Rob has a very smart post, which sparked a thoughtful comments thread, over here. I was wary of even chiming in, considering how productive it has been without our input. I also don't want anyone to think there is a foolproof way to make it on the cover. But I thought I'd try to clarify a few issues that were raised by the post and in the comments:
1). If a story is on the cover, it should be an Editor's Pick. If not, it was oversight or error. When that happens, let us know.
2). All Editor's Picks won't make it on the cover. We just have limited real estate -- it's hard to get all the great content on there. We still hope that people will find that content through the Editor's Picks tab on the cover page.
3). Update times: We're still sticking to the twice-a-weekday publishing schedule though, you may have noticed, we're mixing it up a lot more in between those two publishing times, hoping to get more content on there, especially during heavy news cycles.
Again, I'm wary of adding to Rob's list because, the truth is, there are great posts we all swoon over that are often unclassifiable. One of my first bosses, a brilliant editor, used to say he was only looking for interesting stories to run in the magazine -- maddeningly vague, completely subjective and totally true. The best content can sometimes never be predicted. That said, some general suggestions for writing not just for the cover, but for your own audience:
• Be a great filter. A number of posts have made it to the cover by alerting us to some great story (or video) somewhere else. Cam's piece alerting us to Obama's appearance on O'Reilly; Stellaa's post on the riveting videos of Sarah Palin before her congregation; a wealth of entertainment gossip that others have posted. We're looking for quality, but we're also looking to build a vibrant magazine cover -- interesting, breaking news or fresh information helps a lot. (Tagging it "breaking news" helps in these cases.)
• Back up your points with links to primary sources. We don't know if you're an expert or not, but we can tell if you're grounding your provocative posts in fact.
• Write for your audience. Internalize what their needs are, what questions they have, what will be interesting to them. Maybe you're trying to build an audience of, say, orthodontists, ornithologists or Japanese pop-culture junkies. Your posts may not make it on the Open cover that often -- or ever -- so don't write for us, write for the people you want reading you.
• Upload a photo in your profile account. It's hard to want to invest time with a post whose writer can't take the time to upload a simple author image.
* Craft your headlines. Yes, we change them on the cover all the time (a lot of times, purely for space reasons). But in scanning through the Most Recent directory, a good headline (clever -- or even just very direct) can make a difference. Headlines, after all, are essentially ad copy. It's your hard sell.
Generally, on most days, there's just two of us reading through the day's offerings. It is, may I humbly say to you, a pretty great job. The quality is often remarkable. But it's a growing job, with 200 or more posts some days, a number that will only grow. We do rely on Ratings, we look at Most Read (which is getting a database upgrade -- but will return to the cover soon), we look at what's getting comments, we look at contributors who are consistently great. And still, we'll miss great stuff. But the cover isn't the ultimate metric. In the coming months, we hope to have traffic information easily available to all bloggers, so you can see just how many visits your posts get. I can tell you that your blogs are also getting scanned by those pesky Google spiders, and you're getting traffic from the big search engines, too -- some of the most popular posts on Open haven't even made the OS cover but made big connections in the larger Web universe. More on how to optimize that later (unless one of you want to blog on how to use Google to build your audience? Alert me if you do).
Also: the share buttons in the top right-hand corner of most posts can really be valuable -- a story that gets a lot of bookmarks on Digg or Reddit will get an awful lot of eyeballs outside of our universe.