Is this the new face of evil?

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Is this the new face of evil?

Gentle Reader,

It’s time we had a talk. Things haven’t been the best between us for some time, I think we’ll both admit. While some of you are holding this page in your hand, trying to keep our relationship alive, the Old Media Writer and the 21st Century Reader, I know some of you are online right now, reading this with one eye elsewhere.
And that’s not all you’re doing online.

Look, I know all about the late-night blogs, the comment threads with God knows how many others, the anonymous posters and the good-time websites that amount to a witty sentence or two. I know all about your little flings.

But I also know what we once had, the serious time that we spent together, me telling you exactly what was what, you taking it in with little to no chance to respond. Have I taken you for granted?

There are things that I have been loathe to give you in the past. A say in the matter? Sure, if you don’t mind waiting a week or two for your letter to my editor to run. A voice in the discussion? A conversation with other readers? My dear, that would simply be chaos.

Yet here you are, leaving me in the newspaper rack, barely even skimmed, as you skip off on your next New Media date. I see where you’ve been spending your time, gawking at Gawker and shuttling around the Web like some newly free 18-year-old, beer-drunk at his first frat party. And that’s fine, great, do what you want kid, but really, even I am shocked to see you ditching our quiet time together for post after post on that website. You know which one I’m talking about.

It’s time we had a talk, honestly. There are things that we both know I just don’t do for you, and that’s why you’re out browsing around. But we can make this work. I can change…I think.

The cacophony of a community weighing in on every story? The power shifted from writer to reader? The vandals over-running the journalistic wall we’ve spent the past century mortaring and cementing? Can I change? Can Old Media take its Web 2.0 beating, accept its snarky welcome to the Internet from the New Guard and keep its readers?
I know you want change, darling, but just how much can one fading informational empire do?

So before we both say our last goodbyes, just for old time’s sake give me a few moments of your time. Let’s try to remember what we once were. Let me dress up in that well-worn authorial Old Media Voice and tell you one last story, this one about a businessman named Kyle Redinger, the manchild who has made it his goal in life to hasten my demise.

In the beginning, there was Microsoft…

In October 2007, Business Week magazine featured two men from Charlottesville in its America’s Best Young Entrepreneurs issue. Among the photos of teens and 20-somethings in open collars and blazer/designer t-shirt combos is one of Kyle and his business partner Francesco DeParis leaned back in Captain of Industry leather chairs in full-on, take-no-prisoners, Always-Be-Closing dark suits, legs crossed, staring down at the camera.

And why not? Anyone with balls enough to ditch their financial jobs at a company like Microsoft—first jobs out of college for both—move to Charlottesville and start up a boutique investment bank smack dab on the Downtown Mall is damn sure confident enough to lean back in a leather lounger and look at Business Week photog’s camera dead in the eye.

Of course, this is just what Kyle did. After graduating from Western Albemarle in 2001 and UVA’s McIntire School in 2005, he sloughed off his hometown and, as so many young men with the gleam of a personal fortune in their eyes have done, he headed West. The Internet gold rush had come and gone ages ago—business years, like dog years, pass quicker. But a job in the guts of one of the county’s most influential capital behemoths is just too good a deal to pass up when you’re a born businessman.

Which, of course, is what Redinger is. He doesn’t say so, and instead tosses around labels like “business dork” or high school “wild child,” but the people around him, well, that’s the first thing they say when they hear his name.

But back to Microsoft and Seattle’s constant rain. It wasn’t for Kyle. When he left UVA for the West Coast, George Overstreet, a professor at the McIntire School who had served as a sort of mentor to Kyle guessed that he wouldn’t find roots in Seattle.

“I knew when he went out to the world of the big corporation of the West Coast that he won’t be long out there,” says Overstreet. “I didn’t think he’d be too taken with corporate America, large corporations. But that was a good experience.”

