Online Media, Oceanliners and Speedboats, and TPV

There's an interesting article in The New York Times today, that might just point to not-very-good-news for Internet "news" sites attempting to become behemoths by simply aggregating information found elsewhere.
Apart from the specific business issues feeding those travails — sinking traffic and profits at both — they provided yet another lesson of the Internet age: as news surges on the Web, giant ocean liners like AOL and Yahoo are being outmaneuvered by the speedboats zipping around them, relatively small sites that have passionate audiences and sharply focused information.
Does it sound to you like some places you have been to? Like some blogs? Oceanliners ("we tell you everything you need to know tomorrow, today") and speedboats ("we offer you our specialized perspective and encourage you to go out and inform yourself more")? AOL is being outmaneuvered for being a giant oceanliner huh? Hmm, I wonder what that means for the AOL Huffington Post Media Group...

Anyway, back to what I'm trying to say here. The Times article finds some pretty good reasons why this is happening, and it can all be summed up in one idea: the users of the web are changing. People are no longer looking for one big website that gives them every kind of information possible - especially for the well established news sites that mostly do original reporting. There's really no way to replace that. Other than that, when people are looking at the web as an interactive, live exchange of information, one-size-fit-all is not working.

That's to be expected. People have the tools to subscribe to multiple contents and bring them all under one thing: the web browser. Whether someone is using a set of RSS feeds, or simply bookmarking a bunch of sites and opening them all with one click into 'tabs' with their morning coffee, people are looking for targeted content. That's not something aggregators do well. Basically, the days of attracting people to your website as a "one-stop shop" is coming to an end. Think about this as a consumer. If you had the ability to bring 10 different specialized stores in one place yourself, would you want to shop at a big store that claims to be your one stop shop? Why would you compromise on any quality for the privilege of a one-stop shop when all the specialized stores are at your fingertips?

No one needs The Huffington Post to read the news and gossip, which is mostly aggregated anyway, when you can have your very own special aggregator. No one needs Yahoo.com to tell them what is "trending" - we'd like to set the trends ourselves, thank you very much. No one needs, let's say, a great orange site, to tell us that we need to pay attention to big large blockquotes taken from other sites and then telling us why we need to be outraged about something.

The other reason is the web savvy generation has the ability to detect bullshit from a mile away. We know what is quality content and what is not. We understand the difference between insight and incitement. And frankly, we don't have time for bullshit. We want content to establish credibility by original sourcing, make it interesting by telling us something we don't know (but is actually factual), and when needed, give us the option to act. We know that no one person, no matter how smart, can be an expert at everything. Anyone who pretends is a phony. We would rather trust a person who admits that s/he doesn't know something rather than the know-it-alls. And frankly, if you don't know about something well, we do not want you to constantly put out outrage about it.

This is one of the reasons for TPV's success, by the way. We have grown our traffic and participation in orders of magnitude in just the last few months.  How? We don't try to be everything to everyone, or even everything to any given person. We can't be. We don't know everything. I definitely don't know everything. That's why I started this blog doing what I really knew well and had a policy interest in: health care policy, economic policy and LGBT policy. Why? Because I can actually read original legislation on those subjects and understand what they mean. I'm a numbers guy. I have lived Medicaid (Medi-Cal) and private insurance and no health insurance, and I informed myself for a long long time before I ever started writing about any of it. I'm gay and have a personal perspective that blends with my passion and ability to read legislation on this subject. I also have done considerable reading on framing and the political process, so I write about that sometimes.

But I don't usually write about the environment or energy policy. Or immigration policy. I usually don't write about education policy. I usually don't write about race issues or criminal justice issues. Why not? Do I not care about these things? Of course I do. But I don't think I know enough about the details of the policy in these areas to actually give our readers anything valuable.

Our other writers brought their own expertise as time went on. TiMT is prolific at keeping track of legislative accomplishments of the president, putting pictures together that really are worth thousands of words, does excellent calls to action and of course is a great taker-downer of the whining fringe. Tien is incredible in her insights on framing, language use, and political read-between-the-lines that are rarely obvious. Rootless' economic writings are of the highest quality, and he has a great way to cut through the crap. And so on and so forth.

But you will note that none of us tell you that we're the know-it-alls even on the subjects we do great work on. None of us try to be everything to everyone. I have said for a long time that The People's View is not your one-stop shop, and it is not the place to get "tomorrow's news today." We are rather a place to make sense of the news on the limited set of subjects we write about. And even then we know that what we give you is not everything you need to know. Hence the links, the blogroll, the comments where I learn from you more than you learn from us.

The pragmatic progressive blogosphere is succeeding precisely because of our de-centralized model of discourse. We're the speedboats, not the oceanliners. But don't worry, just because we're the speedboats, doesn't mean you can't catch us. In fact, we're more agile. We can stop, listen, learn and speed right through again.

This is also a fantastic thing for our democracy. People should not be tied up to one place for all they need to know or want to know. This is how one little powerful thing from one little place can spread like wildfire, and how the democratic Internet can act as a conduit to restoring a real, informed electorate. This trend, I predict, will continue as younger generations of today move further and further away from a TV news-media model and onto a decentralized web. I love it.