bits of news – mixed in with information about a lot of other things sometimes, in a homogeneous flood at others – he can keep American (and other Western) eyes flitting, however quickly, over something that he recognizes as important. And the people on the ground know that they’ve been seen.
Doing so effectively requires something of the curator as well: tenacity predicated on real interest. That’s the standard De Rosa brings to his curation. It’s his sweet spot.
After all, this is the guy whose favorite baseball game was one where he had the passion and will to stick with it through a long rain delay, because he loves the game and he loves the Mets. God knows that sticking with the Mets doesn’t always bear fruit. But sometimes it does. Sometimes it’s a game that you remember the rest of your life.
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