DZone Founder Rick Ross Interview

Rick Ross of DZoneI first discovered DZone in one of those social media link building lists, but unlike most other cookie cutter social media sites, I ended up actually getting involved and yes, enjoying the content (a lot more lurking than collaborating given my shabby web development skills).

DZone is one of the few social media sites specifically for developers. It’s a great place to get your finger on the pulse of web development and build your knowledge about the latest in the field.

I recently had the pleasure of learning more about the man behind DZone, Rick Ross. Thanks, Rick for taking the time to let Clickfire readers get to know you.


Can you tell us a little about yourself and how the idea of DZone got started? How did it go from simply being an idea to a functioning social media site?

Matt Schmidt, Mike Urban, and I were sitting in my study taking about what we liked and didn’t like about the various services like Delicious, Digg, and other social bookmarking sites. We loved the concept of “collaborative filtering” where the community is empowered to choose what will get promoted, but none of the major sites really served the specific needs of technology developers very well. With typical programmer hubris we convinced ourselves that we could build something like that in a week. Famous last words! We got to work, and about six months later we were ready to begin testing the service. If we had realized how complicated it would be to do a good job, then I don’t know for sure whether we’d have built it. I’m glad we did.

We actually launched three years ago this week! We hit the front page of Digg the very first day, so our newborn baby got a real test. It was a “sink or swim” moment, and fortunately we didn’t sink! I was proud that our new service was able to handle the load and continue operating smoothly. Of course, Digg and DZone have both grown a lot since then, but I’m still confident that we’re up to the challenge.

You’ve probably had a lot of experience in noticing which trends develop in these types of social communities. What are the types of posts that find success on DZone? And what are the topics that don’t seem to fly?

This page shows the most popular links at DZone in the past 30 days (by votes), and this other page  shows the most popular links in the past 30 days (by clicks.) As you can see, the lists are not identical, which raises a question about what constitutes “success” for a link at DZone?

I tend to think real success is a combination of both votes and clicks, and links that reach the highest success usually have a clear, strong headline that leads to a story with broad appeal and relevance. In truth, it is not possible to spend too much time choosing your articles headline/title. This single factor has more power to get your link noticed than anything else!

On a different level, the trend that is most on my mind is people’s tendency to slip into the role of passive consumer, failing to recognize that even a small amount of active participation will have a huge impact on the site. We’re actually working on a new program to encourage active voting participation among DZone members. The program is called “VALUED” and stands for “Vote A Link Up Every Day.” If our members vote a link up every day, even just one link, it’s active participation that every social bookmarking system needs. Without this active participation, the entire system has less energy than it should to really get the best links posted on the front page.

Web developers are probably aware of plenty of Web sites that are out there that cater to them. What need does DZone fill that separates it from other sites built for Web developers?

That’s an easy question. DZone Refcardz, our series of technical cheat sheets, definitely separates us from other sites for Web developers. We commission bestselling tech authors and top experts to create 5-6 page quick-reference guides on all the most important topics for developers and designers. They are professionally edited and designed, and subscribers can download them for free in Adobe PDF format. For just over a year we have been releasing a new one each week. With over 50 topics now available I wouldn’t be surprised if DZone Refcardz has become the world’s largest collection of professional cheat sheets. The momentum behind Refcardz is really starting to build, and we’re quickly approaching our one-millionth download. For developers who can’t afford the time or money for a whole book, DZone Refcardz are a great alternative.

DZone advertises itself as providing “fresh links for developers,” and its link queue features constant link-sharing. Essentially, DZone could be described as a “ for Web developers.” Is this a fair description, and if not, what separates you from Digg other than your focus?

While is a social bookmarking site for Developers, as Digg is for other topics, DZone in entirety offers so much more than that. For starters, DZone Snippets offers thousands of freely shared source code examples. Our topical zones on Architecture, Agile, Java, CSS, and more offer excellent feature articles and presentations. Also, DZone Refcardz, mentioned above, go far beyond just social bookmarking.

DZone definitely seems to have its niche carved out well – users know what they go to DZone for and what kind of topics they can expect NOT to find at DZone. Does working in such a strong niche serve as an advantage and if so, is it simply because Web developers are more active Web users?

Our laser focus on developers and designers is our core strength. We evaluate each and every link submitted to our system to consider whether it is appropriate for our core audience. If it’s not, we nuke it. DZone users expect our content to have this focus and it is our goal to make sure we satisfy that expectation. There are a million places to find links of general interest, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere better than DZone if what you want is developer links.

Any Web developer knows that building a new type of Web site from scratch isn’t always smooth – there are always some obstacles to be encountered. What are some of the obstacles DZone has encountered, or is still encountering?

A major obstacle has been the “passive consumer,” as discussed above. Another obstacle is that people don’t realize how worth while it is to put a little effort into writing effective headlines and summaries and making sure what you have to say is attractive to your intended audience. For example, someone actually posted a link today with a one word title “webinar” and a two word description. This may have been a great webinar, but nobody is going to respond to such a poorly crafted submission. I believe that the effort you put into your presentation pays for itself quickly.

On the technical front, we’ve run into the obstacle of getting people comfortable with using unfamiliar tools. To move the state-of-the-art forward, we really need to deliver tools that operate differently than what people are accustomed to right now. Human beings don’t like change, which creates significant barriers to the option of new features. We can build it, but will they use it?

What role has DZone played in spreading any popular memes online? Have you spotted any particular viral links that might have gotten their start at DZone?

There have been several occasions on which we have seen that a link will appear first on DZone and then subsequently make its way to reddit, Digg, delicious, Slashdot, and more. Good information moves very quickly through multiple channels and we’re proud that, in many cases, this information starts at DZone.

We probably have a good idea of what drives DZone’s popularity, as well as the popularity of social media sites as a whole. But what kind of business model have you adopted behind the scenes in order to support the site?

We are never shy about sharing a mantra we learned a few years ago on a visit to Microsoft: “This is a business.” In fact, we have shortened it to just TIAB, and everyone on the DZone team knows it means we have to earn our keep every day. We offer lots of different ways to create value for our sponsors, and we work hard to do a great job without compromising our members. Developers are more technically savvy than the average internet user, so they have a high standard of expectation and low tolerance for nonsense. Whether it is white papers, banners, text ads, or email newsletters, we pride ourselves on working creatively with sponsors to help them reach this difficult and demanding audience.

DZone Screen Cap

Emory Rowland

I'm editor and keeper of the flame at Clickfire, fanatical social media blogger and builder of Internet things from way back. My love for social media and success with organic search led me to start my own consulting company. Apart from the Internet, I could be considered pretty worthless. More...


  1. Pingback: Thanks for the interview, Clickfire @ Rick Ross Tries To Think

  2. paul

    hot new news! i like it.. im a web designer and want to develop a lot more, so this will be a great resource!

  3. this is very fine

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