Tremendous excitement followed the publishing of Dan [Gillmor]'s We the Media (the conference's namesake). It accompanied the trumpeting of a new model of media by the newsy press, and the rise of blogs with attendant breathless hype.
Unfortunately, after doing the author's victory tour, Dan then attempted to put his ideas into practice in a business venture. I suppose there is some due credit for having the courage to cross the line from a long career as a newspaper journalist (observer) to become a startup founder (participant), and try to prove the viability of his alt.media business plan outlined in the book.
But, like nearly every News 2.0 venture so far, Dan's Bayosphere was a failure.
He has a lot of company. The dog's breakfast of new media startups includes Gather, Backfence, Newstrust, Daylife, TailRank, Associated Content, Pegasus News, Tinfinger, Findory, Inform, Newsvine, Memeorandum, NowPublic. The highest distinction on this list is to be one of the few still spoken of in the present tense (or present perfect -- "They haven't yet succeeded...")
And yes, I would include Topix here as well.
Sigh. Anil, please don't fall into the same trap Skrenta did. Let me help:
Don't Confuse Media With Media Institutions
First, let's agree that "media" is anything that people want to read, watch or listen to, amateur or professional. The difference between the "old" media and the "new" is that old media packages content and new media atomizes it. Old media is all about building businesses around content. New media is about the content, period. Old media is about platforms. New media is about individual people. (Note: "old" does not mean bad and "new" good--I do, after all, run a very nicely growing magazine/old media business.)
The problem with most of the companies Skrenta lists is that they were/are trying to be a "news aggregators". Just as one size of news doesn't fit all, one size of news aggregator doesn't either.
Every day I get most of my news from blogs. I don't visit "news sites" or use a "news aggregator". I use a generic feedreader (Bloglines) and a totally idiosyncratic RSS subscription list that includes everything from personal posts from friends to parts (but not all) of the WSJ. When it comes to the web, I have no interest in someone else trying to guess what I want to read or "help" me by defining what's news and what isn't. My news is not your news; indeed, you probably wouldn't call most of it news at all. I will probably never visit any of the sites Skrenta mentions, and never did visit the ones that are now defunct.
In short, We Media is alive and well. It's just the would-be We Media institutions that are not. A phenomenon is not necessarily a business. That doesn't make it any less of a phenomenon.