Welcome back to another round of interviews with the Geeky Godfathers of the Interwebs. In our previous edition, which just so happened to be our inaugural voyage, we talked to Bill Ramey of Batman-On-Film.com. He started that Caped Crusader themed website in 1998, during the rise of geek blogs like Ain’t It Cool News and Dark Horizons, and has since become one of the largest destinations for Batman news.
Well, in today’s sophomore effort, we’re talking to Chris Picard of Scified.com. Although his site is a bit young, it’s steeped in geek culture, and that successful trait is revealed in its community. I don’t want to reveal too much, as Chris delivers a great introduction in the interview below, so read on for more!
UTF: First things first, if you had to introduce yourself in 3 sentences, what would you say?
Well, my name is Chris Picard, I’m from Ontario, Canada and I’ve always loved movies. However, I would have never thought I’d be running a network of websites 5 years ago. My jump to the web started as a hobby more than anything.
UTF: Every time I search for Godzilla news or Prometheus news, you guys are one of the first sites I see, (or at least one in your network). Could you tell us about Scified.com. When did you start it? Did you dabble in other sites before that?
This might be a long answer, but I’ll try to keep it short, haha.
It’s quite ironic actually, because I was never really an avid member on any website or forum. I wasn’t even a fan of computers. Growing up, I wanted to be a mechanic, and then through high school my interests turned towards fitness (which I still pursue today). But in my early high school years, I started to see new sites pop up as I would search for upcoming movies. I would come across a number of sites which would feature articles and interviews for these and I thought it was the coolest thing. I used to think “How do they do it? How do they make their site look like that? How do they post all this content?” I was completely oblivious to the process of running a website. After taking time to get to know people who ran these niche websites and do my own personal research, I figured out basic HTML/CSS and I slowly got started on PHP. I never took any schooling for web development or programming, I just read tutorials and broke down other websites to see how they worked.
I never liked working with WordPress, or pre-made software because I felt they were fairly limited in their potential. I mean, most freeware is. So, I wanted to see if I could create something of my own – something I could call my own. After a year of practice, I had a fair grasp on PHP and MySQL and that’s when I heard Ridley Scott was working on an Alien Prequel. The day they announced the title for it – “Prometheus”, I immediately bought the domain name “Prometheus-Movie.com” and used that as my testing ground for my own, new custom software. It was pretty bland at the start, and no real functions were present. I could post news and people could register, but the site was bare bones. Down the road as I learned more, I developed the site into something more interesting and it started to attract fans from all over the world. Within a year, we gained like 500 members I think, haha. But as Prometheus’ production took off, so did we. I always focussed on SEO (Search Engine Optimization) in my design, because I was going up against mega sites like IGN, IMDB, THR, et…, so I needed to find some way to get recognition. I forget when it was, but about a year before Prometheus came out, I attained a #1 rank on Google for the search term “Prometheus Movie”. That’s when things started to get fun. At the time I was working at a restaurant and bouncing at a night club as well as going to college, so money was tight and time was limited. I had to drop out of school my first year and take a semester off just to pay for the next semester (this was for a Fitness program, not computer programming, haha). But then I got a phone call, while sitting at home one day, and it was the director of digital publicity at 20th Century Fox, wanting to work with me and my website. Following our work with Fox, our traffic skyrocketed, ad revenue was steady enough that I could quit my other jobs and focus on getting a dedicated server and build my software to the point that it was more secure and better for the end user. During that time, I met a number of individuals who shared my passion for delivering top quality content for other fans like us, and they became my first site staff; helping with posting news and moderating the forums. After Prometheus ran its course, traffic started to die down, to around 30,000 hits per day. It was coming into winter of 2012 and more movies were coming out, like Pacific Rim, and I wanted to run more sites for them – following the success of Prometheus-Movie.com. I figured we had an established user base (at the time, almost 10,000) and so I began thinking of names for a “central hub” which we could use to house all the news from all the sites I ran. Originally, we started with “SciFiMoviesNetwork.com”, but that name was so cumbersome and ugly. After a month, I randomly thought of the name “Scified”, as if “to be scifi-ed”, if that makes sense. I ran it by the staff members, who were helping me conceptualize our goals, and they liked it – so I contacted the individual who originally owned the rights to it. I ended up purchasing it off of him for $200 and since then, I’ve rolled with Scified.com.