The Behemoth wasn’t for Francesco, either, who had come to the West Coast fresh out of Babson College in Boston. They both worked in the financial rotation program, spending six months in different parts of the Behemoth, doing analysis, looking at industry trends. The two met in the first days of the rotation program. Both were foodies, connoisseurs of cuisine and drink, and began hanging out, cooking together, hitting the bars.

And businessmen being businessmen, Kyle and Francesco turned their eye toward their first true love: doing deals.

“Both of us had not been very satisfied with the experience at Microsoft,” says Francesco. “Kyle was pursuing interviews on Wall Street, and I was thinking about leaving and starting my own business.”

So he set a deadline to leave the Behemoth, whether he had a job to go to or not.

“I needed to get out of the company,” Francesco says. “A project came along that I took on, and I realized that I needed someone else’s help.”
 
This was an outside deal, a little something on the side. While shuttling back and forth through Microsoft’s innards, Kyle and Francesco noticed something. There were small deals being done—$5 to $6 million companies, not big enough to warrant the attention of Wall Street but in need of help in navigating the acquisition and merger process.
 
So on the tail end of their run inside the Behemoth, Francesco and Kyle founded DeParis Redinger in June 2006, a boutique investment bank with one eye on those smallish companies that may be finance chum to bigger fish.
 
But the other eye is squarely on the state of media, and this, gentle reader, is where you and I come in.
 
Because in October 2007, just three months out from the bank’s creation, DeParis Redinger acquired a majority stake in cVillain, a website that, depending on whom you ask, is a blog, a media outlet, an online destination or a straight-up gossip site. Whatever it was and is, DeParis Redinger’s buyout of the site represented a salvo in the battle for you, the reader.

If Helen of Troy’s face launched 1,000 ships, then the battle for your unseen visage, my dear, will launch 10,000 online comment threads. For the last year, cVillain has been staking out its territory in the local New Media sphere, and its 4,000 unique page views and myriad voices are gunning for the mantle that’s occupied by Old Media.

And to some degree—one that is up for debate—Kyle Redinger is leading the charge. Because he’s got the finance degree and Microsoft background, sure. But he also has one of the things fueling the New Media’s ascent: youth. Plus, the man knows his technology. Combine that with a little marketing sense, a feel for where the Internet might lead us, and you’ve got the makings of a New Media empire.

This is, after all, the same Kyle Redinger who was behind a private marketing campaign to lobby online for people to vote DeParis Redinger into Business Week’s Top 25 feature. Because it wasn’t the bank’s résumé that earned DeParis Redinger a spot on Business Week’s top 25. Up to that point, it hadn’t even done a deal.

No, it was that viral online word of mouth, the Facebook campaign and mass e-communications to engage friends and business acquaintances to vote for them. And it worked. Those votes propelled them into rarefied media air, gave them a kind of legitimacy that doing a couple small business deals simply couldn’t. DeParis Redinger was media anointed, all on the back of online lobbying.

“That was kind of the moment,” says Kyle, “when I was like, ‘Well, the Internet works for long-tail marketing needs.”

We’re having a party

Hardcore cVillains know the two founders like evangelicals know Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—by heart and, perhaps more importantly, by pseudonyms. In the beginning, there were Thor and Lilith.

From its start in April 2007, cVillain was a rollicking walk through Charlottesville’s restaurants, bars and back alleys. It kicked its way into the local blogosphere with varying degrees of edge and wit, calling out restaurants’ lousy service, dropping this or that rumor, kicking the shins of Charlottesville’s Old Media for perceived slights and scoop thefts and generally raising a ruckus that readers took to almost immediately.


Kate Malay, a.k.a. “Lilith,” helped found cVillain. “At the time,” she admits, “I did not really know what I was doing.”

More than a year after the site’s debut, and eight months after DeParis Redinger acquired cVillain and its two sister sites in the Spicy Bear network, Kyle sits at a metal table in the middle of the Mall and begins to drop some serious knowledge about what cVillain is after and how its writers plan to get it.

