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December 12, 2006

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Barry Ritholtz

A thought to ponder: This is the way to go for a mag that has a young tech driven audience, raised on wikis and blogs.

What about a different magazine? An audience that skews older/wealthier/less tech savvy?

There are so many different demographics sub groups out there -- I suspect this may be less of a prescription for the future than a particular course for a very specific magazine.

Jeremy

Ideas I like:
1. Show Who We Are
4. Privilege the Crowd

They do more to augment what you do and don't diminish what makes a magazine a magazine (online or print). The crowd may offer insight where the content is lacking, but without interfering with the content itself or the people who produced it.

Ideas on which I'm neutral:
2. Show What We're Working On
3. Process as Content

They would necessarily decrease the freshness for some readers, but other readers might never see these things. Basically, it comes down to a business decision based on your metrics. What percentage of your readers are also participants? What percentage of your readers go behind your stories to comments, fact boxes and related content? How many non-participants and non-in-depth readers would get converted to participants and in-depth readers?

Things I dislike:
5. Let the readers decide what's best
6. Wikify everything

I am unsure how many people share the following ideas with me, but I suspect it's quite a few. I go to an online or print magazine to read a magazine, not a wiki or social news site. I still appreciate training and expertise, that's why I read publications made by people who know what they're doing in addition to sites like Reddit and Wikipedia. I have choice and the more diversified that choice, the better.

Those places already exist and I can already go to them for what they offer. The lines are blurring, but magazines and newspapers offer something entirely their own, which the "wisdom of the crowd" does not usually offer: the general concepts of clarity, accountability, and professionalism. I use Wikipedia, Reddit, Digg, and blogs quite often, but there's always a much heavier layer of distrust about the content for me than there is with print media (or its online counterparts) which has a staff of dedicated professionals trained in their craft.

And when they screw up, generally there's accountability. When a wiki or a social news site screws up...oh well.

eirikso

I would say that much boils down to four words:

Content
- Make it available and remember the long tail

Conversation
- Communication channel. Not only a distribution channel

Context
- Metadata, tags, RSS, widgets and descriptions

Control
- Give the users control

This is something that I have tried to discuss in detail in four different articles that you can find through this link:
How to be successful on the internet - roundup

Rob Blackie

Just one comment on the PR people spamming you. Often a problem if you work in PR is that it's very difficult (despite databases such as MediaDisk) to identify the right people to contact at a news organisation who might be interested in your story. It's in both your interests that you can understand each other better but often it's difficult to find people. Combined with a certain amount of laziness (because it's so easy to email people) this is what leads to spamming.

If I had access to a blog such as yours for every journalist I wanted to contact then it would make life a lot easier for all of us...

gabriel

I really don´t agree with the wikify everything.
the main difference with wikipedia and wired are the text quality. we have sheer volume in wiki, but wired has the good texts. it´s better to keep that way, as neither can compete in the other´s healm.
great work, btw.
www.donttalkaboutlife.blogspot.com

Q

Hey Chris--I, for one, would love it if Wired's process was completely transparent.

Your pal,
Josh Quittner
Editor
Business 2.0

Rex Hammock

Great stuff, Chris. I started to comment here and got wound up, so I posted this on my blog. By the way, that Josh Quittner fella is really funny : ) .

Clay Newton

Your #5 Risk: A more predictable and lowbrow front page.

It is possible that you could circumvent this concern by implementing some sort of filtering tool that not only measured most popular, but measured buzz. Stories that are most linked to, have the highest number of diggs or users posting it to del.icio.us.

I also think that the Billboard ranking system, in their case showing where the song ranked last month or week, could be interesting. "This story soared to number 1 last week, then dropped to number 13."

Ashley

I'm really not _that_ keen on the wiki idea. It's not unusual to be browsing the unfashionable backwaters of Wikipedia only to find some schoolkid's written something crude about a classmate in an article.

You'd need to be very careful of people being morons, because as much as you might like to think how intelligent your readers are, some people just aren't.

Bob

A couple things I'd like to see:
-What Wired reporters/editors are reading, and trust.
-A granular identity (2.0) system in place: the more of my real identity I'm prepared to share, the more credence can be given what I say. So if you want to leave a "this is crap" anonymous comment, it's going to be given by the system little attention; if you are someone the editors/reporters respect, it will get much more attention.
-Dynamic treemap showing me the hour by hour shifts in what Wired considers to be "the future happening now".

Also, Radical Transparency is all good, but when you leave the reporter/editor/audience model behind doesn't that imply a more active role than just reporting "the news"?

Rex Hammock

Just for clarification purposes, a "wiki" approach does not necessarily mean that anyone can change the content. While Wikipedia has such an open approach (with a few exceptions), the host of a wiki can place restrictions on who has posting rights. Those who abuse the wiki can be banned easily. So, when I say I favor "wikification," I am referring to a means by which those who care about the topic can continue to add value to an article -- in the form of new links and information that may update the original story. Perhaps a better example than Wikipedia are the "wikis" now available on Amazon products. Any customer can add to them -- but they must be willing to tie their changes and additions into their Amazon account and identity, something that prevents the drive-by graffiti one can find on Wikipedia.

