Marshall Kirkpatrick’s Cyborg Aerobics

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PORTLAND–Around the corner from Wieden + Kennedy, through an unmarked door on NW Davis St., geeks gather daily to pursue their projects as part of Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE). Last night the gathering included about 40 guests intent on hearing from Marshall Kirkpatrick of Read Write Web, one of the leading tech journalists in the nation, and easily the top blogger in Portland.
His talk, “Gather Signal from the Noise: Twitter, RSS and Data,” sponsored by Portland Web Innovator, was a tour through the various tools Kirkpatrick uses to do his job. He said, strategic use of “RSS got him his job, and Twitter pays his rent.” He spent 45 minutes walking the audience through his elaborate process for finding the tech news of the day and getting it up on RWW before the competition can do the same, then another 30 minutes answering questions.
Kirkpatrick uses Google’s custom search to determine what other tech blogs know about a given topic. He uses a series of instant notification systems from Friend Feed, Tweetdeck and to ping him on his desktop and his mobile. He uses Fluid, a single app reader, to provide weight to the most important Web pages in his world. He also uses Newser, Fever,, LazyFeed, Postrank, HiveMind, Aardvark and Quora to hone in on topics of interest. Exactly how he uses these tools, and how others might use them, is still a bit of a mystery to me (one that I’m working to solve).
Kirkpatrick said he was the second employee at RWW just two and half years ago, but the company has now grown to 17 staffers. He said the RWW team lives in a Skype chat room every day and uses a custom news dashboard developed internally with open source software. I asked him where the press release fits into his world, and he kindly offered this equation: one third of RWW’s leads come via RSS, one third via Twitter and the other third via email.
Another audience member asked what tool he needs, but doesn’t currently have in his arsenal. He said, “good question,” paused to think and said, “I don’t know what’s possible until I see what some geek builds.”
I have to say it’s rare to spend 90 minutes in a room and come away with this much new and possibly useful information. My own methods for industry news gathering are paleolithic by comparison. I admire Kirkpatrick’s mastery and appreciate his willingness to share some of his best practices. After all, that’s how a collective bar gets raised.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.