Interview With FanFeedr Founder Ty Ahmad-Taylor

FanFeedr is a relatively new startup that aims to provide sports fans with real-time news about their favorite sports, teams and players. Their website aggregates a ton of content, news, videos, and tweets and lets people pick and choose which news they want to see. I'm very big on the concept of aggregation and saving people time (my weak attempt at this is with Sports Biz Feed), and I think FanFeedr looks promising as a personalized sports news aggregator.

One of my favorite things about the site is that when you first visit, a helpful screen pops up to tell you what to do. When people first visit a new site, not knowing what to do is often a barrier to signing up and utilizing the site, so this really helped clarify things for me. I also love the fact that they utilize Facebook Connect to offer a simple sign up process.

FanFeedr Welcome Screen

The site utilizes social elements by enabling people to follow their friends and see what news they're interested in. Fans can easily comment on, email, rate, or share any articles they read via Twitter or Facebook. This is accomplished by a nice horizontal ribbon that appears at the bottom of the screen when you click through to see an article.

FanFeedr ribbon

FanFeedr also has an iPhone app and a robust set of APIs for publishers to take advantage of. I'm really looking forward to following this company's growth.

When Jeff Brunelle, from Carrot Creative, said he would be happy to put me in touch with FanFeedr's founder/CEO, Ty Ahmad-Taylor, I had to take him up on it. Please see below for some questions Ty answered via email, after we had a nice phone conversation last week.

1) Where did the basic concept of FanFeedr as a personalized, real-time sports news aggregator come from?

The core concept came from a problem I had myself: I spent far too much time hunting and pecking around for sports news and information on multiple websites. Twitter was emerging at this time last year, and I also saw some of the conceptual success my friends at FanSnap experienced with their event-ticketing vertical.

2) What kind of sports fans do you think will use FanFeedr?

We believe that we can capture most of the market, from the casual fan to the Fantasy Sports player, primarily because the consumption lens is similar to Twitter and Facebook, and much less editorially-driven. Specifically, you can get all of the news about your favorite teams, or some of it, or just bits of it (e.g. "just show me video about my team") in an easy-to-use manner.

We don't have any preconceived notion that you will view everything about your team, but we do think it is important that you get information around the teams and players that you are most passionate about.
People are passionate about the Yankees or the Red Sox, but much less so about Major Baseball as an organizing concept. We want to serve that passion.

3) The site has a nice mix of features that are news-focused and focused on sharing/socializing. Which features do you think are most important and make FanFeedr special?

Without getting too abstract, and comparisons to Rothko are both appreciated and deflected, often at the same time, we are trying to address a user's media consumption needs along their social graph.

In a nutshell: I am explicitly a fan of the 49ers and the Warriors (unfortunately.) My friends like other teams. We all like sports. While I certainly love keeping up with my underachieving-until-recently Bay Area teams, I am also interested in what my friends are interested in, and thus the social aspects of their consumption (what they like, what they don't, where they make comments) become a discovery vector for me for stuff I wouldn't know about otherwise.
When you are on Facebook and Twitter, you see things from your friends that you didn't know about. They are a social lens for your knowledge.
We are trying to serve the same need in the realm of sports.

4) What has surprised you the most about the sports industry since you started working on FanFeedr at the end of 2008?

I came from the music industry when I worked at MTV Networks. Pop, rock, hip-hop and country. Sports people are as passionate as music people, but the level of detailed knowledge about the game continues to astound me.

If you go see a great concert, you will hear music person say: "Minus the Bear has one of the best hooks I have heard in the last five years."

You go to see a great game, and you will hear a sports person say: "Adrian Petersen has the best mechanics of any running back in the game. He hits the hole faster, has a higher YPC average, and has more breakaway speed than LT."
The knowledge is just deeper, even though most of us can't play football or a guitar, Rock Band notwithstanding.

5) What's next for FanFeedr?

We are adding Fantasy Sports lifestreaming: right now, if you are in a Fantasy Football league, your wins, losses, player drops and adds are not exposed to anyone besides the 7, 9, or 11 other people that you play with. We want to allow you to expose your activity to your social graph (i.e. friends) on FanFeedr, Facebook and/or Twitter.

We will are also enabling live scores on the site so that you can track games wherever you are, and, more importantly, talk about them with your friends (similar to the CNN-Facebook experiment for the 2009 Presidential inauguration.)

6) Where do you see real-time sports news going in the next year or so?

As more athletes get onto Twitter, you are going to see greater connections with fans, as the final barrier to sports consumption, what the athlete thinks, becomes less opaque.

The combination of Twitter, the increasing diversity of media outlets (Bleacher Report, Yardbarker and SB Nation are smart examples), and the wider distribution of online video mean that a sports fan or junkie can get more information about their passions. This a good thing.
Sports, like news, is a perishable good: who won in week 10 of the 2003 season? Who cares? Serving up the latest information dovetails nicely with expectations of people who consume the sport already.
Getting more realtime for sports news and information serves user needs because they already expect it.

7) What do you think is the biggest opportunity for teams and leagues to utilize social media?

The teams and leagues can use social media for much better CRM. The Oakland A's don't have the clearest picture of what their fans do online, for example, because they haven't done a good job of painting a picture of those fans. Put another way, social media inverts the retail store paradigm: a sports brand doesn't own the store (which is Facebook, Twitter or MySpace.) The brand is a leasing space, and has to create an pleasant experience for users in those media.

The service we provide is aggregation: the totality of relevant information about your favorite team or player.
The Athletics have to figure out how to provide a service to their users on Twitter and the other platforms. That is a very big opportunity, because useful services garner useful, measurable attention, and with attention comes value that didn't exist before.

8) If you had $1 million to spend on FanFeedr right now, what would you do with it?

You can't shoot, edit and distribute "Hangover II" for that amount, so focusing on the core business:

A. Hire more engineers. This would allow us to increase our already-rapid iteration cycles so that we could amend the site to customer needs in shorter timeframes. It is amazing what the four talented engineers have done on our team, and even more world-class talent would increase our effectiveness.
B. Get better computers in the office (this is not a huge cost, but prohibitive currently.) Our current laptop crop is a little long in the tooth.
C. Upgrade our infrastructure. Our material is hosted in the cloud with Amazon. Better bigger machines means that our ability to serve fast web pages increases.