“The funny thing is that we always told our writers, ‘The difference between what you’re doing and what a traditional publisher would do is that you’re a host at a party,’” he says. “You’re there to put out fires, to engage different opinions. But you’re not there to be an authoritative person.
 
“That’s not how you throw a party, right? If you were to throw a party like a traditional publication, it would be kind of weird. It would be like, ‘O.K., you drink now. You eat this now.’ No one wants to do that.”

As the site grew by word of mouth, it became what every late-night typer with a Blogger account dreamed of. Anonymous characters formed in the comment threads. Discussions were sparked by posts almost at will. cVillain became an online community.

As all this happened, DeParis Redinger had an eye on the site. Kyle began helping the two anonymous founders of cVillain on an informal basis. In October 2007, the bank announced that it had acquired a majority stake in the site. DeParis Redinger put some money into cVillain, though Kyle won’t say how much. In that way, the bank acted less as a consultant and more as a venture capital company.

And just like that, two nameless guerilla bloggers had done something the Old Media said was impossible. They had just monetized a blog.

It was a fun, local business to get involved in, says Kyle. “But at the same time, they don’t have capital. They don’t have the necessary infrastructure. They’re missing a lot of the things that would make it a business. So how do you take it to the next level?

“Well, you have to put in, eventually, professional management. You have to invest capital, which we did, and then raised a little bit more money. And then we decided to really take over and guide the strategic direction of that company.”

And this strategic direction is pointed squarely at the establishment. From the beginning, cVillain occupied a space that once was the domain of alt weeklies, the loud kid brother in the room, pointing fingers, cracking wise and making an overall and entertaining nuisance of himself. Once the upstart goes legit, though, that space becomes empty. Enter cVillain.

“Honestly, I think it’s a lot more like what a newspaper should look like,” says Kyle. “That is, engaging community members to have discussion and have a platform and information source for them.”

If New Media marches under a banner, it is little-“d” democracy. And no one understands this better than Kyle. Thanks to the interconnectivity and immediacy provided by the Internet, readers come to content with much different expectations than they did 10 years ago. The writer is no longer the lone voice, only to be challenged or added to after the fact.

New Media has flattened the informational landscape. Instead of being the Alpha and Omega, writers in the postdigital age will have to settle in playing the alpha. The blog post, the news story, the editorial—these are now simple starting points for a roiling, sprawling discussion. The omega belongs now to the masses.

And in a publishing economy that’s fast beginning to look a little more wasteland-y than the gate keepers would like, it’s a lesson that Old Media had better learn.

“We don’t want to be the authority on anything,” says Kyle about cVillain. “We just want to be a facilitator of that community. I think that’s how newspapers have always been. You’ve got this print product that’s tangible and important. And it’s hard to get in there. Now with the Internet, anyone can be on there, so how do you stay competitive if anyone can publish?

“Well, you stay competitive by having the most interesting discussion.”

And gentle reader, if you close your eyes and picture the comment thread for this story, recently added before what may be our last time together, you’ll see that we don’t have much of one.

To Old Media, the story’s the thing. But spend 20 minutes on cVillain, and you’re bound to clock five of them reading the posts. The other quarter of an hour will inevitably find you scrolling through comment threads that grow 80 and 90 comments deep.

So, my dear, that’s where you’ve been spending your nights.

Of course, you can always stay competitive by breaking news no one else has, providing unique insight and fresh writing. But in a publishing world that’s beginning to measure success more in unique impressions and less in unique coverage, the refresh button threatens to become mightier than the pen.

And so the party that was cVillain continued on into the night. The two hosts, Thor and Lilith, pointed the discussion in different directions, occasionally stepping in to put out flames. And it was a never-ending party. Multiple posts went up each day, friendships and rivalries formed, inside jokes flourished and the discussion seemingly never stopped while the two hosts kept it all rolling until one night one of them got tired, made the rounds, said her goodbyes and went to bed.

But the party didn’t end. Oh no, not this party. In fact, it was just getting started.

