Interviewing DZone’s CEO, Rick Ross

I recently caught up with DZone‘s CEO, Rick Ross, to talk about their site Refcardz, which is a free cheat sheets site for developers, and also got to discuss about the community at DZone in general. Hope you enjoy it. :)

What is the motivation behind creating a website that provides free cheat sheets?

As a community leader, we feel it’s our responsibility to organize and share relevant knowledge. With tech books costing a lot of both time and money, Refcardz offer a free, instantly available alternative so users can get a fast start toward their goal.

Another source of motivation for us is our readers. They continue to stand behind the Refcardz name with increased downloads because they rightfully trust they are getting consistent quality.

We don’t have to pay for the cheat sheets, so that’s great. But how do you maintain the running cost of the site?

Refcardz are only a part of the larger DZone network, which serves over 6 million pages per month to 1.5 million visitors. Such extensive reach paired with a variety of sponsorship packages and other services keeps DZone operating strong and experiencing solid growth.

How is the release schedule of Refcardz determined? Who gets to author Refcardz? How are authors chosen?

With nearly 60 issues already produced, Refcardz is a substantial publishing operation requiring in-depth planning and organization. Our team is always researching and evaluating possible topics based on their value to our readers.
A standard we hold ourselves to is to always have professionally written Refcardz content. To do this, we choose best-selling authors and well-recognized industry experts to write each Refcard.

How are the cheat sheets reviewed to ensure that they are of top quality with no errata?

Given the high degree of professionalism held by Refcardz authors, each issue has a high level of quality even at the first draft. On top of that, every Refcard goes through two levels of review before being published on our site. They are, first, evaluated by our handpicked technical reviewers and, second, assessed by our community reviewers — the DZone Review Team. Further, our fundamental use of electronic distribution allows for easy corrections and updates.

Why do we have to register to DZone to download the Refcardz?

Actually, you don’t. We publish Refcardz on, where they can be read without registration. We only ask you to register for the nicer PDF version, which can be saved, printed, and more. Plus, the great thing about registration is that it allows you to receive our weekly newsletter that keeps you in the loop about our latest Refcardz and programs going on at DZone.

What makes a website successful?

That’s easy — the community. It’s all about the people who use the site. Once you’ve been doing this for a while, and we’ve been doing this for 12 years, you realize there are only three things that are important: users, users, and users!

Are Refcardz where you want them to be? Will there be any future enhancements or features end users should be aware of?

Actually, just this very day we passed 750,000 requests for Refcardz and 90,000 subscribers. Counting only PDF downloads, most Refcardz get 5,000 – 10,000 downloads in the first week and frequently go far beyond that.

While these stats show that we have definitely come a long way, we are classic perfectionists and are always striving to improve Refcardz. We’re doing some neat work exploring the Amazon Kindle format and are also working with Refcardz versions suitable for mobile devices and other non-browser applications.

How can we get more out of DZone?

The more you participate in our community, the richer the experience you will have. Our community is not a traditional “consumer” product that is simply “consumed.” Instead, the DZone community is more interactive and gets better with increased user participation. One program we have launched that communicates this is VALUED, through which we encourage our voters on DZone Links to “Vote A Link Up Every Day” in order to improve the links that get displayed on DZone’s front page. We’re also working on a system that will allow us to award privileges, swag, points, and more to active community members.

What can you tell us about the community at DZone?

The millions of people who come through our site are from all areas of both technology and the world. Professionally, we have members from several technical backgrounds. These include Programmers, Developers, Architects, Software Designers, Graphic Designers, Web Designers, C-Level Executives and Team Leaders, QA’s, System Administrators, and more. Globally, the bulk of our community members come from the Americas and from Europe. However, our users do have significant presence in Asia, Oceania, and Africa. We’re always expanding and appreciate the insight that comes from dealing with such a diverse group.

About Flashmech

I have too many things in plans for my own good. But well, that's me. :) I love God, praise Him, and trust that He has the best plans in life for me.
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