We're witnessing another sea change in Web publishing. From Pinterest at the beginning of this year to the launch this week of a new product from two Twitter founders, Medium, 2012 has been a year where the norms of publishing are being challenged. It wasn't that long ago that Tumblr and Wordpress were the cutting edge of publishing. But there's a new edge and it's populated by the likes of Medium (a kind of categorized Tumblr), Branch (the sister site of Medium, for discussions), App.net (a microblogging platform) and Svbtle (an elite network of indie bloggers). In this post we identify five key drivers for this new wave of publishing services.
1. Publishing Is Getting More Casual
One thing that all of the four tools I mentioned above - Medium, Branch, App.net and Svbtle - have in common is that they make the publishing process less onerous. It's now less about composition (being a writer or blogger) and more about expressing your thoughts as simply as possible. Branch encourages you to "be casual" when adding your opinion to a discussion, while Medium wants to remove "the burden of becoming a blogger".
Not only is the type of content less formal now, the design is stripped back too. All of the latest web publishing tools have minimalist, in some cases almost naked, interfaces. A Svbtle post is basically just text, a custom logo for each author and a subtle splash of color.
The move to less formality isn't a new trend. Twitter kickstarted the communication-as-publishing revolution and Facebook became massive partly because it was so easy to post things to your profile. The new wave of publishing tools are simply taking this ease of publishing a step further.
2. The Web Is Moving From Pages to Streams
If content creation is less constrained now, so is the output. Web pages and blog posts are still being published, but this new wave of tools is looking for ways to deliver content in a more flexible way.
In a post entitled Stop Publishing Web Pages, veteran blogger Anil Dash declared that he wants "a clean, simple stream of my writing, organized by topic and sorted with the newest stuff on top."
This is where App.net could really shine. As Twitter is busy restricting access to its API and shutting down third party apps that use its stream of content, App.net is building itself into a platform to output and organize streams. That's partly why I'm bullish on App.net.
3. Topic Organization Is Finally Happening
This is essentially what Medium is attempting to do, with its "collections" - which are posts by various people organized by topic or theme. Old-time bloggers may remember topic mapping initiatives from the 2002-2003 era called K-Collector and The Topic Exchange. Those were early attempts to organize blog posts into topics. Unfortunately they never took off, but perhaps this is the time for topic-based structures to shine.
Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab, goes as far to say that topics usurp authorship:
"Topic triumphs over author. Medium doesn’t want you to read something because of who wrote it; Medium wants you to read something because of what it’s about. And because of the implicit promise that Medium = quality."
I think the voice of the author is still crucial. If anything, Medium, Branch and Svbtle are all elitist - because they restrict content creation according to who you are, not what you're interested in. However, the presentation of Medium's content is certainly organized topically. I think we'll see others, including Tumblr, follow this model. Content on the Social Web has become far too chaotic and it desparately needs organization.
4. Quality Is In Vogue
This one has been bubbling away for a while now, ever since some blogs became popular with a 'quantity over quality' focus (which is still happening) and then Demand Media and its ilk doubled down with that philosophy. As a result, the Web is awash with content - much of it poor quality. Medium is explicit about wanting to change this:
"Our philosophy is that quality begets quality, so we will grow Medium smartly, ensuring that our platform is valuable to everyone in this increasingly mobile, connected, and noisy world."
The same is true with Svbtle, which hand selects bloggers for its network.
5. Startups Are Searching For Non-Advertising Business Models
Finally, the new wave of publishing services are all seemingly anti-advertising. App.net even managed to raise $800,000 on the premise that it would never have ads. Instead it has a subscription model. It's unclear yet how Medium and Branch intend to make money.
This is an exciting time for Web publishing. Sure, there are lots of questions to be answered about the latest crop of publishing services. But it feels like there is experimentation happening again on the Web - which is a very positive sign.