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The Future of the Internet

By in News
Thu Mar 23, 2000 at 11:48:05 AM EST
Tags: Freedom (all tags)

fair.org is running a pretty good article that explores the implications of the Net's new corporatism. While some of it is just a rehashing of old stuff you might have heard before, the author does bring up some interesting issues that relate to sites like this one. What role will discussion sites like kuro5hin have in the future? Read the article, and then check below for some thoughts.

There's no shortage of articles online discussing how the Internet has changed; from its early beginnings of personal and college sites to the current trend of mega-sites run by corporate conglomerates. It seems now that just about any large site that one goes to is somehow tied to one media giant or another - much like radio and TV, the web is being split up. How long before we're visiting kuro5hin, a division of Viacom?

I know, this isn't anything new. And, yes, anyone can still create their own site (as Rusty has so excellently done). But this quote from the article makes me worry:

We are probably going to hear less about how the Internet will invigorate media competition and more about how since anyone can start a website, we should all just shut up and be happy consumers. But, in the big scheme of things, having the ability to launch a website at a nominal expense is only slightly more compelling than saying we have no grounds of concern about monopoly newspapers because anyone can write up a newsletter and wave it in their front window or hand it out to their neighbors.
Sure, I can make my own site, but in the grand scheme of things, what will it accomplish? Either it will stay lost in the realm of gossip, visited by few, or, if it does grow large enough to attract attention, become swallowed up into the corporate empires (as another formerly coherent site, Slashdot, now seems destined to do). There are tons of independent newspapers and 'zines, but they rarely gain attention.

The one advantage that the net has to other forms of media is the fact that there isn't really much separating a big media site from a small independent one. After all, the difference between www.adbusters.org and www.mcdonalds.com is just a few letters. The trick, however, is convincing the public that there is more online than just AOL and MSN, that there is life outside of "the GO network".

Obviously there exist many independent sites where discussion thrives. But I am interested in harnessing this online energy and moving it toward topics other than Microsoft vs. Linux, or vi vs. emacs. Just look at the political process - this year has shown that there is power to be found online.

What do people think about this issue? Rusty, as the webmaster of a popular independent site, what are you ready to say when the boys from Andover or NBC come a-knockin'? What about ad banners on kuro5hin? Do you think that it is possible to maintain a truly independent discussion site while accepting corporate dollars?

Thanks for reading this - I know it isn't the most coherent article. I just thought it would be interesting to post this here: I find this site to be consistently filled with intelligent readers and (sometimes) insightful discussion. Rusty, keep up the good work!


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The Future of the Internet | 11 comments (11 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
Ok, first of all, let me make it pe... (5.00 / 1) (#1)
by rusty on Thu Mar 23, 2000 at 03:26:57 AM EST

rusty voted 1 on this story.

Ok, first of all, let me make it perfectly clear that lots of compliments to me won't make your story go up any fatser. But I like them so keep 'em coming! ;-)

As for corporate media. Let me 'splain. No, there is no time to 'splain. Let me sum up: In part, corporate media is to thank for kuro5hin.org. Watching the decline of slashdot from an online obsession of mine to a total soup of gibberish provided much of the motivation for me to stop complaining and write my own damn site (like everyone kept telling me to do when I was complaining). I didn't fail to note the concidence between the Andover->VA buyout process, and the sudden loss of everything that made slashdot cool to begin with. So lesson number one learned right there. Whatever happened over there, it all went wrong.

What would I do, if approached with a similar deal? Having seen what happened to slashdot, I have my answer all set. The conversation goes something like this:

Corp: "We'd like to bring kuro5hin.org into our fine family of media outlets.
Me: "Ok, that'll be fifteen million, cash at the first window. Please drive thru."
Corp: "Er. That seems a little steep. We'd like you to sign these papers here, stating that you'll be our indentured servant for a period of blah blah blah and not compete in our core markets and blah blah blah..."
Me: "No. You give me 15 million dollars, I give you the rights to use kuro5hin.[com|net|org] and turn over all the code, database contents, html, and images on www.kuro5hin.org and images.kuro5hin.org. That's the deal."