Soni

Why not a combo pack - some or most of the content "transparent" under these concepts, but some of it done the traditional manner as surprise/bonus/out-of-left-field-hit for readers. That way, you've got a foundation of face-up cards - the open, reader-generated content (which is great and which a lot of readers would love) - but you're also holding a few cards in your hand face down to avoid most-common-denominator homogenization and maintain that frisson of "what'll they have next that I never would have thought of/heard about" that some readers (such as myself) like to anticipate.

This option retains your scoopability, keeps such special-project content clear of potential mob-rule muddiness and keeps the competition from ever getting a clear, permanent foothold on your content. Plus, you can always open previous in-house content up to the transparency process afterward, to continue to grow, evolve and lead to who knows where along with the rest of it.

Lisa

I'm glad to hear you're thinking about all of this stuff. It's fascinating and I agree, the upsides outweight the downsides.

noe mail

Three thoughts:

- Wired editors and writers must feel just great about how much stock you place in their talents. You know, relative to your admiration for the opinion of some random schmo with a keyboard.

- Hold a mirror up to the masses and they'll be fascinated by the image for a while. Then they'll grow bored and look elsewhere for inspiration.

- This isn't leadership; it's abdication. Good luck with that.

Chris Thompson

When I started as a journalist very little of the reporting process was transparent and this hurt the media. However, it wasn't evident how badly it hurt the media until the audience was empowered to take control of the conversation.

Now the pendulum is starting to swing and if all of these ideas were adopted I believe it would swing too far the other way. I welcome knowing more about the staff of Wired and the reporting process, but reporters shouldn't surrender the reporting process to the wisdom (stupidity?) of crowds. I want thorough, inquisitive reporters and I fear they'll spend too much time looking over their shoulders if their entire work is constantly monitored. Bloggers and journalists each have their role of informing the public. While the lines often blur between them, I still prefer having some lines.

Justin Watt

I see this as a more valuable prescription for government than media. Open source democracy.

Alex

Interaction is all nice, and it's certainly okay to correct factual errors after the publishing date. But not only do I read articles because they represent the product of a journalist's work (somebody who is employed by a magazine I trust and thus implicitly more trustworthy than just anybody anonymous out there posting), but also because they represent one moment in time. Going back to that moment much later can be just as important as reading it originally. Sure, there is the 'original article' button, but I don't believe there is much to be gained from editing after that, since inevitably the perspective that made it worth reading gets lost. Let's keep the changes to the comments, and maye have a wiki that comments the article statement-by-statement - something in that structure.
Wikis are a great tool, but not for everything. They may be good at putting together information, but good journalism is more than that, and great journalism is something completely different.

Jason Calacanis

Very cool post. Couple of things:

1. The traffic drop at Netscape was because we move the email users to the AIM/AOL.COM domain. That was the entire 40% drop. The fact is the web traffic is *up* since we moved to the new concept *already*. The web traffic at Netscape was 99% folks who didn't know how to change their default page in the Netscape browser. Now you have a ton of folks coming to the site for the new concept--it's not a cautionary tale, it's a very clear success story.

2. Netscape isn't why I left AOL. I left because I told them I would do a year and if after a year I was President I would stay (I know, crazy... but true). We were only 3-4 months into a two year process with redoing the Netscape portal. It takes at least 18-30 months to develop a large scale portal--even digg took 18 months to get to scale.

I think WIRED can handle the radical transparency if any magazine could. In fact, WIRED has always been a place for folks who were not traditional/well established journos to have a voice. Go for it... what's the worst that can happen? Worst case they fire you and you've done something amazing and learned more than anyone in the magazine business.

I would take those kind of risks any day of the week... that's really a no-brainer You have a 30% chance of making it work and the payoff is 20x. If you fail you learn, if you make it work you've started a revolution.

Hello?!?!?!?! What's to discuss--get to work!

judson

How about less advertising. December's issue was 46% ads. I just cancelled a subscription I've had for over 10 years.

Todd

To me "radical transparency" means the a completely inverted method from what WIRED does now. The readers are the editors like what they are doing over at JPG Magazine.

Deododkkk

I think WIRED can handle the radical transparency if any magazine could. In fact, WIRED has always been a place for folks who were not traditional/well established journos to have a voice. Go for it... what's the worst that can happen? Worst case they fire you and you've done something amazing and learned more than anyone in the magazine business.
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Lexington Green

Funny, a lot of people recoil from "wikify everything". But that is the one I liked best. Once the article is written and published, it is now "archive". Old. Of diminishing relevance. If it, however, wikifiable, it is "still alive", at least potentially. It is a more valuable and dynamic long tail item. As the piece evolves under crowd input, it might become sufficiently novel that it merits a revisit, if not a republication. Some articles will just fade away. Others will become active and busy. But for articles already out of the hands of the authors, I see no downside. Since the total number of people looking at the articles will be much smaller than on, say, wikipedia, then some editorial control to prevent mere vandalism or psychotic ravings will be necessary. But beyond that, the process should yield a good net value, on a self-selecting basis.

