Jul 12, 2022 - Economy & Business

Exclusive: The Information launching social network for subscribers

Illustration of a hand coming out of a laptop screen, holding a business card with The Information's logo on it.
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The Information is rolling out a series of features designed to make it easier for its network of influential tech and business subscribers to connect, including a Reddit-like news feed (with up- and down-ranking for articles), direct messaging and a directory.

Why it matters: "I think it's clear networking on the internet is a mess," The Information founder and CEO Jessica Lessin told Axios.

  • Lessin said internet platforms that are meant for networking, like Facebook and LinkedIn, have become so big and focused on engagement that they've lost the ability to help users create meaningful connections.

Details: The new networking system, which rolls out this week, will include three core features:

  • User profiles: Subscribers will be able to opt in to share fuller information about themselves, including whether they are interested in connecting about fundraising, potential recruiting outreach, and niche areas of interest. Subscribers can also opt in to send and receive direct messages from others in the network.
  • A directory: A new index of profiles will make it easier for subscribers to search for peers to connect with based on location, occupation, etc.
  • A forum: Subscribers will have access to a news feed-like page where they can post interesting articles (including those beyond The Information's work) or thoughts that can be up- or down-ranked and commented on. The feed allows users to filter for the most recent or most-discussed posts.

Be smart: These new features are meant to add more value to the news site's subscriber base, as opposed to driving meaningful revenue themselves. In the future, however, the Information could find opportunities to directly monetize them, Lessin said.

  • One example she cites could be a job board, where companies could pay to post jobs. Another could be allowing a company to sponsor a group discussion around a particular topic.
  • "We're also experimenting with providing newsletters that summarize the top posts from the community that are trending in the forum, and that could be another exciting area to integrate a brand partner as well," she said.

Between the lines: The project is reminiscent of Hacker News, the Reddit-like site for tech news launched by the Y Combinator startup accelerator in 2007 that became a key hub for tech-industry insiders to share headlines.

By the numbers: Lessin didn't provide an updated paid subscriber or free user number, but said that the company has “well into the tens of thousands” of paid subscribers and that its core consumer subscription business has grown revenue more than 35% year over year.

  • That business, which represents around 85% of the company's overall revenue, includes charging individuals roughly $400 per year to access its journalism.
  • The company also sells enterprise subscriptions to large companies and has a small brand partnerships business, which includes things like event sponsorships. Lessin said those businesses "are growing much faster" than its core consumer subscription business.
  • In November, the FT reported that The Information has 225,000 "users," which includes both paid subscribers and unpaid newsletter sign-ups.

The big picture: The Information has taken steps to broaden its business to become a platform for niche writers targeting high-level audiences, mostly in business and tech.

  • Last year, the company launched its first-ever stand-alone subscription publication, called The Electric, on batteries and electric vehicles. Lessin said the company plans to launch more stand-alone publications.
  • The company also works with smaller, independent newsletter writers and publications, providing them with tech and audience development tools in exchange for cross-promotional opportunities for The Information.

What’s next: Lessin said the new social networking features will act as horizontal layers across all the content on its platform.

  • For example, subscribers to stand-alone subscription outlets, like The Electric, could one day have a specific group within the profile section or perhaps even a version of a Forum feed or messaging board that‘s unique to their area of coverage.
  • Smaller newsletters The Information partners with can access the tools to start to build their own networking features, Lessin says.
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