The exquisite life cycle of Lifehacker content is a marvel to behold. Take a typical Hive Five post. (The Hive Five is a weekly call-out to the LH audience for software recommendations.)
First, the editors will post a question, e.g. “What’s the best music discovery service?” Then they’ll synthesize the most common responses into a round-up, “Five best music discovery services,” and ask their users to vote for a favorite. They’ll tally the votes, and post again: “Best music discovery service!” A link-baity title like “Five best music discovery services” is sure to draw a lot of traffic, meaning it’ll get packaged up yet again, in the “Week’s most popular posts.” Finally, at the end of the year, it might get repacked one more time, into a “Best of the Hive Five” roundup.
This technique brings numerous dividends:
It promotes volume.
Just think about that for a moment. A really simple crowdsourcing moment gets turned into fodder for [potentially] five posts, each of which has the potential to pull in a slightly different audience. This sort of industrial efficiency is part of how Lifehacker supplies its endlessly popular gusher of content.
It synthesizes and reinforces.
Bloggers have long since gotten over the notion that their audiences follow every thing they publish. Most people don’t have enough time, and some key points slip through the cracks. By recombining these points into posts that can become more viral with each incarnation, a blogger helps ensure information is digested into general knowledge.
It extends reach.
This is a key point about the Lifehacker approach: Every time that post is re-packaged, it’s aimed at a wider audience segment. The initial call-out is targeted to the folks who come to the site daily, people invested enough in the Lifehacker community that they not only read the posts, they read and contribute comments. Then those comments are packaged up into a post for a slightly less attentive audience, synthesizing the responses of the original crowd into five digestible nuggets. They’re distilled one more time for the folks who want to cut straight to the point – What’s the best music discovery service out there? And finally, they’re repackaged for users who dip in occasionally to see what’s hot around the site. Sheer brilliance.
It’s how you juggle the demands of a devoted, info-hungry community with the needs of your semi- or irregular users. Package, repackage, repeat.
And of course, it’s not just about packaging your own content. Folks like Andrew Sullivan and Arianna Huffington (not to mention the Gawker crew) do a fantastic job of packaging key info-nuggets from other sources into bundles that probably draw more traffic than their component parts. The Mashables and Smashing Magazines of the world are built on a discipline of creating and re-combining content for different needs and different audiences.