I’m happy to hear when you search for Prometheus or Godzilla news you see our sites – it’s one of the main focusses we have at Scified. With social media being such a strong influence on the success of your site, you really need to find ways to achieve the largest amount of coverage possible – so that’s why I make “sub-sites” we call them, to help draw in specific crowds – and then combine them with our more diverse user base and content later on, after they take the time to explore what we have to offer. It maintains that sense of “individualization”, but also allows for a wider range of opportunity for those who want it.
UTF: Does Scified.com have an office somewhere or do you guys operate through a “virtual office”? Is this your career, or do you have a day job? Is a career in geek news the end goal?
Not yet. Most site owners will agree, ad revenue isn’t stellar, and with so many sites, again, competition is fierce. So, currently we’re not at that level yet where we could sustain an office somewhere, so we use the “virtual office” for now. We’ve got global coverage within our staff though. A couple of them live in the UK, we’ve got some in the US, Canada and even one in Finland.
The end goal really, is to be THE place to go for Sci-Fi movie news, discussion and reviews. So many sites like IGN, ComicBookMovie.com, Collider, ScreenRant, etc… all focus on every upcoming movie. We have a specific genre – science fiction. We focus heavily on the sci-fi genre, more so than other sites. By us making “sub-sites” for select sci-fi movies, we again, show our dedication to the genre and to the fans which accompany it. We want to immerse people into the science fiction genre better than anyone else before – we want people to “get Scified”.
UTF: It’s my understanding that you have a whole network of movie-centric sci-fi sites that all feed into Scified.com, so that Scified is a sort of central hub. How did that idea develop?
That’s right. It’s the home base for all our network operations. Prometheus-Movie.com was our flagship website in the beginning, but since then, Scified has taken over – offering news from every site we host as well as general news for movies we might not have an independent site for. The idea developed due to the fact that people on Prometheus-Movie.com had no idea they could post on a Godzilla forum, or a Jurassic Park forum. The sites were too segregated and so – we needed a means to bring them all together, while still maintaining each individual site’s own unique presence. Since I coded every website by hand, from the ground up, I knew the inner workings of each one. The process of combining databases was a massive headache and drove me to drink excessively, haha, but after a couple weeks, I had merged all 5 sites (at the time) into one giant database. So, for example, you could go on your profile page and see all your posts from every site you visited instead of having to filter out one by one. Also the feeds in our sidebars were now able to direct people to each specific site based on where a post was made from. The same went for news – you could see all the news in the Scified homepage, or see specific news for a particular film on its respective sub-site. But, all links led to the same spot, making it a seamless integration.
UTF: If you had it your way, would you write all of the content strictly for Scified.com’s domain? It sounds like handling so many other websites can be a pain in the neck.
Well, technically that’s how it is already. Whenever I or a staff member wants to post news, they always post it through Scified.com. We simply select the proper site it will be linked to (or category if no sub-site exists) and then the functions I created do the rest of the work for us. Everything is handled through Scified.com. We also have various approval systems in place to prevent spam, and those can be viewed by staff on any site across the Scified network also. With so many sites to manage, you’re right – it would be a ton of work and a great pain. So I developed ways so that staff and I can manage pretty much everything from Scified.com alone.
UTF: I’m looking at the footer on scified.com, and it says you have over 126,000 posts!!! Is that all proper articles? Or does that include image files as well? 126,000 posts in one year is insane!!
The post count in the footer is more so tallying up our member contributions. We’ve got 53 pages of news articles written specifically by staff or I, with roughly 25 posts per page. So we’ve only got just over 1320 staff-written news articles in our database. But the beauty of Scified, and more so now, is that not all of our news comes from the staff. Some of the best news sources are from our own members, who post up their finds in forum topics or now, more recently, their own “Scified Sites” – which can be featured on the Scified.com homepage news feed, like a staff-written article.
The goal we’ve been working towards is to put the power of promotion in the hands of the fans. That’s why I recently launched the ‘Scified Sites’ platform. It lets members start up their own mini blog-style website on the Scified network where they can post news, previews or whatever on their own, customizable site. I haven’t even factored those post counts into the footer count yet, so that number is actually even bigger, haha.