Secret’s out

In the beginning, as the readership grew in the months after cVillain launched, part of its draw was its mystery. Who were Thor and Lilith?

According to Kyle, Thor is now a composite, a pseudonym under which anywhere from three to five people post each day, though he started as the personae of a single writer. An interview over Google Chat with Thor confirmed this, as much as an interview over Google Chat can confirm anything.

But while Thor played the role on cVillain that one would assume a Germanic pagan god of thunder might—perpetually edgy, confrontational and full of dated slang—Lilith’s posts walked a line between double-barreled snark and polished prose with a grace that another writer—whose chief accessory is a hammer—wasn’t able to pull off. Readers soon put Lilith in her niche. She was the nice one.

She was also the cVillain writer who was trained in the world of the Old Media.

“It seemed to me that Charlottesville was this fascinating microcosm,” says Kate Malay, a.k.a. “Lilith.” Malay, who graduated from UVA with a major in media studies, was one of cVillain’s two founders. She has a background in journalism; her byline appeared in Fredericksburg’s Free Lance-Star and UVA’s The Declaration.
 
“There was no shortage of interesting things to write about. I don’t know that what we were going to be writing about was immediately clear. At the time I did not really know what I was doing.”

Like Kyle, in 2007 Kate had just returned to Charlottesville. She was fresh from Austin, Texas, and just beginning her personal education in international cuisine, dining at high-end restaurants, doing tasting menus and reading chefs’ biographies.

The original Thor soon approached Kate with an idea. What about creating a website dedicated to Charlottesville’s nightlife, its dining, everything that people talk about when they are out on the town? At the time, Thor had already acquired two website domains for such a site. One for a site called “Cville In,” the other for “cVillain.”
And so they began.

“My family read it, a couple of close friends knew I was doing it,” says Kate. “ I was just putting content up and the comments were a whole other deal. If I could say, ‘All right, I’m putting up some quality content’ to myself, having been a trained journalist, that was the kind of writing that I really wanted to do. And it didn’t generate a lot of site traffic. My stuff was never what brought [people] to the site.

“I loved writing about the Red Hen or the Lexington opening, or a dream day or summer activities to do, or covering big festivals. The film festival and the Festival of the Photograph were so important to Charlottesville. But they’re not going to be as exciting as 100 comments about a restaurant.”

Kate found this out quickly. In one of her first posts, when she was still getting her blogging feet under her, she wrote a post about Mas. The tone of the piece got away from her. It turned ugly.

“I feel like I was just a brat who thought I knew something from being in a few kitchens,” says Kate, her voice shaking a little over the phone. “I’ve grown very fond of this restaurant and everyone that works in it. And I have the deepest regrets about writing some really pretentious prose. And Google is forever. It really kills me. That’s why I’m shaking right now. It’s a really emotional thing.”

Then something happened that, depending on who you are and what you were expecting when cVillain launched, was either completely surprising or simply part of the plan. The site took off. According to numbers published by Lilith, cVillain had 2,000 visits a month in May 2007. In August of the same year, the site had doubled its traffic, bringing in 4,000 visits and more than 13,000 page views.

The growth came largely on the back of the site’s restaurant and bar reviews, its insider gossip and the particular voices created by the fire-and-ice duo of Thor and Lilith.
 
Those were numbers that, if handled correctly by the right business person with a tech background and marketing savvy, could convince the very restaurants and bars that they by turns praised and pummeled that cVillain was a unique way of reaching a readership that contained a huge percentage of their potential customer base. The cVillain writers had obviously learned something that critics, artists, editors and publishers had long known: Nothing gets readers’ attention more than a negative review.

“I think everyone’s capable of writing really volatile things,” says Kate. “I just really hate that I was O.K. at it. What we started out writing was very critical and sassy and edgy, and I think I evolved fast. Every time I did write something nasty, I would and and…ugh…feel awful all day. It’s a gossip site. Gawker does it really well. I don’t read those. I don’t derive a lot of pleasure from reading Gawker. It’s interesting that I was doing it.”

