Over the almost five years I have been a 'writer' at Off Tackle Empire, one of the interesting things I have been privy to is the way we get clicks on the site. Sometimes, it is genuinely a viral thing. Like, something we write is actually really interesting and people share it organically via twitter or facebook. Other times, it's timing. For example, last year, my most read power poll was the one where I did a Ryan Adams covering Taylor Swift Power Poll. But really, one of the surest ways to get the word out is when the guys from HuskerMax take time to read and post the stuff I get out there about Nebraska.
If you aren't sure what HuskerMax is, go check it out. It is arguably the surest way to get a broad look at all of the best articles about Nebraska sports each day, and definitely has some of the most Huskercentric features out there. From game guides of Nebraska going back to, well, forever, to their own content, HuskerMax does an excellent job of giving fans what they crave - content.
And - for full disclosure - while I have benefited greatly from a link here and there, I would also like to just say that talking to Joe and David is always pretty fun too. So, since it's Nebraska week and they've been kind enough to bring us some traffic, I wanted to get their thoughts on how HuskerMax came to be, what they thought about the changes over the 20 years they've been doing this thing, and even a few thoughts on 2016. They were kind enough to oblige me with real answers, and I think you'll enjoy hearing their point-of-view on the Huskers, and really, how a team with such a huge following finds its information.
Without any further ado, Joe Hudson and David Max!
Hi guys, thanks for taking time to answer some questions about the site. For our friends at Off Tackle Empire, give us some insight on HuskerMax's origins. Like, how in the world did the site become one of the de facto aggregate sites in Husker Nation? Did you go into it expecting it to be a big thing or is this kind of just one of those perfect time things? Do you know how many clicks you drive a day? What keeps this going 20+ years later?
JH: For me, it started as a hobby in early 1995. We had just bought our first home computer, a Gateway that set us back four grand. Ouch! Anyway, being a displaced fan here in Colorado, I just thought it was cool that there was Husker coverage available at your fingertips. But you had to know where to look, because there weren't any true search engines yet. I figured I'd make it easier for other people by taking the links I was finding and posting them on a web page. And it just grew from there.
So yeah, the timing couldn't have been much better. The web was such a new thing, I actually had to explain to friends what a web page was.
David Max and I joined forces four years later. He had the good sense to add discussion forums. That isn't something I would've done, but they now are a major, major part of our traffic. And he did a lot of other social stuff like gameday tailgates and getting our name out there in other ways.
(I don't have click numbers, but maybe David does.)
Part of what helps keep it going is my own obsessive-compulsiveness, I guess. We've got game pages for every football game going back to 1962 (here's an example). I keep adding earlier ones, and I'd like to eventually have it filled in solid all the way back to 1890. I might be pushing up daisies before that ever happens, but I gotta try.
DM: Like Joe I got my first foray into the Internet around the same time. My background is in medicine and I had a patient that had a software program that blocked access to pornography and I started a web site to promote that around 1996. I surrounded it with passions I have, one of which is Husker football. My parents bought season tickets when they built the south end zone in 1964 and my brother and I still have those tickets and will be sitting there again this fall.
I was contacted by a group in Texas that had a "fans" network and they invited me to be the person to run huskerfans.com. In the interim I was building another web site for a friend for sub-prime auto loans. During that process I came across a site called AutoPedia and the owner actually contacted me about setting up a lead referral program. Long story short we partnered up and I left the fans network to start HuskerPedia. I was aware of Joe’s GeoCity site with all the content and reached out to him to be the content manager for HuskerPedia and I would handle the marketing. He agreed and we set up a two person partnership.
To make a real long story short my AutoPedia partner didn’t work out and he actually stole the HuskerPedia web site from Joe and myself and ran it as his own. I ended up suing him in Superior Court and won the lawsuit after almost two years of litigation. That is why it is now HuskerMax instead of HuskerPedia.
Back when Joe and I first launched HuskerPedia in the fall of 1999 we received over 400,000 page views the first month. Now it varies between 5 and 10 million page views depending on the season.
[ed note: OTE does not get 5-10 million page views each month. Come on people, GET CLICKING! - JC]
Okay, let's talk about you all and how you get to see the world a little bit. What are each of your favorite moments as a Nebraska fan? How about what was the hardest thing to watch as a fan? Do you see any specific trends on HuskerMax depending on wins/losses or is it pretty static as far as these moments?
JH: It's tough to single out a favorite moment. But I'll go with the Nebraska-Oklahoma game of 1971, which of course is the Only True Game of the Century That Ever Was or Ever Will Be. Excruciating anticipation, and then an absolutely phenomenal game. The worst? Probably the 1996 game at Arizona State. The score wasn't that bad, just a 19-0 loss, but how do you give up three safeties in one game? That's a special kind of ineptitude on offense.
When Nebraska loses, I get the sense there are fewer eyes on our front page and the game pages. But the discussion boards are whole different deal. People want to vent. Some people drink and vent. Bad combination. It can get awfully ugly.
DM: I have many memories of games that include the two games that Joe mentioned. I was at that Arizona State loss and it was not fun. The Game of the Century I was at a friend’s house in Shenandoah, IA. My Mom and I went to the 94 Orange Bowl game that we won over Miami to get that monkey off our back. I had three tickets and left the third seat empty in honor of my father who passed away in 1990.
Because of the web site I have met and become friends with a lot of former Husker players and coaches who I can call friends. Coach Osborne testified on my behalf at the Pedia trial and also sent flowers to my mother’s funeral. Johnny Rodgers and Jerry Murtaugh attended the funeral in person.