And that's only the first offer. It just keeps getting more expensive after that. :-)

Yes, that's utterly ludicrous. It really is what I seriously intend to say if the situation should ever arise. But I don't expect that deal to fly, ever. And really, I don't care. I didn't start this site to make money. I don't care if it ever does. It'd be nifty and fun to work on kuro5hin full time, and if that happens, well, all the better. But whatever happens, it'll be on my terms.

Yes, there may end up being ads here eventually. Actually I have a cool idea for ads that I think people might actually *like*. An opt-in plan, basically. You can choose to have an adbox displayed on your pages, if you're a user, and also you can pick categories of ads you're interested in seeing. Don't want ads? Shut the adbox off. While the total volume of ads displayed might be lower than most sites, I'm betting the clickthrough would be phenomenal. But I'll get to it when I get to it, and in the grand scheme it rates fairly low on my priority list right now.

About the idea that anyone can start a site but no one can get noticed, that's just not really true, I think. It's *hard* to get noticed. You have to provide something that is lacking. And doing that is a lot of work (believe me. It's a lot of work). But even in what has to be the most glutted online media niche, tech news, kuro5hin has actually begun to be known to people. We have over 500 registered users, and the site's existed for barely three months. The numbers just continue to grow. Now that's not, obviously, curculation on par with the Big Media Outlets, but for a site which has had *zero* official publicity, it ain't too bad.

What worries me a lot more is that what we are is basically a weblog. We aggregate content from around the web, and from the Big Media Outlets themselves, mostly. What I wonder is how to move from being a media repackager to being a media producer. I believe that sites like this one are the future of internet media-- people want something that grabs their interest. They want other people. As long as the traditional media outlets provide nothing but plain articles, people will continue to pop over, read one article, and come back to their favorite log to talk about it.

So how can sites like this become real producers of news? Well, slashdot has the money to actually hire reporters, if they wanted to, but they just don't seem interested in taking the step. I'd love to, but don't have the cash. Any ideas on that quandry are welcome.

Ok, this has got to be the longest story mod comment ever, so I'll stop now. In case it wasn't obvious, I loved this article. Please submit more discussion stuff like this!

Not the real rusty

Re: Ok, first of all, let me make it pe... (4.00 / 1) (#6)
by analog on Thu Mar 23, 2000 at 01:39:07 PM EST

So how can sites like this become real producers of news?

The hard way. It's doable, but it ain't easy. Your #1 job is going to find people who know what needs to be done, are willing to do it, and (real biggie here) can do it. You're a pretty good writer, Rusty. Most people aren't. So hurdle number one is that most of the people who will want to help (and this group may not be very big to begin with) won't be good enough at it to be able to.

So, keeping that in mind, where to go from here? Start a column. Opinion pieces are the easiest (and cheapest) way to generate original content. Get to know some people who have something to say, then let them go. Yes, this means someone like Jon Katz. Hopefully, you could manage to find someone a little more informed. I understand Rob's reasoning for picking him (I suspect it was because he's an 'outsider' as compared to the normal Slashdotter, not in spite of it), but if you're looking to be taken seriously in the big picture Katz won't do. Actually, if you want an example of the type of thing (style, not necessarily content) I suspect might do well here go to sfgate.com and read some Jon Carroll columns.

Part two. Find yourself some reporters. How? You read the comments; start paying attention to the people who write well and have something to say (make sure you pick at least one person whose viewpoint is completely different than yours; this goes for columnists as well). Start getting to know them through email. Authorize a few to make phone calls and say "this is Joe Bloggs from Kuro5hin; I'd like to speak to you about (event/product/whatever)". Come up with a process for them to be assigned to stories (whether it be they pick their own, snick them from the submission queue, whatever as long as it's organized) and have them make the calls. At first they'll just get standard press release type answers, but that's fine; the point is that you have an answer from 'the horse's mouth'. If things go well, over time 'from Kuro5hin' will begin to mean something to people, and you'll get more in depth answers. But you gotta start somewhere.