The party’s over

After the buyout, Kyle and Francesco’s bylines started appearing on a few cVillain posts. The site got a redesign. There was even talk of hiring an ad salesperson for the site. But five months after both cVillain and DeParis Redinger announced the acquisition, Kate wrote her last post and ended her run as Lilith.

cVillain had lost not only one of its two founders, but also a voice of moderation, good-willed humor and, yes, even compassion.

By the end of 2007, says Kate, it was getting harder and harder for her to remain anonymous. The mask was grating on her as she grew closer to the people and places she was covering.

“When we were seeing businesses being affected, the lack of accountability started to eat at me,” she says. “I was also spending a lot of time in restaurants and was learning a whole lot.

“I was making good friends and really caring about these businesses succeeding, so I came out to a couple of restaurant owners. Like Alice at OXO, what an amazing woman. She did Artini! The woman’s a genius. I just felt like I owed it to her to tell her.”

Then there was the fatigue. At her peak, Kate spent 20 hours a week researching and writing her posts. All this on top of her regular, full-time job. She paid for her own meals, though she did have a drink named after her, the “Lilith” at Boheme. (“It was delicious.”)

While her anonymity weighed on her conscience, the time and cost of covering Charlottesville’s nightlife for cVillain weighed on those more tangible assets.
 
“And not making money,” she says. “I’ve never made a cent from this.”

That’s what DeParis Redinger had set out to change. But the way in which the announcement of the acquisition came pushed Kate even further from cVillain.

Perhaps one of the largest ironies in Kate covering Charlottesville’s social scene so well and in such stark relief was that she spent so much time alone in hotel rooms far from Virginia, writing her posts. Her job sent her all over the world, and it was in a hotel room in Beijing that Kate first learned that the DeParis Redinger buyout had taken place.

She was not involved in the deal. “It was told to me,” she says. And she was not written into the company.

Before Kate left for China, where she would have little to no Internet access, she had written two week’s worth of content to post over the 14 days she was to be in Beijing.

Instead, all of those posts were published in a matter of days. She knew the buyout was going to happen. But she didn’t think it would be announced as soon as she left the country for two weeks.

“I felt a little bit marginalized,” Kate says. “I didn’t get it. But when I checked my e-mail in Beijing and saw that it had happened, there were tons of comments saying, ‘Where was Lilith in all this?’”

The timing of the announcement confused Kate, and it still does. “It really hurt at the time,” she says. “It still kind of does. That’s hard to shake.”

DeParis Redinger’s entrance into cVillain came at a time when the site was shedding its new-kid-on-the-block feel and coming into its own as a local media power.
 
“With power, I think, comes a huge responsibility,” Kate says. “I think they happened to come in at a time when the site was growing in popularity, and the comment threads were escalating in terms of the occasionally bullying and digressions. I don’t think the site changed [after the buyout]. I think [DeParis Redinger] liked the direction the site was going. The change was gradually already happening.”

As the numbers of comments grew, so too, at times, did the snark. The website that Kate had helped found was now taking on a life of its own. In the beginning, when Thor was deciding between calling the site “cVillain” or “Cville In,” Kate had hoped for the latter. What she got, five months later, was a loyal group of commenters calling themselves “villains” and a website name that Kate says is like a hall pass. “It’s O.K. to get nasty if you want to.”

There is still a remnant of the other name. Thor’s e-mail address is “cvillein@gmail.com.”

Before the deal, Kyle had been serving as an informal advisor to cVillain. Now in his official capacity as majority owner, his focus was making the site into a local New Media business to be reckoned with.

“When he talked about cVillain,” says Kate, “I would be thinking about next month. He would be thinking about five years from now.

While she approached the site with a focus on the content, the writing, the editorial side, Kate says Kyle saw cVillain as a business opportunity.

“We are not very similar people,” she says laughing.

