The NotCot Network: A Study in Structured User Generated Content

User generated content is a hallmark of the modern internet. Youtube, and Digg are classic examples of this. But a problem with online destinations that depend on user generated content is that there is no way to ensure the quality of the content. In practical terms, this often results in the devolution of a content platform into a repository for an anarchic collection of content. Blogs, another Web 2.0 hallmark, are all about a single (or at least focused) editorialized voice. In doing so they maintain strict control over what content is put on their sites. The NotCot network of websites seeks to find a balance between user generated content and editorial control with what it calls its model of “Curated User Submissions”

NotCot was founded in the spring of 2005 by Jean Aw, now 25, as an experiment in learning CSS, and by Dan Frysinger, then a web developer for Yahoo. Since then the network has grown from one site to four, covering design, fashion, and mixology. In doing so, the bootstrapped company serves approximately four million page views per month, while continuing to have only two full time employees and three part time ones, including Aw’s sister.

Two things define the NotCot experience, whether on, an editorially controlled design blog, and, curated sites about design and fashion respectively, or Liqurious, a curated site about fine wine, beer and spirits. First is that NotCot sites are fundamentally people powered, editorially moderated, vertically aligned, content aggregators. People scour the web for the best content and submit it to NotCot network sites. The editors then publish some of that content, and in doing so maintain a significant amount of editorial control, and ensure consistently high quality content.

The second defining feature of NotCot sites is the truly powerful user interface, which clearly comes from the shared UI background of the co-founders. By visually sharing content, and making the textual experience secondary, NotCot sites are able to create a simple and intuitive way to quickly absorb a significant volume of information, a necessity for any aggregator.

In targeting the design, fashion, and liquor verticals, the NotCot network has carved out a space in what are relatively large verticals, which are under served by the blogsphere. In talking to Jean it is clear that what started out as a side project has grown into something much larger. New projects are in the pipeline, which combine both her editorial passions and love for NotCot’s clean, crisp, design. Luckily those happen to coincide with the passions of a significant number of readers who want Jean to artfully curate and beautifully display the content they find out there in the vastness of the internet.