UTF: After looking at your about page, you guys seem almost like a legitimate advertising platform for studios. Are you? Do you have a strong relationship with some of the studios’ pr teams? Is that something that interests you?
We are certainly working towards that, yes. We’ve had the privilege to work with some studios in the past to help promote their films, but not as exclusive marketing partners. We’ve got contacts at Paramount, Fox, Legendary, Warner Bros, etc… and hope to someday soon, be one of their go-to sites for setting up promotional campaigns and viral marketing. We might be doing something for SONY’s new RoboCop movie, but that’s still in the negotiation stage as of this week. But that could be our first real big gig for being an advertisement / marketing platform for a studio.I always tell people, my favorite part of this “job”, is getting to meet people in the industry who make these films possible. I remember when Pacific Rim came out, I wrote an article, called it “10 reasons why Pacific Rim is a must see this summer”, or something like that and I remember getting an email from one of Warner bros. PR reps, who was working on the film, wrote me saying Guillermo del Toro read the article loved it and sent us all a big Mexican hug. That was a highlight for me, because I’m a huge fan of his. But even getting to know the PR and (more often) the Legal Departments, haha, are a great thrill. To get an email from Warner Bros, or Fox, regardless if it’s a “please take this image down” or a “we love what you’re doing” message, it’s really cool for me. I know there’s larger sites out there who seem to go for coffee with film producers every week, but we’re just starting out, so to be able to be recognized by these studios and those who represent them, it’s an amazing honor and I would absolutely love to work with them more closely to help promote their films. It’s what our sub-sites set out to do.UTF:
UTF: Your site network is absolutely massive. How many people do you have on staff? Are all these articles created by you guys or do you have a volunteer group of writers?
The primary force of Scified.com consists of less than 10 volunteers at this point. The majority of articles are posted by me, and a few others, while other staff, tend to focus on moderating our many forums. We’re slowly growing to a comfortable size. We’re still relatively “small” being online only barely a year. I plan to open up more positions to volunteers if they want to help out and down the road, make the site a legitimate business for those who contribute on a daily basis. But at this point, we’re just a group of dedicated fans with a goal that we’ll keep working towards.
But again, the release of our new ‘Scified Sites’ platform, gives more people the opportunity to write for us. We simply select which ones are the best written and relevant and we can feature them on our news feed – giving the author of the actual post full credit by simply redirecting to their original post. No need for staff to double post, which makes our job a lot easier as well. So, we may only have less than 10 writers on-staff, but we’ve got 20,000+ members who can provide rich content as well.
UTF: What sites do you view as your competitors? I know when we started up we wanted to rival ComicBookMovie.com, even though that was more of a friendly rivalry than a strict competition. Do you have any similar sentiments towards any sties?
I like to think of those other sites as friendly competitors, but on different levels. Like we’re dedicated to science fiction, while ComicBookMovie.com focuses on, well, everything. I guess they would be considered competition, since from what I know they also offer a means for their members to run their own fansite and simply feature user-contributed articles as their news. It’s like our new ‘Sites’ platform, but again, somewhat different. I like to think we offer more options to the site “owner”, like the ability to edit color schemes, graphics and what not for their site, but again, I’m not sure what CBM offers their contributors in that category. Aside from CBM, I guess we’d have competition with sites that also deal with sci-fi specific content, like ScifiNow, or ScienceFiction.com, but again, I try to bring something different to the table. In many cases, it’s our network of sites in addition to the Scified.com hub. Ultimately though, we tend to focus heavily on us alone. We credit our sources, whether they’re competitors or not. We play the “fair” game and we don’t allow slander of other sites on our forums or comments sections. I’d rather have more friends than enemies – makes life easier, haha.
UTF: You list the number of views that each article receives on Scified.com’s homepage. Which of your sub-sites receives the most views? About how many views in total do you guys get a month? Is it constantly growing? Or do you see a significant fall off after the release of a certain property?
Hard to say which one gets the most traffic. It really depends. For instance, right now, Godzilla-Movies.com is getting a ton of traffic with the new Godzilla movie coming out. But before that our Jurassic World site (JurassicWorld-Movie.com) was in first place. Prometheus2-Movie.com also continues to rake in traffic, but Scified is becoming more of the “go-to” site. We’ve noticed it’s global rank increase significantly in the past 5 months and it continues to grow steadily.
