As well as producing The Grand Tour series for Amazon, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May have also been working on Drivetribe, a platform for motoring fans that aims to shake up the relationship between content and communities.
Drivetribe is at the intersection of publishing and social networking – content produced by Clarkson, Hammond and May, and by an in-house editorial team of half a dozen people, sits alongside content created by about 20,000 contributors.
"Media companies have been speaking about bringing content and community together but it hasn't really meant anything. What media companies actually do is add comments to the bottom of the article – that's not community,” Ernesto Schmitt, chief executive of Drivetribe, told Journalism.co.uk.
Counting 20th Century Fox among its investors, the platform’s strategy stands on three pillars: a user model based on "tribes", as motoring is a fragmented interest, with people passionate about vastly different parts; a content model where professionally created videos, photos or text stand alongside user-generated content; and a technology that acts as a personalisation engine, getting the right posts in front of the audiences who are most likely to want to see them.
Users can follow tribes based on their interests, or even start their own. Instead of having an editor curating what each tribe sees on its feed, the posts that make it to the top are those with the most "bumps", or votes, from the readers. Anyone can start a new tribe, but it will only become visible to others if at least ten other people are following it.
A quarter of a million pieces of content were posted on Drivetribe in its first six weeks, said Schmitt, with 2 million content views per day in January, up from 1 million in December, the platform’s first month of activity.
Drivetribe's technology stack marries financial services technology with advertising technology, analysing large volumes of data quickly and matching the pieces that “pop” with the right community.
"Strictly speaking you can apply that exact same logic [from advertising] to content. Take pieces of content, put them all in competition with one another, trying to find the biggest match, the highest conversion ratio between a piece of content and a specific audience segment defined by a whole bunch of parameters, to give them the most relevant and the highest value experience.
"Our view is that it is very likely to become the absolute norm in the way that you do publishing in the future," he added. If the Drivetribe model is successful, this recipe could be expanded to other interest areas, such as food, fashion or music.
A spirit of competition between tribes and individual users, as well as existing content prompting the creation of new posts, is a core part of fuelling the platform, where the vast majority of posts come from community members.
"The tribe format immediately encourages competition. Using the on-board diagnostic tools in the content-creation studio, tribe leaders can accurately measure the success of posts and of their tribe’s impact across the community," Richard Hammond told Journalism.co.uk in an email.
The types of posts most successful so far have been videos and image galleries, and Schmitt said they are planning to support more immersive types of content, including 360-degree videos and live experiences.
"We created an event and people came in the thousands and enjoyed the occasion," said Hammond. "We enjoyed it too and had another go, this time under the banner of Radio Drive Tribe – albeit still as a written form question and answer session. Many asked that we do it in actual radio form, and we are now investigating doing just that. So that’s an idea and an opportunity to create and share new content that simply wouldn’t have existed without the platform itself generating it."
Drivetribe is planning to roll out its personalisation technology in the next few weeks, but while start-up founders have a period of time away from the public eye to test and iterate, Schmitt said the team is feeling the pressure of the platform's high profile.
"The yardstick by which we were being measured even on day one was ‘is this as good as a huge platform like YouTube or Facebook’. The challenge that we've got is the challenge of expectation."
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