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September 14, 2002
Nancy Nall Nails It

"Nails what?" you ask. The blogosphere's chronic over-contempt for Big Media, poised against its chronic over-estimation of its own efforts.

To wit, a lousy Big Media story is always sure to get pilloried in just and rigorous fashion. And that's fine (at least until the pompous, half-assed you-go!-girlism kicks in).

But why not turn some of that scrutiny inward more often? Big Media gets a name or fact wrong, and it's evidence of their sloppy ineptitude or bias. Bloggers do the same and it's evidence of their freedom from convention and personality.

As a reader, I don't really care if the source is a professional publication or a blogger: I look for stuff that's well-written, well-reasoned, funny, accurate, entertaining, illuminating. Sometimes that comes from professional publications, sometimes from blogs.

Or, as Nancy Nall puts it in a message I read on Tony Pierce's message-board: "Yesterday I wanted to know more about Warren Zevon. Clicked around the blogosphere, and found lots of people saying, 'Oh, that's terrible' or 'Here's my analysis of this or that Zevon lyric, and aren't I clever for noticing its hidden genius.' But I already wrote something like that myself; I mean, I read a couple, but how many can you read? Checked the L.A. Times. Glory be! They had an actual interview with the guy, with lots of new information. As Reynolds says (or doesn't say), Advantage, Big Media."

Of course, in the long run the advantage will go to small pieces, loosely joined. People like their own opinions best, and the opinions of their friends and community-members second-best. In the past, only Big Media had the power to demonstrate this principle on a widely disseminated basis. Now, everyone else does too.

Posted by Greg Beato at 10:21 AM
September 13, 2002
Soundbitten: The Next Generation

In 1994, when I first saw the Web, it didn't really seem that interesting to me. At that point it was gray pages and blinking headlines -- it seemed like it was throwing out everything that computers had achieved to that point. You couldn't make nice layouts like you could with Pagemaker; you couldn't add multimedia and interactivity like you could you with Director and Toolbook; you couldn't even type dirty to strangers like you could with AOL and CompuServe.

So I pretty much ignored it at first, but then the software company where I worked as a marketing writer asked me to create some web pages for something or other. So I learned HTML, started working on the project, and consequently started spending more time on the web. For a while, it was still so bereft of interesting content that a site that sold nothing but hot sauce could create a huge sensation. Eventually, I came across more interesting sites like and, but even those weren't that exciting to me: was just a harder-to-read, less-well-written version of print publications like PC Magazine; was better, haphazardly eclectic and ready to take chances, but still pretty uneven: many of the articles and sections basically felt like someone's random email dispatches formatted by near-sighted, color-blind designers.

Then, in the summer of 1995, I discovered Feed. They weren't doing anything too radical there -- I can't even remember if they had a message-board yet for reader feedback. But the thing that was so impressive was just how good the writing was. A bunch of people I'd never heard of (Steven Johnson? Stephanie Syman? Sam Lipsyte?) were publishing articles on par with The New Yorker and Harpers. At first it seemed sort of like a magic trick: how were they doing this? Who was funding them? At that point, there was actually a fairly clear division between professional efforts on the web (,, etc.) and personal ones (home pages that consisted of bookmark lists and cat photos). What Feed made me realize was that that distinction was actually pretty arbitrary. They were a small group of people with relatively few resources, and they had created a website that, in my opinion at least, was the web's greatest achievement to date, better than the larger, better-funded efforts of and, much better than Time Warner's

So if they could it, why couldn't I do it too? A few months later, in October 1995, I created my first webzine, Traffic. In retrospect, it offers a pretty funny look at magazine-centric thinking in action, with its "cover", its multiple departments, and its stories divided into way too many pages.

About a month after I created Traffic, I discovered (which had been publishing since August 1995), and realized I'd done everything wrong. Cover pages were pointless, distinct departments weren't that useful either; the important thing was to make your content accessible in as few clicks as possible and to publish as frequently as possible. Oh, and to put in tons of links. (Indeed, in the earliest days of Suck according to co-founder Joey Anuff, he and Carl Steadman used to start with a list of links and write the essay around them.)

