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.

  • Christopher Penney

    How do you define content??

    Isn’t Google greatest asset the content that others create? Without which there would be nothing to search in the first place.

    Content is King if you’re able to expand your definition of content. We used to think content was just media. And that media was just text, pictures, movies, and sound. But now content is iphone apps, games, text messages, phone calls, blog replies, etc.
    Those comments you make on your friends facebook wall? Content. The pictures you look at in their albums? Content.

    Content can (and does) exist just fine without search or “elegant organization”. Especially the free stuff (conversations, relationships, communities).
    The inverse however is not true.

    So, is Content still not king?

    • The premise that Facebook or Twitter are succeeding because they are not “platforms for creating content” is just plain wrong. Of course they are – the difference is in the level of interactivity. I agree with Jeff when he credits Twitter’s success to its being “live and social.” Facebook, with its redesign, is also moving in that direction.

      “Social” is the other ingredient in the new services’ growing popularity. I am referring to the value that accrues to content as it is actively discussed. Comments on a user’s wall post add to the value of that post. A twitter thread increases in value as views are exchanged.

      I dispute Christopher’s point that content does just fine without organization. Look at the furor that resulted when Facebook users couldn’t find content they were used to seeing in the redesigned site. In that regard, newspapers have what it takes – a clearly defined structure to help readers find the information they want, as well as related content that might not come up in a straight search. Can newspapers hope to catch up?
      I believe so, if they let go of outdated revenue models and find ways to package and sell participatory versions of select, “premium” content:

      1) print editions will go away
      2) online editions will need to adhere to a blog model with reporters actively interacting with commenters
      3) Advertising will continue to pay the bills
      a. Most newspapers will lose subscriber revenues
      b. Exceptions will be archived material and op-ed (a la NYT)
      c. Local/regional news and sports could also be subscription-based as micropayments evolve
      d) Outlets with pronounced editorial stamps (I’m thinking Fox News as written content type thing) or content not duplicated elsewhere (WSJ) could also charge for access.

      Must newspapers change? Absolutely? Are they roadkill? I don’t think so.

      • Christopher Penney

        Consider the millions of websites that exist in spite of never showing up on a Google search.
        Couldn’t all those websites continue to exist if Google suddenly disappeared? They might be harder to find, but they wouldn’t cease to exist.

        Flip that thought and consider if all those websites disappeared and Google search was all that was left? Here, have fun searching an empty void.

        It’s just illogical to suggest that content is not more important.

        True, the real winners (from a revenue standpoint) in this new market will probably be the aggregators: The Googles, iTunes, and Netflixs that dont make any content of their own.
        But, just remember, aggregating and indexing nothing is a pretty lousy business model.

  • Jeff, I wonder if you have too few data points

    I would argue that MySpace and Geocities both failed because of the same reason: lousy management. The fact that they took this long to die is testament to how good the idea is, not how bad.

    • MySpace is not dead. It’s dying. But it’s like the 50 year old man who suffers a heart attack — If MySpace can lay off the cheeseburgers and hit the gym, it can survive. They have talent, revenues, commitment from the top. Most importantly they have PAIN and all the motivation to make the kinds of radical changes it probably needs. Will be interesting to watch.

  • GeoCities is one more online operation that the humble newspaper has outlived. But that kind of thinking is mostly for deniers. I’ve always liked the concept of elegant organization.

  • myspace and geocities simply laid the groundwork for the likes of facebook and twitter.

    maybe the two of them can relate to the tune i linked to under my id above.

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  • “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.”

    I wonder, Jeff, if the problem isn’t that many people don’t actually CARE about the “elegant organization of a community” in the fashion that newspapers provide it. As you point out, the ultimate rationale for the specific form of community organization provided by newspapers is a democratic rationale. In other words, a public rationale. What if people don’t care about that kind of organization … or at least don’t care in a way that is easily monatizable?

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  • I think you have to differentiate between content and delivery models. Delivery models for content change all the time due to technological advancements – think twitter, blog search etc.

    What it comes down to though, is that content still matters. Blogs, movies, books, Hulu, it’s all content – and as there is only so much time in the day, people have to choose between all of that.

    That’s why (some) content producers will outlive many superstars of today.

    I elaborate on that on my recent blog post – would love some comments on that!

  • “Mind you, I’m not saying that magazines are going to start dropping like flies and newspapers” I am from Austria and for my surprise 2 years ago a new daily newspaper called “Oesterreich” (is the german word for Austria) was founded. It still exists but I do not know how well because I have no data.

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  • Kimono Kijiwa

    Penney, what websites that exist while not being indexed by Google? How significant are they? What are we missing?

    And please only refer to World Wide Web content…

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  • I’m not saying that magazines are going to start dropping like flies and newspapers” I am from Austria and for my surprise 2 years ago a new daily newspaper called “Oesterreich” (is the german word for Austria) was founded