Another great non-game memory for me was on my Mom’s 90th birthday when I arranged telephone calls to her from Coach Osborne, Vince Ferragamo, Dave Humm and Roger Craig. It meant a lot to me that they would take the time to talk Husker football with her.
Larry the Cable Guy also stepped up to the plate when he invited Mom and I to go to a game in his sky box that had wheel chair access. It was the Kansas State game in 2007 that we won 73-31 so it was a good one to be her last in person game in Memorial Stadium.
A couple of more non-game memories that I have is the Through These Gates movie tour that I took in 2014 with the movie creator, Ryan Tweedy, who is a Lincoln native. We did over 50 fundraising screenings of the movie nationwide from August through December and only had to pay for a hotel room twice during that five months as Husker fans put us up just about everywhere we went.
The second is when the members of the bulletin board chipped in money to plant a tree in memory of my parents, Carl and Margaret Max, that was planted by the south end zone where our seats are located. I stop by it now on the way into every home game. It has grown from a seedling to over 20 feet tall.
What do you think you have learned most since starting and running HuskerMax? Are there any places on the web that have Nebraska stories that just sort of make you shake your head?
JH: What I've come to realize over the years is how little an offseason these football players really have. It's amazing there isn't more burnout. I mean, I can get a little burned out and all I'm doing is reading about it. Speaking of the offseason, that's when there are a lot of "stories" that drive me up the wall. Manufactured clickbait stuff. "The 25 Worst Coaches," "The 15 Most Obnoxious Fan Bases," that sort of thing.
DM: Joe is the expert on that and I try to stay out of his way. One of the main features of our site is the fresh links on the front page that Joe curates and picks by hand. He actually reads the articles and makes the determination if they should be included. He keeps it down to usually less than 10 a day other than game days. You could put up 100 or more a day but 90 plus wouldn’t be worth reading. People know that they can get RELEVANT content in the fresh links that are updated more than once a day.
You all also have your own content with a pretty huge following. Was that always part of the plan or is that just sort of the evolution of sports fandom? Like, get a great platform and you'll have a following if you're interesting. Do you see a large community because of either the links or articles, or do you see yourself as more of a portal into the huge world that is Nebraska Fandom?
JH: The portal aspect is probably the main thing, outside of the discussion forums. We've also got that trove of historical game information, which kind of makes us the go-to site when you're trying to remember details from 10, 20, even 50 years ago. The Omaha World-Herald actually used us as a source when producing a book about the Bob Devaney era. The OWH is pretty much the bible of Nebraska football, so that was kind of neat to see us in the acknowledgments. Except for that very first year, 1995, we've always had at least one columnist, starting with the great Colonel Mustard, and we've usually had several. But there really wasn't an original plan. Everything just sort of evolved.
DM: We have had many writers over the years and a couple have used that as a stepping stone to a "real" journalism job. It is not easy to create original content that isn’t hashed over in the main stream media and we have writers that write from a personal experience perspective. Two of our long term contributors are Tad Stryker and Husker Dan.
This is a preview week of 2016. What do you all think non-Nebraska fans should know about this upcoming season? Any chance that they will win the West? Could we be aiming even higher? Is Mike Riley going to get it done? Should the B1G fans be quaking in their boots when Big Red comes to town? I mean, probably not, but what are your thoughts on how this team is put together?
JH: Anything's possible, but I'm not betting on a B1G West title. Now that Year One is out of the way, team chemistry seems much improved, and so does the all-around grasp of schemes and assignments. But there are five conference road games, and not one is a gimme. There's so much inexperience on both lines. The offense is in good shape at the skill positions, especially wide receiver, but quarterback is a wild card. Will Tommy Armstrong be his UCLA self or his Iowa self? Ditto for the guy calling the plays, Danny Langsdorf.
DM: I am always a glass half full guy. Last year was pretty painful with many bad losses and poor performance on the field. Later in the season when players started buying into to the new staff it improved. I was at the UCLA Foster Farms game and that day they played like the Huskers of yesteryear. Didn’t panic when they got behind, had the punishing ground game and enough blend of passing to keep UCLA guessing.
I don’t expect to win them all but I expect a much better win-loss record in January.
Finally, give me any final thoughts you might have on how sports blogging, media, online coverage, 24/7 cycles, etc. has changed in your time at HuskerMax. You all have a specific view on that, and I would guess that your trend lines intersect with that pretty cleanly.
JH: It's a whole different beast now. Like you said, it's 24/7 instead of the old newspaper A.M./P.M. cycle. And I don't think it's a stretch to say the volume is 50 times what it was. Back then I was mostly searching, now I'm mostly weeding things out.
I do worry about the slow death of print journalism and how that will affect things. More quantity, less quality. More noise, less useful information. That's probably the future.
DM: I think Joe nails it. I think the fact that Joe does a great job of weeding out the junk is a main reason why our year over year traffic continues to rise. People don’t have time to do it themselves and the more social media there is just adds to the clutter. We may not be the only place where people go to get their Husker fix but we are a regular source for a half a million Husker fans.
Again, want to throw out a huge thanks to David and Joe for chatting with me and answering my questions. If you are looking for a good place to find all of your Husker content, go ahead and bookmark HuskerMax. They do really good work, and the game guides are probably worth the perusal no matter who you follow. Hell, you probably want to click on it more for some of the more gruesome game recaps. Either way, check them out.