All websites are alike?
Monday, June 12th, 2006
In Fortune magazine, David Kirkpatrick wrote a half-right essay suggesting that “all websites are alike.” It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here’s an extract:
All Web sites are alike. Regardless of their owners, they can all do the same set of things. In that fact lies the profound crisis facing all aspects of the media industry.
It doesn’t matter whether a Web site’s owner once focused on publishing newspapers or magazines, broadcasting television or radio, making music or producing movies, or even selling soft drinks. Any Web site can host text, audio and video, it can facilitate connections and communication between users, and it can enable those users to create and display their own text, audio or video.
Coke can release music; ABC can publish articles; and Forbes or The New York Times can broadcast video.
The Web is one big level playing field of competition for the customer’s time and attention. The quality and relevance of the content will be what drives viewers to devote that attention – not whether the host happens to be Coke.com, NYT.com or Disney.com.
While publishers ARE in trouble, I don’t think it’s because “all web sites are alike.”
Most websites are indeed alike, whether produced by “Coke.com, NYT.com or Disney.com.” And yes, any company can now create content, get traffic, & “compete for the consumer’s time and attention.”
But ‘quality and relevance of content’ are NOT the only drivers of online success. A few sites are now living, breathing communities. eBay. Flickr. MySpace. Threadless. Slashdot. These are places where people invest some portion of their lives, producing something that their peers consume and vice versa. (Worth rereading Adam Cohen’s The Perfect Store: Inside eBay.)
Forget “spectators,” think participants. Forget “visitors,” think inhabitants. Forget “consumers,” think creators.
Now try to name one incumbent publisher or business that has created a community of its customers (or customers of its community) whether offline or on. WashingPost, Coke, Ford, Disney, CNN, Gillete, Hilton, Merk, Microsoft, Pizza Hut, Conagra? Nope. (There must be at least one, but I can’t think of it. Quicken maybe?)
In an age in which anyone can generate page impressions, the “community gap” will be a key differentiator. I spent the last four days at the (1st annual) YearlyKos convention in Los Vegas. 1000 so-called readers have flown in from around the country to talk about the site and the movements it embodies. Sure DailyKos does 15 million impressions a month. But that’s not the essential measure of its publishing footprint. That’s not why presidential candidates are lining up for the community’s blessing. When was the last time any publisher had 1000 readers fly to a convention? The whole thing is run by volunteers, btw.
Maybe the new metric will be Share of Life, or Share of Passion, or Share of Community. Investment? And on these metrics, publishers and their potential “corporate competition for page impression production” are all currently no-shows.