Gabe Rivera was halfway through his lamb gyro when it became clear he'd been spotted. It was the middle of the lunch rush at a bustling upscale food court in downtown San Francisco and Rivera was looking to maintain a low profile. His plans were foiled when a PR rep for a mid-sized tech company picked Rivera's messy head of hair out from the crowd and headed over with an enthusiastic grin to invite him to an industry party that evening.
Rivera had, of course, already been invited, but responded graciously. The rep, clearly thrilled by the serendipitous encounter, hovered over Rivera at the reclaimed barn-wood table, burbling small talk; at one point, before leaving, the rep closed his eyes and shook his head — as if having just tasted something divine — and uttered something to the effect of "as always, love the site!" Rivera's face was equal parts cordial and uncomfortable.
When we'd been left alone, I asked if fans often approached when he ventured out in San Francisco. Rivera was dismissive. "I'd say Techmeme is still really a very niche site," he told me later.
This modesty was somewhat misplaced. Techmeme may be a niche site compared to the Facebooks and the YouTubes of the world, but the tech-news aggregator influences the people who make the Facebooks and the YouTubes of the world: Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai are both confessed readers, as are LinkedIn's Jeff Weiner, former PayPal exec and current Facebook Messenger head David Marcus, former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, and Microsoft's Satya Nadella.
Hunter Walk, a former product manager at YouTube turned seed-stage venture capitalist, told me he checks the site three to five times daily. "It's one of my first morning sites," he told me over email. "My perception is that lots of us [in Silicon Valley] use it." That includes journalists: Rivera's taste in that day's news often dictates what stories are followed and chased by newsrooms across the country. Without writing a word himself, Rivera is shaping tech's story for the legion of reporters and editors tasked to tell it.