Exploring publishing models

I have been increasingly drawn into the world of blogging over the past few years. It is sometimes claimed that the blogosphere represents an information publishing revolution, and I wouldn't disagree. Blogs are, in their simplest terms, a simplified content management system that has very simple and clear semantics and a very low barrier to entry. I sell customised blogs to my clients on exactly that basis. They are the cheapest websites we can offer.

Blogs are a trade off. Blogs make publishing easy, but the value of the collected content doesn't increase as fast the quantity of posts increases, not in a single blog nor in the blogosphere as a whole. The archives of the blogosphere are hard to navigate. Where information can be found it may be wrapped up in reams of prose or buried way down in the comments. Most of the value of a blog lies in the most recent posts - the ones advertised at the top of the first page and the RSS feed. This, of course, is perfectly suited to news.

One comparison I could draw is with wikis. Wikis offer collaborative editing and this tends to increase the quality of the content as a whole (if the rate of improvement outpaces the rate of vandalism). Wikis are as a whole more up-to-date than blogs too, because old articles linger indefinitely in the archives of blogs, whereas wiki pages are replaced in situ. Personally I find a single wiki - Wikipedia - more useful than the entire blogosphere. It's a very complex comparison to draw and an endlessly debatable one, but wikis offer a model which allows discussion or documentation of topics which are deeply interwoven - which is almost everything. Blogs mediate the actual mechanics of a single discussion better.

For professional publishing, we should try to identify and capitalise on the benefits of both of these models. It's very tempting for me just to tack a blog onto a finished website so there is a channel for the owners to communicate with users, but lots of professional sites end up fronted by a rather dull blog, filled with unedifying news and other tidbits the authors think might engender some interest or at least turn up in search results. Instead, the heavily hyperlinked nature of a wiki could allow visitors to click from this sequential news to in-depth information, and collaborative editing (internally not publically, of course) could increase the quality of the content they find better than a shallow hierarchy of authors and editors.

I'd be interested to know if there's an advantage to releasing content in "issues" like a magazine. I wonder in particular if visitors can get more engaged in a site when it complete refreshes once a week than when there's a slow but steady drip of articles. Not a great proportion of sites do this although I can think of a few (The Onion, Linux Gazette). By publishing in issues your RSS feed becomes an invitation, not a medium in itself, an approach which would partly quench my long-standing gripes about RSS. But spending a fortnight writing and editing articles could be much more valuable than a constant drip of articles. But above all it could allow time to create unique and engaging graphic design for dynamic content, a holy grail for the web industry, and something I'll talk about another time.


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