Our article views range from 1,000 views in the first day to 100,000 views. It’s hard to judge, since even older articles continue to get viewed today. But if we were to compare the views of articles only, I’d have to say our Prometheus and Godzilla news articles gain the most attention of all the posts we make. They’re hot movies with massive followings, so it’s expected.
Once a movie comes out, we do notice a slight decrease, but we never go completely dark. To give you an idea, our Prometheus site made over 4 million hits in June, 2012 when the film came out. It continued to hold steady at 80,000 hits per day for months. Then I upgraded the domain name to Prometheus2-Movie.com and traffic went up again. Part of it is the fact that even after a film has come out, we keep promoting fan discussions on our social feeds, so we try to keep the movie and content relevant, which helps keep the sites afloat.
I mean, just last week, our Pacific Rim Facebook page surpassed 100K likes and when Pacific Rim came out we were at barely 50K. So, in some cases it would seem we get more popular following a movie’s release, haha.
But as for monthly traffic, we hold steady at around 1.3 – 2 million hits per month now, with no movies coming out. That traffic will spike when movies like Godzilla, Interstellar, Mad Max, etc… hit theaters, but we’ve accumulated enough of a returning user base that it keeps the sites healthy even in the absence of news and any new releases.
UTF: With that in mind, how do you go about choosing your new sites? With Avengers: Age of Ultron and Batman Vs Superman on their way to theatres, they seem like they’d be great new opportunities for your system of affiliated sites. Are those properties you’ll create sites for? Or do you have a harder sci-fi qualification that must be met?
Funny you should ask. I was never a huge fan of superhero movies, not like I was with sci-fi. However a couple of my staff are hard core hero fans and urged me to consider branching out into that genre. Problem is, that would make us like every other site out there and thus, we’d lose our “edge” in a way. So, in a compromise, I decided to give them a corner of the network to use to promote superhero movie news, without cluttering the content of Scified.
It’s still not 100%, but we do have “Heroes.Scified.com” online. It features a new theme and news specific to superhero / comic book movie news. We’re still working on a way to better integrate it with Scified.com, without too much clutter, but it is there.
In terms of our hosted network or “sub-sites”, for now I’m keeping those to sci-fi only… although I do own a Venom Movie domain name, if they ever decide to make that one. I’d be down for a Venom movie; he’s somewhat sci-fi in a way, so I could justify it, haha.
UTF: More on that, what sites do you have planned for the future? It seems like sequels and known properties would grant you the most traffic, but there is a bit of a Sci-Fi renaissance in Hollywood, with original movies like Pacific Rim, Oblivion, and Edge of Tomorrow taking up release dates, and those fanbases form after the film’s released, not in the buildup.
Absolutely! I mean, I plan to use the domains I have for future sequels. I started this new trend with the Godzilla site. Instead of buying “Godzilla-Movie.com”, I bought “Godzilla-Movies.com”, so I could span it out across the classic films, the new 2014 reboot and any sequels that follow. I’ll be looking into similar ventures with other franchises in the future for sure.
For movies which are just starting to develop a fan base, that aren’t considered “stand alone” films, I’m planning to launch similar sub-sites, but as a subdomain to Scified.com. So, if I were to make one for Edge of Tomorrow, I’d probably go with “EdgeofTomorrow.Scified.com”, and make a custom site like that.
Managing individual domain names is a (costly) pain in the ass, especially when keeping users logged in. Like, Scified.com lets you save your session in a cookie, but you need to log in on each different domain name separately. I haven’t cracked a secure way to get around that yet. But having subdomains would not be an issue since cookies can be shared across any subdomain no problem. So I think the future will be scified subdomain sites, once Scified gets large enough to sustain it.
UTF: What is the future of geek blogs? Do you think these niche sites are going to keep going strong? Or do you think there’s a ceiling to how many the internet can support?
I’m sure there’s many opinions on this subject, but I think we’re coming to the end of these massive, corporate run social media sites like Facebook. The beauty of niche sites is that they’re specific to an certain interest. If you like the movie “Alien”, well you can either go to an Alien niche site, which has images, info, news and forums for just Alien, or you can go to a Tumblr blog for Alien and get a fraction of the experience. Niche sites are for hard core fans. Tumblr and Facebook and sites like that are more for general public who don’t care as much I find.
