Sun, Jul 05, 2009 - Page 19 News List

Keeping abreast of what Shaq’s Tweeting about

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Douglas Warshaw has a theory: Sports fans can’t read enough athletes’ Twitter posts, blog entries and Facebook messages but they need a simple, centralized way to keep in touch with the expanding digital load.

So he has built a Web site — Jockipedia.com — to prove that he is right.

“The Tower of Babel is getting bigger,” Warshaw, a lean, loquacious former network news and sports producer, said this week in his office. “The desire to find people will just get bigger. It just is. It’s like gravity. Every day, more and more athletes, not just the professionals, are doing this online.”

In the rapidly evolving universe that Warshaw wants to tame, athletes are talking past the mainstream news media to fans (and peers) in slangy, informative, amusing, contentious ways that can be as vivid as they are banal.

And teenage (or younger) athletes are digitally updating the world at an astonishing pace.

‘SEISMIC CHANGE’

The shift in the way athletes communicate was expressed last month by Shaquille O’Neal.

“I’m da reporter now,” he Tweeted in response to news media criticism of his Tweeted barbs at Dwight Howard.

“This is a seismic change,” Warshaw said, “not just in the obvious way that athletes market themselves, but of relating to other athletes.”

Jockipedia is, essentially, Warshaw’s way of capitalizing on the growth of O’Neal’s brand of journalism. It aggregates thousands of links to professional, college and high school athletes’ Twitter and Flickr feeds, blogs, personal Web sites, Facebook and MySpace pages, YouTube video channels and charity sites.

He said that Jockipedia could mine players’ various sites in a faster, more devoted fashion, than Google or other search engines could. The site operates on a Wikipedia-like format and invites users to create pages for athletes not listed and add missing links (or correct bad ones) on existing pages.

Warshaw likens it to an “interactive phone book that gives you the best of all conversations.”

Right now, the book is modest, with nearly 3,600 athletes, and others like Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks’ owner, and Pete Carroll, the Southern California football coach. About 40 percent of the entries have at least one link; increasingly, it is Twitter.

Warshaw’s goal is immodest and possibly outrageous.

“We’re going to have every athlete in the world,” he said.

That will take a lot of users’ Wiki-like assistance.

Jockipedia is not the first to aggregate athletes’ social media sites. The year-old SportsFanLive.com started its AthleteTweets sub-site, which now links to 260 players. David Katz, who created and runs the site, stuck to Tweets because they are more likely to be written by the athlete than a blog or a Web site post.

“The minute you think someone’s agent or PR person is doing it, it can hurt the athlete’s relationship with fans,” Katz said. “It’s nice to navigate to a Facebook or MySpace page. But the compelling, real-time experience is on Twitter.”

In his race to stay ahead of anyone who would copy his idea, Warshaw knows he must find ways to keep fans returning . He has to find ways to target advertisers and perhaps lure licensees of parts of the site.

And he has to ascertain that everything linked to Jockipedia is authenticated to fend off imposter or profanity-filled feeds. He said he was not worried, as the brand identity expert Dean Crutchfield jokingly suggested, that the authenticating a huge tide of feeds would require his staff to be “on crystal meth 24 hours a day.”

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