Yesterday's piece about web advertising was a big hit in the tech industry, and drew questions and criticism from people in the news industry. All of it is good. I like it when my writing gets people thinking. That's the greatest reward. So now here are some more, hopefully thought-provoking, observations.
In a piece I wrote in 1997 about web economics, I offered Netscape as an example of a news site with a solid business model. Everyone coming to the site needed a web browser, and Netscape was selling one. Perfect. So just by promoting news through their site, no matter what the topic, they built demand for a revenue-producing product. They were also building the connection in the market between their brand and the activity of seeking out news. Just drawing people to the site made the name Netscape more famous and therefore more valuable.
I offer my own experience as an example. I started writing my blog because I loved to share what I learned about technology and the people using and creating the new medium. But along the way I also created products, some of which were sold, generating a fair amount of revenue. In the end I was very well compensated, financially, for the writing I did.
I am still doing that here. Writing blog posts and writing software. I hope to make more money, but that isn't why I do it. I do it because writing software and writing about software is what I want to do. I would do it even if it didn't pay.
John Gruber of Daring Fireball did a similar sort of thing with Markdown. Could he have created such a powerful standard, on his own, without his widely read blog? (BTW, I'm using Markdown to write this post. I like the way it handles numbered lists.)
Joel Spolsky wrote blog posts and books that captivated the imagination of developers. He turned that into Stack Exchange, a very valuable company, and Trello, a popular and presumably profitable product.
I just read an article about how Slack was used at a conference to facilitate pre- and post-conference discussions, and (key point) helped people meet more interesting people at the conference. This is really what the net is about.
Conferences and networking, same thing. Exactly the same thing. All real-world conferences should have semi-permanent installations on the net. There's no reason that XOXO 2015 can't keep going for years and years.
This is how I first met Robert Scoble. He was the chair of a conference I was going to speak at. He ran a mail list for the speakers, before the meetup, and pushed on-topic links to us. When we got to the show the discussion was already underway.
I used to run my blog posts through email. I'd send each piece to random groups-of-eight. Sometimes long interesting discussions would grow in the small groups. Randomness can be a great connector. It helps you meet people with widely varying backgrounds.
People often ask why I don't run ads on Scripting News. Basically, I don't want to compete for the attention of my readers. More here.
Here's an idea for a geography-based news org (i.e. a newspaper) -- give readers a place to talk about movies, and then sponsor movie nights based on their interests. Encourage people to provide lists of their favorite movies and do some collaborative filtering. Then collate the reviews and present them alongside your professional reviewer's post. Work with the movie industry. It can have incredible promotional value, for the movie, the theater, you, the whole idea of going to the movies (as opposed to watching on your home TV, phone or tablet). What's great for your community is they get to meet people who like the same kinds of movies they do. And you get to know who they are! It's such a huge, easy win, all-around. That more local news orgs haven't done it tell you how stuck in old print models we still are. This is an example of a kind of idea that really can only blossom online.
And once you do one activity there can be dozens more. Amateur car and cat shows. Bowling night. Ski trips. Outings to baseball games.
No doubt a lot of this will ultimately be about sex (which is good!), but there are also intellectual and athletic activities that people enjoy too. We're a social species, and we're more isolated these days because of the net, and that makes us yearn for more gratifying social experiences. The net can help there too. Facebook is a huge first step in that direction, but there will be lots of new, more specific activities, all around making human connections, in the years to come. And news can and should play a big role in bringing that about.
If you can create a service, news or otherwise, that helps people meet new friends, you've got a printing press for money. And most news orgs, if they just think about it, can find a lot of ways to make introductions between their readers.
PS: Cross-posted in full text without links on Facebook.