Josh McHugh

As a Wired writer who gets paid, ultimately, by the word, I'm all for sprawling, organically-growing articles. I could write a few paragraphs, set them out in the wikifying light of the world, wait until the piece had reached the requisite word count, and then file it!

As a reader for whom time is valuable, though, the article had better be giving me a certain level of bang for my buck/minute, or I'm flipping to the next story, the next magazine, or the next medium. A wikified story, if Ryan Singel's experimental piece is a good indication, blooms with new and better information, but loses the narrative shape and concision that writers and their editors spend days crafting.

How a sort of hybrid model - the original, "frozen" (or, if you're an editor, perhaps "sculpted") article gets maybe 2/3 of a screen or page, with the other 1/3 of the page devoted to the wikified, slightly smaller-print annotated version. Sort of like a David Foster Wallace piece.

Ryan Patch

Hey. I'm a student at NYU in the film program and I just did a documentary about this very subject. We even interviewed Josh Quittner (who i see posted here). Drop me a line if you want a copy on DVD- I could send you one for free.

digitallantern

#6 Chris does go to far. It is an interesting point to allow articles to be continually revised (in 1984, that was Winston’s job - to constantly revise past histories). There is something to be said for a pure declarative statement at the time it was said with the full brunt of emotion and thought. The artist finds a point when “it is finished” and complete. See Stuart Brand's “Clock of the Long Now” for an opposing mentality to the impermanent Web. In the end wiki-revisionism is an ethical issue still unresolved.

David Dobbs

Provocative stuff -- though I must confess some of it makes me uneasy, as both reader and writer of magazine articles (NYT Mag, Scientific American, and others) and books. Posting interview transcripts as soon as they're at hand strikes me as especially problemmatic -- including in ways not so obvious.

I wrote at more length on this -- with special attention to how confusing and misleading such transcripts could be, and how dumb they could make the writer look (a concern, I dare confess) -- in a post at http://smoothpebbles.com, my blog on science, medicine, and culture (including writing).

eoecho | Greg Magnus

Your focus appears to be skewed toward the "process of generating content" verses the "quality of the content" itself. Has your target audience indicated that they are interested in the process as opposed to a refined, final product created by professional journalists?

Giving back seat drivers partial control of the vehicle isn't a good idea if they aren't trained drivers and they don't have a clear view of the road ahead. Sticking with the auto analogy, every driver isn't qualified to enter a race. Wired is in the race and I hope you don't take your eyes off the road - quality content.

BrunoG

Some of these reflect what I wrote recently about what newsmagazines should do online:
http://giussani.typepad.com/loip/2006/10/netgeist2_what_.html
The point I'm most skeptical about is number 3, because the process risks to trump the content; otherwise I agree that potential benefits outweight the potential downsides.

Christopher Rollyson

I think a couple of Long Tail bits apply here: 1) think "and," not "or"; 2) remember the mp3 story.

Therefore, why not keep Wired content a mix, during a transitionary period? Start open sourcing some articles/projects while retaining the process you already have. Many readers (I've been a subscriber since '95) love the content as it is and enjoy reading. The articles bring them to the site and get them inspired and engaged. Once there, they can get involved with some of the open source articles/projects. Since such an approach would be completely flexible, you'd adjust according to response of staff and readers.

The mp3 story rang true: iTunes has succeeded partially because it offers mainstream plus indie while mp3 languished partially because it didn't get enough critical mass to be sustainable.

I am currently involved with an open source writing project (see We Are Smarter Than Me). Not being an engineer but having worked with high octane software architects, I postulate that the general public will need some ramp-up time to understand how "distributed development"/collaboration works. This is our experience thus far at WASTM. As a group, people need to acquire the skills to maximize collaboration; actually, that could be a value prop Wired could offer to reader-participants: mentoring.

Thanks for a great thread!

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annika

I guess i'm in part commenting on the comments. Conventional wisdom seems to become conventional quite quickly. Who was "raised on Wikipedia and blogs?" No one yet. Who is to say that older people (boomers, etc) have not or cannot implement new media skills and consciousness quickly? Kids may latch on fast-- but the bulk of them are still just using it to deal with normal teen issues based on identity. They're being good consumers and rewarded in the media for it.

I don't think we should jump on assumptions about an audience or audiences based on the advertising and marketing needs of corporate or profit-driven media. It's starting to sound like groupthink to me.

That said, I like the ideas, even better with the caveats for groupthink corrected for (as in the let readers choose and wiki options.)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Tidbits

The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

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