GeoCities = MySpace = newspapers

It’s fate that GeoCities dies at the same moment that MySpace reshuffles and reboots its management in the face of no growth (which, on the internet, is the same as shrinkage). What they have in common, of course, is that they are platforms for creating content.

But content is not king. What is? Well, the junta in charge of growth online is Google, which is about search; Facebook, which is about social; and now Twitter, which is about live and social.

There’s a lesson here for newspapers because they’re about content. And they’re not as open as GeoCities and MySpace, which are (or were) at least platforms for others to create content. Newspapers create and control their own content and then allow others to comment on it (but enough about you….). Every effort newspapers have made to bring their content online and to update it with new ways to make it – audio, video, Flash, or the next flavor – still leave them in the exact same spot. That’s why they seem to be spinning their wheels. They still define themselves as content.

Newspapers must define their value differently – not as paper, for God’s sake, and not even as content but as a platform. But a platform for what? Content? No, there go GeoCities and MySpace. I think they should follow the advice of Mark Zuckerberg, member of the ruling junta, that their job is to bring communities elegant organization. In a sense, they always have done that; they helped communities organize their knowledge so they could organize themselves; that’s the essence of an informed democracy.

But now there are so many more ways to organize ourselves and we naturally use those tools to do it. As Clay Shirky teaches us, we don’t need organizations to organize. We need tools and maybe support. That’s what Google, Facebook, and Twitter provide. Should newspapers create such tools? No. They’re not good at it. But they should use the tools that exist to help communities organize themselves. They need to figure out how they add value to that.

Or else the will go the way of GeoCities and MySpace.