The days that I most feel like a helpless newborn getting lapped by people better than me are the days that I read The Awl. February 5th saw the publication of an article by John Herrman titled The Next Internet is TV which is just chock full of nuggets like:
The near-future internet puts the publishing and communications industries in competition with each other for the same confused advertising dollars…
…for a publisher that wants to grow dramatically, websites are unnecessary vestiges of a time before there were better ways to find things to look at on your computer or your phone.
They begin to see their websites as Just One More App, and realize that fewer people are using them, proportionally, than before. Eventually they might even symbolically close their websites, finishing the job they started when they all stopped paying attention to what their front pages looked like.
And then the article was everywhere and the topic of the day was this dystopian future where independent creators were forced to abandon their websites for the sterile wasteland of Facebookworld. Go read it, I’ll wait.
You keep using that word.
My theory: Those bemoaning the supposed death of the independent web have a very specific definition for the word “independent.” It’s a definition that exalts the work of the individual and ignores the infrastructure that puts that work in front of an audience. The open web is now and will always be a platform for independent creators but it has never been an effective means of reaching a broad audience – that job has always fallen to the networks, the aggregators, the search engines.
That’s a nice pageview-based business model you’ve got there. It’d be a shame if something were to happen to it.
Independence isn’t an aesthetic, it’s a conscious decision that has tangible consequences, not the least of which is a theoretical limit to the size of your audience. Remember Mass Indie? No? That’s ok because it wasn’t really A Thing but a way of describing the collective cultural hallucination that compelling expression alone was enough to put your stamp on the world. We tried it and it resulted in a million trees falling unnoticed in a million forests.
On the other hand, digital sharecropping is absolutely, positively A Thing – at least if you want to reach the hordes that spend most of their time on Facebook, YouTube and the like. These social networks have no desire to send their users to unaffiliated websites and every incentive to keep them right there click, click, clicking away. If you need your content to reach massive numbers of people, then yeah, the web might be dying – for you. Publish your content natively to Facebook, and if you really want “great engagement,” maybe buy some ads while you’re there. If you don’t need that kind of reach, the web might suit you just fine.
Whichever route you take, the key is to be real about who you are and what you are trying to achieve. Ian MacKaye never made it on American Top 40 but he didn’t need to be there to make some great records.