What is the Internet For?
This is my answer to Matt Craven's Blog Herald podcast in which he touches on Syntagma's rebadging as a Web Network Magazine. So, what *is* the internet for? Is it a giant train set for geeks to play with? Is it simply another publishing tool for publishing folk? The answer is both, of course. The problem lies in the interface between the two. The question that Matt brings up yet again -- naturally -- is, what is a blog network? Subsidiary questions that arise here include, should a blog network confine itself to the blogosphere? ; are hybrid models acceptable? (to whom?) ; and can a blog network transform itself so that it becomes something else? The answers must be either : No, Yes and Yes, or we live in a police state. Generally there are two kinds of user in the professional/commercial blogosphere. Those whose business (or main interest) is the internet itself : the hardware, the software, the services, and something called Web 2.0. The other users are essentially publishers. They don't care much about the platform -- they pay others to worry about that -- but their business uses the internet as a publishing tool without obsessing, or even knowing much, about it. The former will have businesses beginning with Blog- or The Blog XXXXXX. Words like blogosphere and blog network loom large in their daily round. The latter will have businesses that draw on words like media, publishing, magazine. In some senses they are the future of the internet, because the original geek base which created it is getting smaller by the hour in proportion to the whole (as Duncan Riley pointed out last year). When a blog network starts up it's usually driven by the tech set. Weblogs Inc was started by technology watchers and technologists, while b5media has a systems engineer as CEO, and three other directors whose sole concern is working in, consulting on, and writing about, the internet, especially the blogosphere. Now that's perfectly fine. Who else would start a blog network apart from people who had some interest in the platform? The problem comes though at the next stage of development (see my earlier post on this). A blog network is essentially a hybrid beast developing within the techy world of open-source software, but reaching out to the world of publishing generally. Consequently, any network that doesn't make the transition from serverside to general readership is doomed to remain an incestuous half-formed creature feeding off its own offal. A blog network must develop a personality in the way a magazine does. Without a bonding element and a common thread it's just an incoherent link farm of bits and pieces. Numbers don't count here, it's the whole package, its brand and cohesion that form the public face of its product. Then it has to have quality content of a high professional standard that non-blogospherics want to read. You can serve geeks only, of course -- TechCrunch is a fine example -- but how many TechCrunches can the market bear? TechCrunch is a big fish in shallow waters. For a blog network to take root it has to transform itself into something recognizable to a much wider audience, a magazine, for instance. The CEO and others have to leave their technology past behind and become publishers, with all the traditional skills that publishers have. Otherwise they will suddenly hit a wall where their arts are no longer good enough for the next stage up. Syntagma Media's conversion from a blog network to a Web Network Magazine was inevitable at some stage. We've done it sooner than most, that's all. Coincidentally, its CE (yours truly) was an author and publisher in a previous pre-blogosphere existence. I predict many of the others will follow us down this route in time. If they don't, they're doomed. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.
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