Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Magazines and blogs

Is a blog a magazine? When the web started, online magazines were facsimiles of their print versions. Then “online-only” magazines started up, which looked and read pretty much like print magazines. Then came more and more functionality and the two formats diverged. I was reminded of this by an article called “Evolution of the online species - print periodicals versus online periodicals” which I read online (;-) ) in a publication called Brandweek, which in its turn exists on a giant aggregate site called Look Smart Find Articles. Where to look for what you need TM – a website that says it contains 10 million articles. This site is pretty good, actually – it is a searchable collection of magazines on any topic, including various online tools such as bookmarking on the web and one-click “print and share” format. I recommend a look at it next time you have a spare 20 years. To return to the subject in hand, is a blog a magazine? I think not. These days, the online magazine has evolved to use the networking capabilities of the web. The classic blog features analysis of (mainly) and links to what’s on the Internet, with various degrees of analysis or personal thoughts. An online magazine is struggling with the web’s “instantness” – surfers probably don’t want to read a 4000-word article online, most of them would print it out to read later (as I’ve done with the Economist’s recent New Media supplement, for example, not that I’ve got around to reading it yet). As J. C. Hertz, the author of the Brandweek article linked to several yards above, says: “How do you design a media product for networked information space? What exactly are the genetic markers of a successful online magazine?” His (her?) answer is that the online magazine has to be about social shared experience – outward, not inward, looking. Gossip is the key, apparently, or humour, or information about commercial transactions. Consumer Reports, says Hertz, is a better online than print product because it is searchable and because its ratings are updated as new models come onto the market. What of blogs, though? In an article in Opinion Journal (part of the WSJ) sent to me by Dave Lull, Daniel Henningner discusses the often-quoted statistics about the number of blogs out there—35.5 million a month tracked by Technorati, 75,000 new blogs a day, etc etc. (What should be measured is not total number of blogs, but number of “active” blogs – those that have been alive for more than x months and on which postings are made every y days – there are far, far fewer of these “sustained” blogs.) Henninger goes on to highlight a "Blogs Trend Survey" of last year, in which America Online reported that only 8% blog to "expose political information" and 50% of bloggers consider what they are doing to be therapy. He has a go at blogs in the rest of the article, mainly because some of them are vulgar and tend to swarm hysterically over some current scandal, and he gives as an example of a “therapy” blog one written by someone who turned out to be a cannibal. I’m not going to go on about that as his article has been, inevitably, vilified and chewed over by the bloggers. But to me it is interesting that so many people (according to America Online) regard blogs as primarily vehicles for personal expression. Very different from online magazines.