By Daniel Roberts, reporter
FORTUNE -- AOL hasn't had much luck keeping its top editorial talent. The exodus of writers from website TechCrunch earlier this year was only the latest embarrassing black eye for the struggling Internet company. Now, another former AOL editor -- Joshua Topolsky, who left gadget blog Engadget in March -- is about to launch a competitor, The Verge. His partner in the venture is Jim Bankoff, previously the president of AOL's web properties and now CEO of SB Nation, a family of sports sites based in Washington, D.C.
Bankoff, Topolsky and The Verge co-founder Marty Moe -- another former AOL (AOL) executive -- have been talking up the new site for months. Their larger plans have been little publicized until now, however. They hope to build a fully fledged online media company, a goal that will be announced November 1 alongside The Verge's launch. The company (Fortune was asked not to reveal its new name) will function as the parent organization to The Verge and all the SB Nation sites, as well as potential future verticals.
The irony of three former AOL staffers leaving to build a firm that sounds rather like their ex-employer is not lost on them. But they believe they can do it better than potential competitors, publishers like Gawker Media and The Huffington Post.
Bankoff insists that step one is establishing a big audience for The Verge. Despite leaving behind a widely recognized brand, Topolsky in particular is encouraged by the performance of a placeholder site, This Is My Next, on which he and others have been posting in the interim. The site has racked up a total of 10 million page views total and has 3 million unique views per month. Not a bad take after just five months and with only a handful of stories posted each day.
But will techies really flock to a blog backed by a network of sports sites? Bankoff says The Verge will not be a vertical within the SB Nation sites but, rather, a standalone site. Users that visit may not be aware of its affiliation with SB Nation at all. (The sites will share technology, so a user registered with one will also be set up for the other.) To help the site take off, the company is also banking on Topolsky's personal brand. He is a technology columnist for The Washington Post and appears on NBC's Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Illustrating this, Moe puts his hand in the air and exclaims, "Pogue. Mossberg. Topolsky."
Perhaps. But The Verge will face stiff competition in the breakneck world of gadget coverage. It will fight it out for attention with Engadget, TechCrunch, Gawker's Gizmodo, CBS' (CBS) CNET, Time Inc's (TWX) Techland and The Wirecutter, a new site helmed by former Gizmodo editor Brian Lam. Topolsky will have 12 of his former Engadget colleagues working for him at launch to tackle those sites.
Still, The Verge has a lot going for it. Fortune previewed slides of the site's design, which sports a clean layout that looks more like a magazine than a typical blog. The underlying technology platform, meanwhile, is "very flexible," Topolsky says. It will allow writers to move content around quickly, providing tools Topolsky says weren't available to him before. "Everything we tried to do at Engadget, we hit this brick wall," he says. "When I met with Jim and saw what they were doing on the technology side at SB Nation, we thought, 'Oh, this is what we want.'"
The venture has also attracted big-name advertisers, including BMW at launch, and investors like Accel, Comcast Ventures and Khosla.
To win, Topolsky will have to build an audience much like the one Engadget enjoys. That means a near-constant stream of new posts and exciting scoops -- no matter the design of the site or underlying technology. Topolsky smiles, admitting, "We'll still run a leaked Motorola (MMI) slide if we get it."
A move to "streamline" an epic legal battle has only made it more complicated
There was some confusion in the tech press last Saturday when Bloomberg reported that Samsung had quietly dropped a countersuit filed in California in response to Apple's (AAPL) charge last April that Samsung had "slavishly" copied Apple's iPhone.
"One down, one to go?" wrote Christopher Trout for Engadget.
Hardly. As FOSS Patents' Florian Mueller reported Wednesday, what Samsung did MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Jul 7, 2011 5:31 AM ET
A curated selection of the day's most newsworthy tech stories from all over the Web. Sign up to get the newsletter delivered to you everyday.
AOL plans to layoff several hundred employees starting today in editorial and other media product groups, as well as jobs in India -- areas like network and ad sales should remain unaffected. The move comes as AOL restructures its editorial division after MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Mar 10, 2011 5:00 AM ET
It appears that Sprint will join T-Mobile in carrying the Google phone, except Sprint's will do 4G/WiMAX.
Engadget received some interesting new information on Sprint's (S) upcoming phone announcements over the weekend. Along with what is called an EVO 3D and EVO View tablet, Sprint will be doing their own version of the Nexus S built by Samsung. Sprint's version will be labeled '4G' and obviously also carry WiMAX radios.
Going to Sprint.com/nexus yields MORESeth Weintraub - Mar 7, 2011 9:41 AM ET
Similar charts have been published, but Engadget's is the best we've seen
Apple's (AAPL) edge over Motorola (MOT), Hewlett Packard (HPQ) and Research in Motion (RIMM) would be clearer if Engadget had included price, availability and number of apps.
You can get the original here.
Also on Fortune.com:
iPad 2: The analysts weigh in
Apple posts iPad 2 keynote video
Why aren't there cheaper tablets?
[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]Philip Elmer-DeWitt - Mar 3, 2011 7:02 AM ET
Looking for a good video intro to the Mac's new OS? This one's the best we've seen
Anyone who downloaded the first developer release of OS X Lion from Apple (AAPL) last week had presumably signed a nondisclosure agreement promising not to breath a word of it (unless it was something Apple had already revealed on its website, its press release, or the demo Steve Jobs and Craig Federighi gave last MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Mar 1, 2011 5:54 AM ET
A curated selection of the weekend's most newsworthy tech stories from all over the Web.
Still revved up from last night's Super Bowl shenanigans? You can relive the best parts -- or well, the commercials at least -- via YouTube's annual AdBlitz voting contest here. And if that's not enough, check out CNNMoney's excellent roundup of rejected ads for extra laughs. (YouTube and CNNMoney)JP Mangalindan, Writer - Feb 7, 2011 6:00 AM ET
Leaked images reveal details about the Google tablet's launch.
Whether or not Motorola's (MOT) Xoom is the official Google (GOOG) Tablet in the way the Nexus One and Nexus S are official Google phones is uncertain. However, when Google has shown of Android on a tablet, they've shown off the Xoom, both at Dive into Mobile and CES.
It is pretty clear Xoom is Google's go-to Android 3.0 tablet, though Toshiba and MORESeth Weintraub - Jan 23, 2011 3:08 PM ET
A curated selection of the long weekend's most newsworthy tech stories from all over the Web.A flurry of rumored iPad details hit the Interwebs over the weekend, adding more fuel to the flames. The thinner, sleeker Apple tablet could sport a dual-core 1GHz ARM CPU with a new SGX543 graphics and video core offering twice the processing power at the same clock speed, a new screen technology similar to -- but not MORE JP Mangalindan, Writer - Jan 18, 2011 6:00 AM ET
Matias Duarte talks Honeycomb and why there might not be any buttons on your next tablet or smartphone.
Here's a fantastic interview from Engadget with Matias Duarte, the man brought in to polish the Google (GOOG) Android interface in May.
You couldn't ask for a more impressive resume. He's the guy behind one of the first smartphones, the Danger Sidekick as well as the Helio interface. Most recently, he came from Palm after the MORESeth Weintraub - Jan 14, 2011 9:52 AM ET
|Light bulb ban set to take effect|
|Netflix finds plenty of binge watching, but little guilt|
|Military retirees: You betrayed us, Congress|
|Military families worry about skyrocketing grocery bill|
|Worst year in history for bond funds: Investors yank record $72 billion|