The “long tail” and Wired magazine

If anybody is in a position to help Wired magazine think about new media and the “long tail” theory, it’s the magazine’s editor Chris Anderson, who just finished publishing a book called The Long Tail. Chris, who has obviously thought a lot about these kinds of issues, has a great two-part post up about how he wants to change Wired magazine’s website, now that the print magazine and the web service are once again part of the same company.

The first part is an overview of how the media landscape has changed, and how people’s expectations have changed, structured in a “then and now” format, including:

THEN: Bookmarks and habit drive traffic to the home page; site architecture and editorial hierarchy determines where readers goes next. Portals rule.

NOW: Search and blog links drive readers to individual stories; they leave as quickly as they come. “De-portalization” rules.

and

THEN: Media as Lecture: we create content, you read it.

NOW: Media as Conversation: a total blur between traditional journalism, blogging and user comment/contributions.

And the second part of the post deals with how to change a magazine and a website to better reflect some of those changes in attitude. Chris deals with six things that he says a truly “transparent” and interactive media organization would do — and the possible benefits and downsides of those approaches — including:

Show who we are. All staff edit their own personal “about” pages, giving bios, contact details and job functions. Encourage anyone who wants to blog to do so. Have a masthead that actually means something to people who aren’t on it.

and

Privilege the crowd. Why not give comments equal status to the story they’re commenting on? Why not publish all letters to the editor as they’re submitted (we did that here), and let the readers vote on which are the best? We could promise to publish the top five each month, whether we like them or not.

and

Let readers decide what’s best. We own Reddit, which (among other things) is a terrific way of measuring popularity. Why should we guess at which stories will be most popular and give those preferential treatment? Why not just measure what people really think and let statistics determine the hierarchy of the front page?

Well worth a read for anyone interested in the future of online media. Some things Anderson says he’s not sure will work (wikis for stories, for example, which Wired has experimented with) but thinks should probably be tried anyway. I wish more editors would think about that kind of thing. There’s more commentary about the piece at Rex Hammock’s blog, at Publishing 2.0 and over at the Bivings Report. And if you’re looking for a laugh, check out Gawker’s version.

Update:

Josh Quittner, editor of Business 2.0 magazine — who recently asked all of his writers to start blogging (and who I’m pretty sure used to write for Wired) — has posted a bit of a rebuttal to Chris’s piece, in which he says that publishers of print magazines are going to have to decide which is more important, online or print, because telegraphing what your cover story is going to be doesn’t really work for print mags. Thanks to Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 for pointing to Josh’s post, and for writing one of his own.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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