The Early Web
In 1995, we were just beginning to build the tools to make digital publishing on the web a reality. We were exploring a new medium.
In 1995, the biggest problem to solve both technically and organizationally was “how to get on the web.”
As an industry we invented web based content management systems, and later blogging tools, and publishing on the web became much easier.
Ten Years Later
A decade later, in 2005, we had learned a lot.
The web was pervasive. Convincing publications to be on the web was no longer an issue. But we realized the problems were more complex than just setting up a web presence.
A fundamental change was that online advertising became viable, and therefore optimizing pageviews and traffic became correlated with revenue and success.
In 2005, the biggest problem to solve was “how to get more web traffic.”
So we honed our tools and techniques for ways to do that including:
Frequency of publishing – professionalized blogging, in particular Nick Denton’s Gawker network, popularized the concept of extremely frequent publishing, multiple times throughout the day.
Search engine optimized content – companies like Demand Media and publications like the Huffington Post went beyond previous “search engine optimization” techniques to really creating content based on search demand and crafted specifically for it, often rewriting other people’s content in a way more likely to gain search traffic
Socially viral content – search engine traffic is now becoming secondary to “social media” traffic and crafting what I tend to think of as “linkbait”, honed by sites like BuzzFeed.
These techniques in many ways end up valuing the ephemeral visitor, clicking their way through the wilderness, over the long term reader and subscriber.
Beyond Ad Dollars
Our now decades-long experiment in advertising supported publishing on the web may not be leading to the results we want, for publishers or readers.
Mobile advertising – Audiences are increasingly using mobile devices and tablets but ads there may be less effective than on the desktop.
Social advertising – despite the claims of being more effective through personal information big clients like GM are unhappy with the effectiveness of Facebook Ads.
End of clicks – as audiences become younger and more savvy, ad blindness is the emerging reality.
If you’re building a system – and by that I mean both technical and organizational – that is optimized for maximizing desktop web pageviews for ad revenue, you are building for 2005, not 2015 or 2025.
We have more options now, and need better publishing tools to support them.
New Platforms, New Audiences, New Opportunities
The world we live in today, and the 2015 world we will soon inhabit, looks different – we read on smartphones, tablets, ereaders, and tools like the iOS Newsstand that make paid digital subscriptions infinitely easier. These and other technologies make it easier and more viable to serve long term readers and subscribers, not just the ephemeral ones.
We have publications with great content that are presented in such difficult to read ways that many people use applications like Instapaper and Flipboard to repackage them. People want to read great things but too often the web packages are failing readers.
In the context of all this what kind of system do we build for 2015? 2025?
What will be the defining tools to enable the next decades of digital publishing?
I’m working on an answer with my colleagues at XOXCO, and we will be sharing more of our thoughts soon.
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