Better in Beta
Blogs are the new black. Whether you are a Fortune 500 CEO, an ambitious engineer working the late shift or a promiscuous Singaporean teen – you’ve got to have one. For the uninitiated, the prospect of adding yet more words to the ocean of information on the web may seem futile. But fame and power await those who manage to break out of the mass of hyperlinked opinion.
No wonder that media companies are also starting to get religion. Readers secretly want to be moguls too.
Far from a dying medium, there is a powerful nexus between today's Newspaper brands and the tomorrow's interactive channels. The facts at first seem alarming - 21% of print readers now rely on the web as their primary news source, and the consumption of blogs becoming de rigueur. What is not often considered, is that the vast proportion of the conversations taking place in the blogosphere reference articles from the world's leading newspaper websites. Attribution is not just aesthetic. A casual reference on a popular blog such as Engadget or Boing Boing can drive a massive spike in online traffic.
Newspapers have long struggled with the right kind of engagement model for the web. Recently the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, which straddle the opposite ends of the paid content spectrum have begun reviewing their strategy in light of the power of community publishing. The New York Times is introducing paid subscription areas, in the hope that bloggers will act as affiliate marketers for the service, while the Wall Street Journal is opening up some of their paid services to encourage blog driven traffic.
In truth, it is easy to see why blogging terrifies media companies. The warm and comfortable model is one where journalists write the stories, subeditors check the facts, and readers quietly read the resulting publication. Letters to the Editor might be tolerable, but unmoderated posts, unauthorised annotations, and not to mention the general public writing editorials may well appear to the typical newspaper veteran as though the inmates running the asylum.
Shifting that worldview is more about changing culture than implementing new technology. I recently advised News Corporation on the launch of their first weblog ALPHA, which supports a new Australian sports magazine. ALPHA magazine is designed to break all the rules of print publishing, and uses the innovative model of being sold for $2 with a newspaper. The huge newspaper circulations of News Corporation in Australia mean that on day one ALPHA will be the largest sports title in the country.
Thinking of somethng equally groundbreaking online is not that easy. As a rule, magazine websites tend to be an anachronism. Cautious of giving away too much, they tease you with wafer thin content and proclaim a bunch of useless headlines beginning with "Inside This Month".
So when cooking up the plan for the magazine launch, we decided to take a new approach. Even more than reading about sport, people love talking about it. And not just readers, journalists as well. Rather than putting up magazine articles online, we engaged the social software experts Zed Tycho to create a weblog that would reinforce ALPHA's core brand values of irreverence and fun, and encourage conversation rather than passive consumption. If you walked into the editorial offices on a Monday morning you would hear laughs, jokes and raucous commentary on the weekend's sport. By reading the weblog, you get to experience that creative mayhem first hand and talk back, as if you were yelling over a cubicle.
Talking about the 'conversational' web is not just open source cant. It is tempting to dismiss the sweeping changes to the online landscape taking place at the moment as just technological innovation. But weblogs, RSS feed integration, tagging, social networking, and vertical search are really part of bigger trend. People are taking back control over their media. Not just geeks. Ordinary people in lots of ordinary ways.
Call it Web 2.0 if you like. But like so many great ideas these days, its less about getting it right and more about just getting it out there.
The beauty of being in beta.
Related Tags: Blogging, Weblogs, Web 2.0, RSS
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