Even as news of the deal went over the press release wires and appeared on both DeParis Redinger’s website and cVillain, there were rumors that the deal wasn’t exactly what both parties were touting it to be. That’s because some people saw a single mover behind both entities: Kyle Redinger.

Identity crisis

Think about this. You more or less accidentally start a website that takes off like an honest-to-Christ rocket and turn around and you essentially sell it to yourself, thereby creating a media buzz for both parties, cVillain and your boutique investment bank, which, incidentally, comes from what its website calls “a technology-focused background” and is focused on helping clients navigate a coming “convergence of traditional and new media.”

Gentle Reader, if you’re not impressed by the genius of this, at least acknowledge the sheer amount of balls that pulling off a deal like this would take.

While Lilith specifically outed herself to a few people and generally in this story, Thor keeps posting and remains the central mystery of cVillain. And even though Kyle says that Thor is a composite of multiple writers now, both Kyle and Kate acknowledge that in the beginning, there were just two writers behind the two original personae.

According to Kate, it was Thor who first approached her about starting cVillain. The two had known each other prior to that.

“I think he saw in me a social mobility,” she says, “that I enjoy going out and I enjoy meeting people. It started out as, ‘Hey Kate, wouldn’t it be cool if…’ And there was something attractive about it.”

When asked if Kyle had ever written on cVillain under the name Thor, Kate wouldn’t confirm that he had. She also wouldn’t deny it. When asked if Kyle was the other founder of cVillain, she would neither confirm nor deny.

But when she learned that there were now multiple people posting under the name Thor, she was surprised, as if this was a break from the cVillain she knew. “So take from that what you will,” says Kate.

For his part, Kyle repeatedly denies being the person behind the Thor persona and being the other founder of cVillain. He writes on the site under his own name, mostly about Spicy Bear and occasionally food and technology. He says he is not one of the writers that currently make up Thor.

During our textual interview, Thor him/herself responded thusly when asked if it is in fact Kyle Redinger at the keyboard: “haha definitely not. kyle just called me from the road en route to duck beach to see how this was going. you can try calling him, not sure if he has good reception tho.”

Still, there are lingering signs that even if Thor and Kyle weren’t the same person, Kyle’s hand was a little more firmly on cVillain’s rudder than he cares to acknowledge now. In a May 8 post from last year, Thor attempted to kick off a viral marketing campaign to get cVillain onto this newspaper’s C-VILLE 20. Its look and feel closely mirrored the campaign that landed DeParis Redinger on Business Week’s Top 20 Young Entrepreneurs.
 
The post, titled “Do you think The C-Ville Weekly would list cVillain.com for Top 20?” reads:

“I think it’s a big stretch, but we are already getting some pretty good traction. If you guys believe in us you could nominate us here. Hey we don’t need the fame, but Charlottesville does need a destination site that is run by the community. Maybe that’s a good reason to nominate us? You are nominating the community. Kinda like Time. Just email:

‘cVillain rocks! cVillain rocks! cVillain rocks!’”

Of course, these types of campaigns are almost as common as spam is on the Internet. But it’s not the only time there seems to be an overlap between Kyle and Thor.

Both bristle when the words “cVillain” and “blog” appear in the same sentence. And not without good reason. While many people would look at the site as a blog—albeit a powerful blog locally—it’s threatened to outgrow the name. That is, if anyone can really agree on what the word “blog” truly means.

Here’s Kyle on the idea of blogs: “Blogs to me means basically nothing. If you say, ‘I run a blog,’ all that means to me is the content looks like this on a page. People use [the word ‘blog’] with a negative connotation, like if you have a blog it means you’re a personal writer without any authority on the subject.

“It’s just a way to display content.”

So is “blog” an outdated label? Here’s Thor: “I think so. blogosphere. blog this blog that. how about media? i think blog has this connotation that it has grown out of. or maybe we are a little defensive because local media in town views us as inferior because we have a blog format.

“a blog seems more personal, what we do seems very similar to what cville and the hook do, from a 50k ft content perspective.”

