I finally listened to John Gruber and Merlin Mann's podcast of their talk at the 2009 SXSWi conference, on "how to succeed at blogging/the Internet" and this, in combination with my ongoing discussion with enkerli about the future of journalism, and an article about gawker media has promoted a series of loosely connected thoughts:
Newspapers are dead, dead, dead. This isn't particularly ground breaking news, but I think it's interesting to make note of this fact because of this corollary:
The Media/Content industry on the Internet has been unable to develop a successful business model for funding the creation of content to replace the business model of the newspapers (where newspapers fund websites/writer and a model which doesn't revolve around advertising.)
I've been talking about trying to figure out what constitutes success at this "content creation thing," for a while, and I don't think I have a good answer for what those markers of success are. I think page views, are a part of it certainly, and I think the volume of comments, and/or the number of twitter followers you have may be markers of success, but I think we need to get to a place where we think of success as being something a bit less concrete.
Success might be landing a cool new job because your blog impresses someone. Success might be having enough of a following to be able to sell enough copies of your book/CD/etc. to support yourself. Success might be having enough page-views to support the site in advertising. Success might be five people whose opinion you care about reading your site. Success might be steady progress in the direction of having a readership that eclipses the circulation of the print publications in your field.
If we use these kinds of standards to judge our work, rather than the standards of old school publishing (page views), it becomes easier to making meaningful qualitative judgments of success.
Though I think they're largely correct about success, Gruber and Mann's suggestions--I think--fail to explain their own success.
I think Merlin Mann is successful because he was friends with people like Cory Doctorow and Danny O'Brien at the right moment, because the GTD thing happened, because he's pretty funny, and because MacBreak Weekly emerged at the right time and he played a big role in making that podcast successful. At the same time I think Gruber is successful because he took Apple Computer seriously at a time when no one really did. And he wrote this thing called markdown. This isn't to say that either isn't deserving of their success--hardly--but their advice to just "passionately do your thing and embrace the niche-yness and uniqueness of what you do," is a good, but I don't think that's all it's going to take to be successful in the next five years.
Additionally I think there are a couple of unnecessary assumptions that we've started to make about the future of content on the interent, that are worth questioning. They are, quickly:
Blogging as we have known it will endure into the future.
Blogging is being fragmented by the emergence of things like twitter and facebook.
User generated content (eg. youtube and digg) will destroy professional content producers (ie. NBC and slashdot/the AP.)
(Creative) Content will be able to survive in an unstructured format.
MediaWiki is the best software to quickly run a wiki-based site.
Content Management Systems (drupal, wordpress, MediWiki, etc.) and web programing frameworks (django, rails, drupal) are stable and enduring in the way that we've come to expect operating systems to be stable and enduring.
Content Management Systems, unlike the content they contain, can mostly survive schisms into niches.
The key to successful content-based sites/projects is "more content," followed by "even more content." (ie. Quantity trumps all.)
If the singularity doesn't come first, that is.
ps. As I was sifting through my files I realized that this amazing article by Jeff Vandermeer also, influenced this post to some greater or lesser extent, but I read it about a week before I listened to the podcast, so I wasn't as aware of its influence. Read that as well.