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10 years on, Fark retains its snark — and makes money

News aggregator has mastered Web and profitability

rcopley@herald-leader.comFebruary 12, 2009 

Fark.com was born 10 years ago in a dial-up world, when a cell phone was only a phone and twittering sounded kind of naughty.

Today, the way Fark readers consume and read the clever news aggregation Web site has changed radically. And, by the way, there are a lot more people reading it.

But whether the Versailles-based Web site's 2.2 million to 2.5 million daily readers get it through a phone wire on their desktops or through the ether on their smart phone, the content hasn't changed all that much: witty riffs on headlines from around the world.

For instance, a story about Warren Buffet's financial recommendations was titled, “It's time to buy U.S. stocks, according to ‘Buffett's metric,' so load up on Margaritaville Inc.”

A story about a beermaker's falling revenues: “MillerCoors: Great taste, Less profit.”

It's the kind of snark that Fark readers have come to expect during the past decade.

“In general, we've been trying to keep it pretty much the same,” Fark founder and owner Drew Curtis says. “We've added some more complicated stuff, and the site looks slicker, but we have archives that go back to Day 1, and it's essentially the same content.”

Curtis, 36, bought the domain www.fark.com in 1997 because he liked the sound of the word. But it languished for a few years before Curtis started using it as a way to share offbeat headlines with friends. In its first year, Fark attracted 50,000 viewers.

Now, it is read around the world, and Curtis is something of an Internet celebrity, doing what even many major media outlets dream of doing: making money online.

As we talked to him, Curtis was in San Francisco for an event on the Fark Parties circuit. But on Friday night, he'll be in Lexington to celebrate Fark's 10th anniversary with a public party at Redmon's downtown.

Many people who turn out will be part of what Curtis calls “the Fark community.” It's a community that has changed over the decade, and not just in numbers.

“One of the things we noticed is that the mind-set of an Internet user that's in college now is different than it was 10 years ago,” Curtis says. “An 18-year-old will show up at our site and expect to be able to do certain functions we don't have coded in.”

The majority of those things are social networking features: commenting, voting, profiles and the ability to “friend” other users.

Curtis says he and his five-person staff are trying to add or enhance such features. A current project is overhauling Fark's comments section.

“The way we're doing that is our design guy is hanging out in a coffee shop near Georgia Tech's campus” in Atlanta, Curtis says. “He's asking people if they've heard of Fark, and if they haven't, in return for buying them a cup of coffee, he has them come over and look at his current version of the comments page.”

Curtis says the design guy takes notes on what the students say and incorporates that into his redesign. Pulling in college students is important, Curtis says, because they'll be the ones reading Fark 10 years from now.

And that, really, is about as much gazing into a crystal ball as Curtis is going to do. The rapidly shifting media world is hard to predict, he says. What he does know is that he likes the community that uses his site now.

“It's always stunning,” he says of the groups that come to Fark parties. “We did one in San Francisco last night, and we had 30-plus people. And in that group was probably about one of everything you need to live: a doctor, an attorney, probably someone who sells cars. It's sometimes shocking they're real, honest-to-God people.”

Reach Rich Copley at (859) 231-3217 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3217.

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