There are a million other questions you'll have to answer. Should you have reporters and writers be different people? This can be very effective (a good writer isn't necessarily good at making cold calls and asking the right questions), but to start with you probably want as many skills in as few bodies as possible. If you begin to make money off the site, how do you include those people who are generating the original content (and you must include them in it from the day you start accepting money, or Kuro5hin will die a quick, ugly death)? What will be your focus? Will you want to be known for insight, accuracy & incisive commentary (a model that seems not to have made it to the web yet) and accept the limited audience that implies, or maximize audience size and tailor content to do that (*cough*/.*cough*)? There really aren't any right or wrong answers here, but they are questions that have to be answered very early in the process.

As you can see, this is something I have some interest in. If you really want to do this, it can be done. But you really need to want to. It'll be a real pain in the ass, but if it works, I think you'll find that it was worth the trouble. I suspect I'm already in the running for longest reply to a long comment, so I'll wrap this up. I'd love to talk to you some more about this though, so if you're interested in doing that, let me know.

[ Parent ]

Re: Ok, first of all, let me make it pe... (none / 0) (#7)
by choska on Thu Mar 23, 2000 at 02:08:59 PM EST

Hmm..this is a good comment.

I'm the one who posted the original article - I figured I might as well get a real username since people didn't seem to completely hate what I wrote.

I agree, I think that it is definitely good to have original content, as opposed to just links to other sites. There is a line, though, and I think that Story Moderation helps to keep the poorly written stuff out. For example, having featured columnists is a great idea, but their writing may not always be consistently good (read: JonKatz). So, Story Moderation seems like it would allow through only the interesting stuff.

I think there a lot of different types of content that can be easy to create and don't require a lot of overhead (ie news trucks, Chopper-8000, etc). For example, online interviews or product reviews might be interesting. Or perhaps a kind of weekly wrap-up of news of some sort, both with links to sites around the web and in-depth commentary for those who care to read it. It seems that there is no shortage of people who would be willing to contribute.

I look forward to seeing where this idea goes.

[ Parent ]

Re: Ok, first of all, let me make it pe... (none / 0) (#9)
by analog on Thu Mar 23, 2000 at 10:55:59 PM EST

I agree with you about story moderation; I hope my comment didn't imply that I thought columnists and reporters should be able to circumvent it. Actually, even though it could be a little ego deflating, the moderation queue would be a great way to let them know if they're doing a good job (10 stories submitted, 1 posted? Better start rethinking your approach...).

I would say that due to the nature of the beast, though, columns should probably have a box that always links to the latest ones. You wouldn't necessarily always want them in with regular stories, but I think you would want them available in a defined place. That way, people who want to follow a certain columnist can do that easily, and the really good columns can go with the other stories on the front page via the submission queue.

[ Parent ]

Re: Ok, first of all, let me make it pe... (none / 0) (#8)
by henrik on Thu Mar 23, 2000 at 02:13:20 PM EST

Hmm - this has the feel of a comment from Rob from a year or two ago. "No matter what, i'll keep control of my site and make sure it stays as good as it is now". The problem is money corrupts - it's a lot harder to say that you don't care about the dough when there's a guy holding a truckload of money under your nose and telling you that all you need to do is just more of the same stuff that you've been doing for fun.

The problem with slashdot isn't the money or the horrible html or even Robs arrogance. It's it's popularity - it's being crushed under the weight of the hundreds of thousands of users reading the site. In a population of 500, you don't get much out of destroying things for others - there's a real peer presure not to destroy. If you have 200 000 people you hardly know anyone, and you don't really care about anyone else. Sure, Rob still has all the editorial control of /. but there's one thing a commercial investment requires - that you grow. You can't stay the little cozy village any longer, you need to grow and grow and then grow even more. It more subtle than a company directly storming in and taking charge, but it changes everything.

Slashdot's success is what's killing it - and honestly i can't really see anything else happen to k5 - this site is just too good not to be noticed.

Sorry for the gloomy outlook - but let's enjoy this site while we can.

