The Reimagination of Publishing

Last Friday I did a presentation at The Project [R]evolution conference in Auckland, New Zealand. I presented on a topic I've been writing a lot about recently: the reimagination of publishing. I haven't been this excited about innovation in Web publishing since the early, experimental days of blogging, when I started ReadWriteWeb circa 2002-03. In particular, three new products have captured my imagination: App.net, Medium and Branch. It's too early to tell if any of those three products will be successful, but I like them because they are doing something different - and as a result, shaking things up.

Although it's Web publishing that has fired up my neurons, I have also been tracking developments in digital books and magazines. I mentioned two iPad apps that have impressed me a lot over the past year: The Atavist and Citia. Neither aims to replace paper. The beauty of both The Atavist and Citia is that they complement traditional magazines and books (respectively).

The Atavist releases multimedia enhanced magazine stories for about $3 a pop. Citia creates digital versions of non-fiction books, using cards and stacks to condense each book into its essential ideas - a concept which fans of 1980s product HyperCard, for Apple Macintosh, will remember fondly.

Summarizing where I think digital magazines and books are going, I listed some of the key drivers. But note the fifth point: people still love paper magazines and books (this author included). The digital publishing products that fascinate me the most are ones that complement paper magazines and books - they don't aim to replace them.

Next I talked about the transition from the first big wave of Web publishing, which I characterized as the Geocities era of the mid to late 90s - to the latest wave of 2012 (App.net, Medium, Branch, Svbtle). The Clipart-addled Geocities was the third biggest website on the Web in 1999, its peak. Nowadays, Facebook, Twitter, Wordpress and Tumblr rule.

But things may be shaken up, again, if two of Twitter's founders and a bolshy Twitter competitor have anything to do with it. I've identified five reasons why Web publishing is undergoing a sea change (see presentation embedded below for all five).

What's intriguing about these new products isn't that they have a decent chance of becoming as massive as Twitter, Facebook, Wordpress or Tumblr. Indeed, I will be surprised if any of the new era become even half as popular. What's of most interest to me is that each of these new products is challenging the "old" guard (if you can call services born in the mid-to-late 2000s as old!).

App.net is a direct challenge to Twitter's business model - especially now that Twitter is in the midst of tightening access to its API. Medium is, in a way, trying to make a categorized Tumblr (in other words, make a better Tumblr). Branch is trying to reimagine discussions, which strikes at both Facebook and Twitter. Svbtle is encroaching on the terrain of Wordpress, with its elite blog network and minimalist design.

These are exciting times for Web publishers! Here is the whole of my presentation, via Slideshare: