What’s behind the MnSpeak merger?

Whether you admire or abhor it, few forums in the Twin Cities have had the staying power and influence of MnSpeak.com.

So when readers logged on to find the site redirecting to a site called Secrets of the City last month, more than a few probably refreshed the page to make sure they hadn’t fat-fingered while typing.

“It’s a merger,” explains associate publisher Matt Bartel.

MnSpeak and the Website affiliated with the Rake Magazine were rolled together into Secrets Of The City. The Rake Magazine ceased publishing a print version in March, laying off most of its staff and going to an online-only publication. It’s now part of parent company Entropy Publishing, which is owned by Bartel’s family, former owners of City Pages.

The point was to merge the high number of users that MnSpeak attracted with the restaurant and event databases that the Rake Magazine site had built up over the years. The hope is that the increase in page views and local content will be appealing to advertisers.

The merger allows Secrets to have a full-time developer who works on the site. Bartel said page views are up since the merger.

But has the merger jeopardized MnSpeak’s originality? Bartel says the site, founded in 2005 by Rex Sorgatz, still has the same mission.

“The editorial focus [has] not changed at all, we’re still hoping to be central Internet scene in the Twin Cities,” he said. “We want to be a digest of Twin Cities culture.”

Regular readers were stunned on the first day of the transition, many posting comments critical of the change. The comments ranged from calling the site “annoying” to “confusing” and worse.

Regular MnSpeak commenter Aliecat initially said in a comment that she “hated” the new site and was considering deleting the bookmark. But, in an email earlier this week, she said that she has warmed to the site and still comments on it regularly.

The merger aside, MnSpeak’s editor and most frequent poster, Max Sparber, has become something of a lightning rod over the years — some readers love him, others not so much. All of which made me wonder about Max’s approach to his job. So I asked him.

MP: What’s your mission as editor?

MS:
On the editorial end, my mission is to find the most interesting local links in the Twin Cities every day and to encourage conversation about these subjects. On a more personal level, I have also tried to throw a lot of attention onto local bloggers and local artists, and to regularly track down stories that I think are worthwhile but underreported or under-discussed locally. We also have wound up with a really robust online community, many of whom have gotten to know each other in the real world, which I think is fairly unusual for generalized online communities and almost totally unique for a local forum.

MP: What’s your background?

MS:
I started writing for The Reader in Omaha and eventually moved on to being one of the paper’s editors. I then spent three years as the theater critic for City Pages. I’ve been a freelance writer and a playwright for quite a while as well, and have now been editing MnSpeak for about nine months. I also have been a blogger since 2000.

MP: What’s the weirdest anyone’s done to get linked on the site?

MS:
There was a local business owner who anonymously wrote an article on another site talking up his business, and then pseudonymously linked to it as a MnSpeak post, which I approved until someone pointed out that it was a secret self-link. We actually do allow people to self-link on occasion, if it is something we think MnSpeakers will find interesting or useful, but this was so underhanded it caught me off-guard. The guy who did the self-link then showed up in the thread to defend himself, which he did rather badly by trying to pretend that he hadn’t been duplicitous at all. Then someone else from his office showed up to insult the site, apparently unaware that IP addresses are logged.

MP: What’s the most rewarding part of being editor?

MS:
I feel like I have wound up being tremendously well-informed as a result of going through a large number of news and blogging feeds every day, which I love.

Finally, this heads up: Secrets of the City is hosting a Late Night Party from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. tonight at the Red Stag Supper Club, 509 1st Ave. NE., Minneapolis.

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by David Cater on 12/11/2008 - 04:26 pm.

    I don’t really have a dog in this hunt. There have been times I’ve liked MnSpeak and times I’ve disliked it, but the statement “Bartel said page views are up since the merger” is misleading.

    The real metric that counts on the web is unique visitors and as you can see by this graph page views are down for the year hovering around 10k per day and well below what The Rake alone was averaging.

    On the year Mnspeak is down -52.1% and Rakemag is down -32.4%.

    The metrics link again:
    http://siteanalytics.compete.com/secretsofthecity.com+mnspeak.com+rakemag.com/?metric=uv

  2. Submitted by Max Sparber on 12/11/2008 - 04:45 pm.

    What? Who doesn’t love me?

    I think I mistyped in our interview. I have been editing MnSpeak for about a year and seven months.

  3. Submitted by Max Sparber on 12/11/2008 - 05:07 pm.

    I think you may be misreading that graph. Unique visitors on it are almost to the level that the Rake had, and far past what MnSpeak could claim, while MnSpeak and The Rake’s stats seem to be plummeting precisely because they no longer exist as Web sites.

  4. Submitted by Max Sparber on 12/11/2008 - 05:15 pm.

    Also, that chart itself points out that it is working in very rough estimates with very little data.

  5. Submitted by David Cater on 12/11/2008 - 06:36 pm.

    “I think you may be misreading that graph”
    Obviously the stats are up on a site that didn’t exist, infinitely so.

    Despite another attempt to mislead it’s pretty clear that MnSpeak and Rake traffic have been in the decline since before the SOTC launch and SOTC has almost reached the bottom traffic of the Rake.

    Kudos!

    “MnSpeak and The Rake’s stats seem to be plummeting precisely because they no longer exist as Web sites”

    That figures I cited are a yearly average and the trend lines are pretty clear. Who isn’t reading the graph correctly?

    Really, best of luck to SOTC.

  6. Submitted by David Cater on 12/11/2008 - 06:46 pm.

    “Also, that chart itself points out that it is working in very rough estimates with very little data.”

    It’s pretty accepted in the web industry as a reliable estimate.

    Care to share the real data?

  7. Submitted by Max Sparber on 12/12/2008 - 02:12 am.

    I’m the editor of MnSpeak, not the publisher. Go ahead and email Matt if you want a breakdown of the stats we have. But even on the chart you linked to, unique hits are up on MnSpeak and are almost at the point they were with The Rake after debuting the site a month ago. For someone who doesn’t have a dog in this fight, you seem determined to read the data in as negative a light as possible.

  8. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 12/12/2008 - 07:08 am.

    The Carter/Sparber catfights were better when Rex was here.

  9. Submitted by Alie Schipper on 12/12/2008 - 09:46 am.

    Thanks for the link, but I never considered divorcing MnSpeak from my bookmarks folder. My actual comment was decidedly more milqetost: “Hmmm, I kind of don’t like it, like CINF I don’t like change, but I guess I can get used to it.”

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