Blog Lords

The Verge: How the Engadgeteers Broke Free of Aol and Built the Site They’d Been Dreaming Of

verge 620 The Verge: How the Engadgeteers Broke Free of Aol and Built the Site Theyd Been Dreaming Of

The Verge launched yesterday in the early a.m. without a hitch: a sleek tech news site complete with longer analysis, forums, a product database and a Q&A with insanely-popular Apple blogger John Gruber to ensure a nice inaugural traffic boost.

“For me, this was an idea that was forming for a long time,” said Josh Topolsky, former Engadget editor and current editor and co-founder of the new site. The editor—Jimmy Fallon’s gadget consultant and electronic musician—was getting notes from co-workers as he spoke to Betabeat this morning by phone (“26, 27 editorially-focused employees? Okay, I’m being told it’s 29″). 

“I wanted to build the perfect tech site that was accessible, not like a brick wall of nerdiness, with longer form features, more reviews, more editorials, get columnists and freelancers coming in to write the in-depth stuff…” he trailed off. “To me, design is super-important.”

Mr. Topolsky and the former Engadget employees who followed him to the Jim Bankoff-bankrolled venture had been squirming over the lack of resources and other obstacles that come with working as a subsidiary of Aol.

Engadget bled writers and editors after the acquisition of The Huffington Post; Mr. Topolsky actually stuck it out after his colleagues including Chris Ziegler, Paul Miller and Ross Miller ditched (all three are now working at The Verge). But with The Verge, they had a blank slate. In six months, the editorial team worked with the product designers to build a site tailored to The Verge’s mission: delivering breaking gadget news, hardware reviews, tech analysis and longer-form features in a beautiful format (let’s not call it sexy).

But as they built the site—figuring out what they wanted a new tech site to be with a completely blank slate, what they needed built, how the workflow would go, what it really means to give a phone an 8/10 score, and so on—the editorial team found it impossible to stay out of the news cycle. “For the past few months we’ve been working on building The Verge while we were publishing news on This Is My Next,” Mr. Topolsky explained, referring to the placeholder site where the future Verge team has been publishing three or four posts a day, often scooping Engadget and getting more traffic than they ever expected. TIMN now redirects to The Verge.

“That’s actually really difficult, which we kind of learned by accident. We didn’t intend to do This Is My Next. We were all publishing on our own blogs, and we’re tweeting everybody else’s links, and finally we said ‘this is stupid, let’s just write in one place.'”

As tech becomes more mainstream, Mr. Topolsky expects The Verge’s audience will too, part of why the presentation was so important.

“It’s not just about great content,” he said. “You gotta present content to people in a way that is beautiful, not only something they like to look at but also functional. This is something that can be combative, trying to make it beautiful and useful, but we’re striving to do both. That was one of the first conversations we had [with Mr. Bankoff]. We said, ‘if we’re going to do this we have to think of it from a design standpoint, not just about content.'”

Now that The Verge is live—”the sense of relief was incredible when the site went from not being there to being there,” Mr. Topolsky recalled—it immediately started doing six times TIMN’s traffic numbers. With some writers based in Europe, the site’s been cranking out posts 24-7. The startup tech news site is scouting for talent from editorial to video production to sales. They’re also looking for new space; the team is already “crammed in” a Flatiron office they picked up as a temporary home while getting off the ground.

Any closing thoughts? we asked Mr. Topolsky, who immediately gave a shoutout to the devs. “The product team is incredible,” he said. “We work really closely to them. It’s a huge relief to have been working on something for 6 months, and it’s finally real.”

Follow Adrianne Jeffries on Twitter or via RSS. ajeffries@observer.com