The future will be a healthy balance of both and that’s what I’ve tried to set out to create.
I know it works, because more often than not, I’ve had members message me and be like “This is the first forum I’ve ever joined, I love it”, I had a 50 year old man email once, saying how he loved how different my sites were. He never joined Facebook, but he joined Scified. It’s about finding what triggers people’s enthusiasm and presenting it to them in a way that doesn’t seem overly cumbersome or intimidating. That’s where I think the future is headed – a healthy mix of specialization and generalization used to tap into the interest of readers.
UTF: Alright, now I have to get you in trouble… what’s your favorite site out of the many you own?
Tough question! Besides Scified, I would probably have to say my Prometheus site. It’s what started it all. Alien has always been my all-time favorite film and the Prometheus site was the first one to put my name on the map. I got to work with Fox, I even had Fox.com linking to us at one point. It was a thrill and jump started this hobby-turned career. Not to mention – it attracted such a rich variety of individuals to contribute their ideas and opinions. The Prometheus forums were bumpin’ and we had the best conversations taking place. People would talk for hours, 24/7 about the smallest details – and this was before the first trailer dropped! Haha.
But closely following Prometheus is my Godzilla site. I grew up with Godzilla since I was 5. To see a new modern day re-creation, I feel like a kid again and our Godzilla forums are really attracting some great contributors too. It’s just a dream come true to have created an impact on those who follow the movies which shaped my childhood.
So, to answer the question – Prometheus2-Movie.com is my personal favorite. It’s got that special place, you know? It’s what started it all.
UTF: Your top 5 news pieces of the year?
If we’re gauging the results by number of views, I could list off a few articles which performed very well. But many older articles keep getting hits even though they’re outdated. But here’s 5 of our top stories of the past year:
Our top article by far was: http://www.prometheus2-movie.com/news/1234 – when we reported an interview with Ridley Scott saying Prometheus 2 was well on its way. That article gained nearly 200K reads.
– When we received the first word on Prometheus 2’s development and potential casting addition.
– Our article which announced the start of the new Godzilla movie’s viral marketing campaign. Over 25K reads on that one.
– When we leaked an image which showed Godzilla’s new look – got over 45K reads and went viral for a few days before we were asked to take the image down.
– When one of our members re-created the Godzilla comic-con trailers in comic-form. They were pretty accurate and gave non-attendees a look at what to expect from the next film. That gained over 56K reads.
As you can see, Prometheus and Godzilla are our strong suits right now, but I expect soon Jurassic World and Interstellar will take over as more news on those films start to heat up.
Our Pacific Rim site (PacificRim-Movie.net) only got popular nearing the film’s release, since it was a new franchise – not many people knew what it was. So, now it’s popular, but throughout most of 2013, it was not.
UTF: What’s your favorite article that you’ve written?
Well, I’ve never had any experience in journalism prior to starting my websites. I never took any classes on how to properly report, I just write how I speak. I try to bring a casual tone to everything article I write. But I do think I’m improving the more I write. So, I’d have to choose a more recent post. I’d probably go with my “10 Reasons Pacific Rim is a Must-See Film This Summer” article, only cause it got the recognition of director Guillermo del Toro and many others.
Here’s the link to it: http://www.pacificrim-movie.net/news/939
UTF: What article on your sites do you think is your best brand ambassador? What would be the one article you’d tell new readers to check out?
Hard to say, since we’re so diverse with our film coverage. It would depend on who I’m speaking to. If I know they’re a Prometheus fan, then I’d have a bag full of options. But, it’s difficult to choose just one out of all of them, hahaha.
But for the sake of answering the question, I’ll say I’d probably show one of our “Top 10 Tuesday” features which we periodically do. This one I wrote back in September, and it was a to showcase the “Top 10 Upcoming Sci-Fi Movies You Won’t Want To Miss”, here’s the link: http://www.scified.com/news/1168
That’s all for now. I wanted to give a massive thank you to Chris for taking the time to answer our questions. We’re really pscyhed about his site and can’t wait to see how it develops in the future.