April 1998
s m u g
net worth
by Leslie Harpold


Content Is Dead and I Killed It

If you're a typical Internet user, you don't follow news about the Internet unless it involves gunplay or people meeting one another from AOL and either getting married or held hostage. If you're like me, you read about it all too much, to the point you're asking yourself questions like a codependent supermodel in a Calvin Klein ad. "Oh, Internet, where do you end and I begin?"

Here are some exciting and mysterious catch phrases you may have happened upon if you've been reading your news online this last month: Technorealism, the One to One Future, Online Community Building, Cryptofabulism, Destination Oriented Web Sites and of course, Web Based Applications. A lot of jargon is created to serve this industry which doesn't know how to describe itself, and much of it is empty. What happened to words everyone can understand without keeping their browser on perpetual refresh at Hotwired?

On the Internet we are concerned with the future in much the same way our parents were, with one crucial difference. The future looms with a higher perceived degree of immediacy in the online world than in, as my favorite net.slang calls it "meat space". There is the perception that has elevated itself to a meme that Internet years pass faster than real time, and Netscape release dates are our legal holidays, if only that we require the extra time to download a new browser.

There has been much talk lately about the death of content driven web sites. Word, a long standing favorite of mine, has been killed, and so has another all time thriller, the fine art ädaweb, a site that tried to encourage and expand the concept of fine art online.

Why? Why are the sites that added genuine value and inspired thousands of DIY publishers like myself getting killed? It's my fault.

While you may think Smug's snappy prose is precisely the kind that someone would pay a lot of money for, (and you'd be right!) or see those tiny little classified ads we have slung about the place, I'll tell you this, Smug doesn't generate a profit. As a matter of fact, it doesn't generate any money at all. Which, to be honest, on it's own, wouldn't really contribute to the death of great sites. Now, make a list with Smug at the top and start adding in all the self publishers making up an ocean of choices that all the DIY types are putting out there for free, at their own personal expense, sans corporate sponsorship, and you'll start to realize just how every drop in the bucket begins to count.

On a positive note, like the world of print Zines, there's some wheat and there's some chaff. But there is a set of sites that consistently put out high quality material that has garnered a devout following, and ultimately takes away visitors from larger sites. No one site individually can acheive this, but the collective power of eyeball stealing does eventually make a dent in the viewers to high quality, high budget content oriented destinations. Ultimately, the folks who control the bottom line started asking themselves why am I buying cows when all that milk is out there for free? Since I'm responsible for putting Smug out there for your viewing pleasure, pain, whatever adjectives assigned to your experience here, that means I have blood on my hands. I killed Word. I killed ädaweb. I am so sorry.

What I'm most sorry about though is the lack of understanding the brains behind the purse strings didn't recognize the vision and value of sites like those. Since they actually had a budget, they served to push the envelope of content, design, ideas, giving all the DIY publishers something to strive toward. They were able to bring amazing talent to the web and edify browsers about things they might not have encountered on their paths otherwise.

In a couple of years, it will become apparent why we need to fund sites like those and the accountants who pulled the plug will feel a little self conscious when they realize they lacked the vision to hold on, especially as they write the checks to try to recreate destinations as picturesque as the ones they laid to rest. Sites that deliver high quality, cutting edge, non-news content with artistic value are expensive to maintain, but more expensive to get started. Unfortunately until the financiers realize they will have to spend that money a second time, and rethink what a successful business model is, we're left to suffer without the very seeds that sites like Smug grew from.


write leslie@smug.com

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