As we begin a new year, I thought I would take a moment to review where Web publishing has come and where it seems to be going. We certainly stand at a crossroads, as we move from the "golden age of blogging" into whatever we are going to call things this year or this moment. I tend to think of this as the post-blogging era.
That isn't to say that blogs are over: we at RWW certainly don't think so. But the very nature of the blog is changing. The days are coming to an end when, as Scott Fulton has said most recently: "You can have freedom from bias or you can have freedom from oversight. You cannot have both." Jon Mitchell wrote earlier in December about new ways of writing, publishing and advertising online.
And there are other smart folks out there who have figured some of this stuff out already. As a recent example, look at what Jeremiah Owyang wrote on his blog last week that all future blogs will share all of these traits:
- There will be an opportunity for new stars to emerge,
- It also will be harder for personal brands to rise,
- New models to emerge and long form content won't be the only way, and
- A new mix of media will emerge.
The culture of celebrityLet's look at what he means. First, the old days of blogging were about celebrating individuals' points of view, and oftentimes one POV per blog. Today's blogs, such as the one you are reading now, move beyond a single POV and have lots of contributors, and sometimes these opinions are at loggerheads (we did this most recently with two perspectives on whether you need the 3G radios in your tablet: No you don't, said Paul Singh, and Yes you do, said Dan Rowinski. I think there is plenty of room for variations on this theme and we should expect more op/ed kinds of features this year.
But building a blog around a celebrity is so over. As an example, look at what happened over at Engadget.com when Patel and Topolsky and others left the site last March. Here is a graph of their page views from the last two years, showing that their traffic took a dip but it wasn't fatal.
Alternatives to long-form content
As we get more impatient, the notion of the appropriate length on a blog post is changing and it is getting shorter: It used to be that a 600-word post was considered about right, now that is way long. (And this article is off the charts!) Videos too: three minutes is about all we can seem to pay attention to.
Over the past few years, blogs have discovered that infographics can attract lots of clicks. But typically those are created by PR firms or other outsiders. A few blogs have begun experimenting with their own in-house graphics and data visualization teams. That is certainly the way of the future. Why should someone else's pretty pictures get all the link love?
These infographics don't have to be just eye candy but can be more substantive. Especially where a reader can interact more with the Web page. The daily newspapers have been experimenting with this for some time. As one often-cited example, it took the Washington Post two weeks to build a database of soldiers killed in our current wars into what is now a public, searchable database called Faces of the Fallen.
Adrian Holovaty, who helped to take that information and put it online, defines the three functions of a journalist as gathering information, distilling that information and presenting it. That is still the same; just the external parameters have changed. It is important to keep that in mind.
Feeds and reach are changing
Take as one example the venerable RSS feed, which predates blogging. Today's feeds are being reworked as a way to syndicate content in interesting ways. Witness what CNN:Tech is doing by presenting at the bottom of its page feeds from six different tech blogs. The New York Times (which used to feature a feed from RWW, among others) has something similar. But yet these forms of syndication haven't had much traction among readers.
Certainly, one of the main beneficiaries of syndication has been Mashable, which now republishes its stories to ABC News, CNN, Forbes, Metro, USA Today and Yahoo News. Expect more of this kind of reach in the future, especially as more niche experts replace the personal brands.
But even so, these examples are pretty much old school. How about what VerveWireless.com is doing for old-line newspapers? They create mobile tablet apps that repurpose the paper's RSS content, but also make it easier for the daily newspaper sales teams to insert their own local ads. Flipboard and Google Currents, among others, are also changing how content is presented and read online.
Others are working on newer efforts, such as Matt Galligan, the force behind SimpleGeo with what he calls news, re-imagined at Circa. No word on when that will be out. LinkedIn has its social news feed, something developed by one of RWW principals. And then there is DocumentCloud.org that is used by a large number of blogs and traditional media to show the sources behind their reporting. You click on the button at the top of each article, and then yellow highlighted text appears that has hyperlinks to the original source materials. Think of it as when you had to show your work in high school math class. It is an intriguing idea.
And the ultimate feed is our Facebook and other social media tools, which bring the ultimate in personal customization to these "news" items. The paradox is as your network grows, you can quickly get overwhelmed with this feed.
Pay attention to mobile access.Our mobile traffic has increased tremendously in the past year, and I suspect we are typical of other sites. But this presents challenges for content creators: is it better to sell ad units around the content, even ads that have sub-par browsing experiences on mobile devices? Or code up your own iPad app (or use Verve's or something equivalent)? Certainly, the level of engagement with the custom mobile app is greater, but it amazes me that sites with just static pages still aren't optimized for mobile browsers yet.
The rise of custom publishing
Finally, the last trend seems to be replacing traditional Web publishing with some form of hybrid or custom publishing. RWW published a number of white papers that were at the request of one of our advertising sponsors, but produced with an independent editorial voice and vision. Other sites are doing the same, because these sponsorships can be big money. The trick is keeping the voice independent and maintaining a strict separation of church and state, or even avoiding any appearance of collusion. That continues to be a challenge, especially as some sites open up their own venture funds and incubators for start up vendors.
As you can see, blogging is far from dead but becoming richer and more varied. We'll see if 2012 brings about other changes to Web publishing.