Akademiska Intresseklubben antecknar!
[ Parent ]

Re: Ok, first of all, let me make it pe... (none / 0) (#10)
by rusty on Fri Mar 24, 2000 at 12:47:05 AM EST

Hmm - this has the feel of a comment from Rob from a year or two ago.

Yeah, it does. And I knew that when I was writing it. I can only assume he felt the same way I do now. But he'd never had the benefit of seeing this happen to someone else. And, he'd never really worked in the "Real World", to my knowlege. I've seen the money truck pull up, and the brain truck drive away, more than once. Does that mean I can do anything different? That remains to be seen. I intend to do my best to keep my personal financial interests away from kuro5hin, as much as possible. Taking advertisers, to me, is palatable. Something like VA Linux owning one of, if not *the* most popular linux news and advocacy sites, that, to me, is unpalatable. The line is very fuzzy, and most of the time, no one sees it till it's too late. I'll try to keep a sharp eye out.

And don't be too glum. We've got a couple more years, at least! :-)

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Re: Ok, first of all, let me make it pe... (none / 0) (#11)
by henrik on Fri Mar 24, 2000 at 01:22:17 AM EST

Well, this sounds good. :) And you'll always have people watching you for signs of temptations from the dark side, aslong as you keep posting and reading here. unlike *cough *cough* some other side operators.


Akademiska Intresseklubben antecknar!
[ Parent ]

One of the best stories I've seen s... (none / 0) (#4)
by nascent on Thu Mar 23, 2000 at 05:08:29 AM EST

nascent voted 1 on this story.

One of the best stories I've seen submitted to date.

I have to take the position that sites like this will always be relevant and worth doing. Media, like water, finds its level. When sites are spewing nothing but the company line, new, apple-cart-tipping sites will show up. Hell, I'd go as far to say it's statistically predictable.

Secondly, sites that are irrelevant and not updated with fresh news will be lost in the shuffle. But why shouldn't they?

I mean, how often do you visit McDonald's website anyways (answer this one caredfully [grin]). And I know there is an anti-Slashdot streak (at least a mild one) in Kuro5hin's readership, but tell me it's adherants (of which I consider myself one) aren't going to jump ship like so many rats if even so much as a hint of party line is sniffed in it's diatribe?

In closing, this is a great question. In the sea of information, how do we ...how does anyone cull signal from the noise? Will incidents such as thesquishing of Nullsoft's Gnutella by parent company AOL be more the rule than the exception? Maybe. But as long as the Internet stays a free place to say whatever the hell you want (and that alone is not a foregone conclusion), we'll be okay.

But I am interested in harnessing ... (none / 0) (#2)
by rongen on Thu Mar 23, 2000 at 05:54:02 AM EST

rongen voted 1 on this story.

But I am interested in harnessing this online energy and moving it toward topics other than Microsoft vs. Linux, or vi vs. emacs.

Emacs of course! Just kidding! :)

There's a great deal to discuss here... I am sort of interested in IT ethics... As computer professionals (or whatever) we hold the keys to the kingdom in many ways. I'll post again later, I am interested in hearing what others say about this (especially non-computer-professional types).
read/write http://www.prosebush.com

When rusty makes his millions from ... (none / 0) (#3)
by hattig on Thu Mar 23, 2000 at 07:17:58 AM EST

hattig voted 1 on this story.

When rusty makes his millions from kuro5hin, there will be another place set up that does the same so people can leave and go there instead. Slashdot->kuro5hin->fishscape etc.

Oh course, the internet is young, and a natural progression in corporate behaviour in a new industry is thousands of wannabes being snapped up or merging into larger entities. The problem comes when these larger entities actually try and keep people on their sites and they aren't allowed off them! Not that the internet will be usable in 20 years, with 5 streaming video advertisements on a page (audio from the one your mouse is nearest to) and lots of other stuff all moving and making you feel sick etc!

... (none / 0) (#5)
by marlowe on Thu Mar 23, 2000 at 10:36:42 AM EST

marlowe voted 1 on this story.

--- I will insist on my right to question ---
-- The Americans are the Jews of the 21st century. Only we won't go as quietly to the gas chambers. --

The Future of the Internet | 11 comments (11 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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