On the record: New overseer for Techmeme robots

Former Valleywag snarkstress Megan McCarthy is now the moderator of good taste and journalism for Techmeme.

The algorithmically generated tech news aggregator Techmeme now has a human editor, Techmeme founder and developer Gabe Rivera revealed in a blog post today. The new overload to the Techmeme robots: Megan McCarthy, formerly of Valleywag and Wired.com.

Megan McCarthy
Megan McCarthy, when she worked for Valleywag (c) Brian Solis, used with permission

I talked with McCarthy about her new role. She describes her job as, "really, just to see all the things coming in, to make sure everything is current and relevant." The site posts about 140 to 150 items a day, she said. Her role is to make sure that erroneous items that the Techmeme algorithm flags aren't posted, that items are grouped appropriately, and that the most important items receive the highest billing on the site. The service still uses algorithms and link analysis to cluster stories, but McCarthy now has the final say and can modify the site's default story lineup and clustering.

Techmeme also runs the sites WeSmirch, Memeorandum, and BallBug. McCarthy will focus on Techmeme, but said she may also work on the other sites from time to time.

Although Techmeme is a 24-hour-a-day site, McCarthy can't, of course, work 24-7. "I don't think they'll be able to tell when I'm working or not," she said, modestly. "It should be pretty seamless. I started a few weeks ago and a lot of people haven't noticed."

To be fair to McCarthy, however, people have noticed. Here in the CNET newsroom, one writer told me recently she's seen that Techmeme story clusters now more frequently have the story that first covered a new item at the top of the group--not just the most-linked-to item.

In his post announcing the new hire, Rivera said, "Writers and publicists unhappy with the headlines on Techmeme are encouraged to transfer the bulk of their resentment to Megan." For this, McCarthy's experience at Valleywag will serve her well: "I have a very good background in people being dissatisfied with my work. I got a lot more complaints at Valleywag than commendations." Regarding her new role, she says, "I want to hear feedback. Any feedback helps."

Top of Techmeme: A story about Techmeme

In addition to the complaints, McCarthy will also be on the receiving end of entreaties from bloggers who want their stories placed well on the site. "It will be a welcome change," McCarthy says, "to the running and hiding that I used to do at Valleywag. I'm looking forward to when people have breaking stories that they shoot me an e-mail."

Asked if McCarthy has a mission to promote certain blogs or types of blogs (for example, up-and-coming blogs over mainstream sources), she said, "I'll take things on a post-by-post basis. If someone has something unique and special that adds to the story that's being told, you can make a case of wanting to expose that to more people."

Although McCarthy may be an open book when it comes to motivations and editorial perspective, Techmeme's algorithms remain proprietary. Asked if there was a move to make the code that places stories on the site more open, McCarthy demurred. "That would be something for Gabe," she said.

 

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