One of the best things about 2006 was getting our website back so we could practice what we preach--now I bang on and on about "walking the talk". Turns out that between preaching and practice, preaching is by far the easier. The past six months have been consumed by porting 14 years of stories to a modern content management system, redesigning the site and submitting request tickets to an overworked engineering team. We have a pretty clear vision of what a magazine website in 2007 could be, but we've still got a long way to go. We're shooting for a February relaunch but it's already clear that some of the features we're most excited about will slip to later in the year. This happens.
In the meantime, we brainstorm. It's been a fascinating exercise to think really broadly about what a media company today should be. We don't know (and neither does anyone else) but what's clear is that the landscape and reader expectations have changed dramatically since the mid-90s, when wired.com was first taking shape:
THEN: Bookmarks and habit drive traffic to the home page; site architecture and editorial hierarchy determines where readers go next. Portals rule.
NOW: Search and blog links drive readers to individual stories; they leave as quickly as they come. "De-portalization" rules.
THEN: Media as Lecture: we create content, you read it.
NOW: Media as Conversation: a total blur between traditional journalism, blogging and user comment/contributions.
THEN: Readers read HTML in a standard web browser window. If you want to be really fancy, design a whole new Flash interface that people will have to learn to get to your content. Charge for "premium content"? Sure!
NOW: More and more people read via RSS, where content is divorced from context. Media is atomized and microchunked. Even if readers do come to your site, the expectation is that the presentation will be a mix of HTML, AJAX, Flash multimedia and embedded third-party apps. Screens range from high-resolution wide displays to handhelds. Whatever you do, don't let your design interfere with web conventions--everything must be Google-crawlable and blogger permalinkable. Oh, and everything must be open and free.
THEN: We control the site. Editors are gatekeepers.
NOW: We share control with readers. Editors catalyze and curate conversations that happen as much "out there" as on our own site.
So there you have it, a motto for media in an age when consumers are in control:
"Catalyze and Curate"
In the next post, I'll talk about how that might work.