Teaching Examples

What’s next for online content?
October 1, 2006, 8:40 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

At Mediangler, Haydn Shaughnessy looks at podcasts and vidcasts/vodcasts, movie downloads, mobile content, portals, and online magazines — giving us a brief and plausible overview of where he sees it all going.

The post is titled “Where is Content Headed 2,” and it’s (naturally) a follow-on to “Where Content is Headed (1),” in which Shaughnessy discusses domain parking, sponsored content, video uploads (a la YouTube), start pages (a la Netvibes), and blog aggregation (a la Technorati). The first installment is interesting, but I got more out of the second one.

Magazines and their Web sites

The part about online magazines is especially good. Just recently, some questions asked of me made me start thinking about magazines in the online media ecosystem. As my mind roved over Slate and Salon, I thought, well … text, text, and more text! Yes, they are nice online-only “magazines,” but do they take full advantage of the medium? Not at all.

I looked at the list of 2006 National Magazine Award Winners and Finalists and found that for “General Excellence Online,” the winner — National Geographic magazine — and finalists — Beliefnet, CNET, men.style.com (a Condé Nast concoction incorporating Details and GQ), and Newsweek — were fairly uninspiring. That is not to say I disagree with calling them “excellent.” In terms of depth, integrity, and value of content, each of these is excellent.

Let’s talk about the online experience, though. And let’s think a bit about what might be a great synergy between the online site of a magazine and its printed counterpart.

Three great magazine Web sites

A Florida graduate student turned me on to Seed, whose tagline is “Science Is Culture.” The beautifully designed bimonthly print magazine is nicely complemented by its Web site — both are comely and colorful but far from superficial. This is not science for dummies, and yet, you don’t need a physics degree to get interested in a article that asks: “What do an algebra teacher, Toyota and a classical musician have in common?” (“How We Know,” September 2006 issue).

Seed home page
The headlines and blurbs on the Web site really succeed in all the ways Web headlines and summaries must — for example, an article headlined A Fish Grows in Brooklyn had the tagline “Aquaculture. Is it what’s for dinner?”

Extras on the Web site include videos, blogs, podcasts, Seed’s Daily Zeitgeist (five new items seven days a week), and assorted RSS feeds.

I was a charter subscriber to Dwell, a magazine about modern architecture applied to today’s homes and lifestyles. In the first years of publication, the Web site was nothing more than a placeholder and a sales vehicle for the print magazine. While the site still puts a lot of emphasis on enticing you to subscribe (including a tantalizing free issue offer), it now offers up selected content from the print publication and some useful original stuff as well, such as the (paid) DesignSource listings and Modern My Way, where reader-submitted photos of renovation projects are turned into slideshows.

Dwell home page
The Apple site has a good profile of Dwell and how the Dwell staff produces its Web site and the magazine:

Dwell content, says Editor-in-Chief Allison Arieff, “is essentially cross media, repurposed for all platforms. All of the homes featured on our Fine Living TV show, for instance, have been published in the magazine. Our editors create the web content … often posting photos or text we didn’t include in the magazine. Going forward, we expect that user-generated content will inspire web content, stories for print, possibly even events and podcasts.”

Finally, I’d like to invite a comparison of Paste, the Web site of a luscious printed music magazine, and Pitchfork, a music magazine that is Web only. I find the Pitchfork site exceedingly easy to use for everything I ever think of doing there, while I find the Paste Web site to be clunky, disorganized, and slow-loading. Paste provides a very clumsy interface for reading the articles from the current issue, and the design is messy and even broken in places. Pitchfork has a modern CSS-based design that allows everything to load quickly so readers can enjoy the music reviews they came to get.

Pitchfork home page
What I see this leading to is that the more I use the Pitchfork Web site, the less interested I become in the printed edition of Paste. It’s not a matter of getting the content for free — I hope I am making that clear. I like the printed Paste magazine a lot. If the Paste Web site were better, I would spend more time there. But as it is, I’m spending a lot of time on the Pitchfork Web site instead. Paste is losing me as a reader because its Web site is weak.


Like Haydn Shaughnessy, I think we’ll see a lot happening with the online sites of magazines. News weeklies such as Time and Newsweek will probably fail within a couple of years, because by the time you get the printed copy, you already know everything that’s in it. Various ultra-broad-market print magazines (like most of what you see on the newsstand at the supermarket) probably have no potential on the Web because their audiences (like their content) are watered down — they are not communities that share common interests.

Magazines such as Dwell and Seed, which have narrower (but deeper and more committed) audiences, will thrive on a wise mix of online and print content — and maybe some TV as well (or online-only video). It will be interesting to see how they grow their subscriber base through catering to a community that they have invented.

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1 Comment so far
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Hi Mindy

Thanks for the mention – in fact what you refer to was part of a four part series which I wound up today over at mediangler.

My aim was to just get the inventory there before I start looking at what it means. To date I put up thirty new types of content – we have to think what that means for writers but also for advertisers and companies stretched over this incredible canvas of meaning. I’ll be coming back to it often.

Comment by haydn

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