Thursday, 28 May 2009

Why isn't part of Chris Brogan's vision

A couple of days ago Chris Brogan wrote an extremely insightful piece about what the new Media Company could look like. He describes a more dynamic and decentralised entity with an emphasis on collaboration and a focus on developing themes over time. A colleague of mine summed up parts of it nicely 'no narrative should now be definitive'. 

It's a theme that is starting to dovetail with a whole bunch of conversations around the publishing and ongoing existence of content and where and how it should exist online. I wrote last week about Jeremiah Owyang's view of our march towards social commerce a theme he expanded on Social Web TV  a week or so ago. It's relevant here because he is envisaging the need for a structured fragmentation of identities that will allow users to participate in conversations and ultimately transactions wherever they are on the web. All part of the same future collaborative status quo that Brogan is envisaging.

At the same time Adam Ostrow over at Mashable is riffing about the death of the destnation URL. Again it's a conversation about content's existence and where a company should concentrate it's effort i.e. do you want to force customers to come to you or do you go to where your customers already are and collaborate there.

April Dunford wrote an interesting piece about how Brogan's vision should be adopted by marketeers, a view I very much agree with, because the themes are really about collaboration and remaining open to outside influence. As April puts it  'If you are in marketing, you are in the communications business and the way we are communicating is changing, in my opinion, for the better.'

So within this context I was interested to read about the relaunch of the UK men's style magazine. Obviously this is just one publication and not a company, however against a backdrop of increasing collaborative working I wanted to see how it stacked up. 

On first view it really looked like it had hit the mark, it had what I now think of as that 'Wordpressy' blog look, but what about the content. Oh my, no ability to comment. They appear to have launched a blog with no collaborative capability. So I tried a video link, nope nothing there either unless you want to leave the site and participate on Youtube itself. Frankly, it's weird, I've come to expect to be able to converse about everything everywhere, whether I'm interested or not and in this particular sector even more so.

So I went back to Brogan's article and pulled out his proof points to see how Esquire stacked up against them:
  • Stories are points in time, but won’t end at publication. (Edits, updates, extensions are next.) Doesn't look like that's the plan the content's light and some simply looks like straightforward advertorial.
  • Curators and editors rule, and creators aren’t necessarily on staff. Nope that doesn't look like it's gonna happen
  • Media cannot stick to one form. Text, photos, video, music, audio, animation, etc are a flow. They are publishing in mixed media in fairness.
  • Everything must be portable and mobile-ready. (Mobile devices need to evolve here, too). Not great on my Nokia and even on my iPhone it's pretty shoddy.
  • Everything must have collaborative opportunities. If I write about a restaurant, you should have wikified access to add to the article directly. Definitely not, probably it's greatest failing.
  • Advertising cannot be the primary method of revenue. No trashy banner advertising.
  • In-line content marketing, clearly delineated/disclosed/explained is one revenue stream. One of many. Yes this does seem to be the case
  • Contributors come in many shapes: onstaff, partner (how pros like TechCrunch link to Washington Post), guest (for love and glory only), and conversational. Nope just looks like staffers to me.
  • Value-add services are another revenue stream. Why not book hotels and flights from my travel magazine directly? Why not buy how-to information on marketing from Ad Age or FastCompany? This looks like how the revenue model is likely to work or certainly it's set up to be able to do that
  • Collaboration rules. Why should I pick the next cover? Why should my picture of the car crash be the best? Nope that aint happening
  • Everything is modular and linkable. Everything is fluid. Meaning, if I want the publication to be a business periodical, then I don’t want to have to read a piece about sports. Nope it's five sections take it or leave it
  • Paper isn’t dead: it’s on demand. With Esquire I do think they can survive as online inexorably grows and there will continue to be a market for the paper publication.
So in summary it looks like they've got the commercials right, which is nice for Esquire, but in terms of long term value for their readers this has to go down as an epic fail. This is old style print publishing for web, I really thought big publishers would have got over it by now. It seems not. 

In yesterday's NMA announcement Jeremy Longmead Esquire's editor was quoted “It became clear that a well-designed niche website with a cerebral heart would have much more appeal and we’re very pleased with the finished result.” and there in lies the problem. The focus is on the design not the content, or at least not how the content exists in the new world and as an editor that should have been the key issue. Design is becoming less important, yes it's nice to have beautiful design but it always has to be led by the content.

My feeling and it's with sadness I say this because I actually don't mind Esquire is that it will be dead in a couple of years if it doesn't embrace collabortive content generation. I hope it takes steps in the right direction.

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