As two voices, both are certainly on message. The word “blog” having dated, personal connotations. Blog being not a medium but a digital format. And the 50,000 foot content perspective? I’ve only heard that term from people who’ve spent time in business school. In fact, I heard it from someone else in reporting this story: Francesco DeParis.

And then there’s this. On the sunny June day that Kyle and I meet for the first time, we sit in the Pavilion and talk about the difference between news sites and entertainment sites, between what a newspaper like this one does and what cVillain does. And he says this:

“Like today, I published a Rube Goldberg machine Top 10. Like, you guys would never put that on your site, right? That’s not journalism, and it’s not local. But we’ll do it because it’s fun.”

True enough, I had seen the post a couple of hours earlier, and I had scrolled through the entire thing, content to waste 10 minutes because, shit, it was fun. After our conversation, though, I went back to check the byline on the post. The post prior to it had been published by Kyle, something about how the Yellow Pages doesn’t have a section for New Media.

The Rube Goldberg post, though? That one was published by Thor.

Masters of the universe?

Really, what does it matter if Thor is Kyle and Kyle is Thor, or conversely, if Kyle and Thor meet for drinks after work and laugh about such speculation? It’s a mystery, a game, one of cVillain’s many draws. And the bottom line is, whether Kyle leads a second online life, in this one, the brick-and-mortar life, he has the makings of one hell of a businessman.

This March, DeParis Redinger represented Chilltrol, an HVAC service company, in its sale to Direct Energy. According to its website, it was the bank’s first deal after acquiring cVillain. In July, the bank advised SQL Farms, Inc. on its sale of intellectual property assets to the Behemoth itself, Microsoft. Now instead of looking at deals like this from the Microsoft sideline, the two former Behemoth employees are right in the middle of the action, just like they’d planned.

“I think he’s going to be successful in that business,” says Overstreet, the McIntire professor for whom Kyle worked during summers, evaluating private firms and strategic decisions in the oil-distribution industry.

“He moved back to make his fortune instead of bring his fortune with him.”

As for the Spicy Bear Media network, June also saw the hiring of one Zikki Munyao, VP of Advertising Sales. A UVA grad originally from Kenya, Zikki was sold on the job the day he meet Kyle and Francesco.

“It was kind of like meeting a superstar on your first day,” he says. “It was good to know that I was dealing with guys who were already successful and were trying to be bigger than what they are.”

And the push to expand the Spicy Bear network is on. cVillain already has three sister sites: the music- and arts-related CvilleMUSE, cvilleSTYLE and LoveCVILLE, a site announced in a post published by Kyle on August 13, described as a “social news website.” According to Francesco, the sites have yet to turn a profit, but the next step is to grow the sites and generate revenue.

That means advertising. Ads appear on a weekly cycle on cVillain. They run anywhere from $125 for a small rectangle box 300 pixels wide in a specific category to $500 for larger ads that appear on all pages.

And while Kyle’s may be the name on people’s lips when they talk about cVillain, he’s quick to shoot down the idea that he’s the driver, that he’s the genius, that he is the face of the coming age of New Media.

“It’s not me,” he says. “I just kind of have an idea. People ask me questions, and I can answer them because…well, I can Google faster than everyone else.”

Gentle Reader, welcome to the world of New Media, and welcome to a world where people like Kyle Redinger will increasingly call the shots. Because he’s come up in a world where knowledge is not the value item it once was. The Internet has pooled information in a collective swimming hole that anyone with a 56k modem can dive into.

Now, the information must be found. Value is in the network, the conversation, the community that knowledge creates. Old Media is still in the business of hoarding, of vetting, of defending the wall around knowledge that has been overrun some time ago, one blog, one comment thread, one anonymous post after the other.

Kyle Redinger knows this: Knowing something does not make you valuable. The valuable thing now is finding that knowledge and bringing it together. It’s true, information wants to be free. And it will be, all of it, just as soon as someone learns how to turn a profit freeing it.