I, however, was stuck with my magazine-centric design. Initially, I'd planned to publish four quarterly "issues." My thinking was that no one would really take Traffic seriously as a publication unless I could produce at least 5 to 7 articles at a time, and that I'd only be able to manage that maybe four times a year. After the first issue, though, I pretty much abandoned the idea of issues and just started putting up articles as I finished them. And suprisingly enough, people took Traffic seriously anyway. Since there was so many HTML and bandwidth limitations then, there wasn't a whole lot that a professional publication could do that a one-person amateur one couldn't do, and consequently Traffic benefited from a mantle of presumed professionalism. Editors started offering me paying assignments, and I started taking them. Because I still had a full-time job, I had less and less time to do Traffic, and by the spring of 1996, I had pretty much stopped updating it.

In January 1997, I quit my job to freelance full-time. That was the golden era of Web publishing: along with pioneers like Suck, Feed, Salon, Slate, and Word, there were myriad other sites that were actually paying contributors to write about whatever they wanted: cigar magazines, emerging Internet personalities, crazy talk-show hosts. It was an armchair critic's paradise.

And without a job, I had more time to do my own website again. This time, I got it right. Simple site architecture, minimal word counts, links: if I'd bothered to update this site more often, maybe I would be known as the first blogger. But I didn't quite manage to do that because:

1. While I knew short and linky worked best, I was always more interested in writing longer pieces.

2. As simple as the site was, it was still a hassle to update by hand.

3. Paying assignments usually took precedence.

And perhaps most importantly, most of the technological and bandwidth constraints that made it hard to differentiate between small DIY efforts and large corporate ones were quickly disappearing. Professional publications were starting to regularly incorporate message-boards, chatrooms, multimedia, polling, and various other kinds of functionality that took more than a passing familiarity with HTML to implement. I knew I couldn't offer that kind of functionality at Soundbitten, so after a few months of fairly regular posting, I sort of lost interest in it and it became a place for me to post odds and ends -- killed articles, archived articles, the occasional piece that I just felt like writing even though I knew no one would publish it.

Eventually, howeve, people started developing tools and services for small publishers: content management systems like, instant message-boards, low-cost ad management software. The gap between corporate publishers and independent publishers was narrowing again, many professional sites were going under due to insufficient revenues, and more and more web readers were gravitating toward smaller, more personal sites. In the summer of 2000, blogs were getting a lot of attention, and I started thinking maybe I had missed the boat, maybe a personally produced website could be more than just a hobby, so I started posting more frequently on Soundbitten again.

That lasted only a few months, though. I never actually got around to switching to Blogger, so posting was still a hassle. Plus, I kept thinking that instead of spending a few hours each night surfing the web and looking for items to link to, I should really be working on a bigger project, something more ambitious. I wanted to try to create some kind of web business that would actually generate revenue, and blogging didn't seem like it could ever do that: too many people do it for free.

But I'd been writing scripts for a bunch of online animation series, and seeing how the creators of some of those series were making big money, so I thought I'd give that a shot. My plan was to produce episodes at prices no other producer could match, then license those episodes to other websites for less than what other producers were charging. It seemed like a good idea at the time, because animated content could give web publishers something they desperately needed: an appropriate context for serving rich-media ads. In a year or two, when web publishers begin to understand why it makes more sense to run rich-media ads in the middle of cartoons rather than in the middle of newspaper articles, someone will succeed with this idea.

In the meantime, well, my foray into online animation certainly made blogging look more attractive: I might not make any money doing this, but I don't really lose any either, just time. So now that I've scaled back my efforts at, I'm spending more time on Soundbitten again. And I'm finally using a content management system, in the hope that that will help me post more frequently (and hopefully less lengthily). Go away now, but please return soon.

Posted by Greg Beato at 02:58 PM
September 12, 2002
Riordan's Newspaper Coming Soon?

Stories about Richard Riordan's planned LA newspaper have grown so infrequent that I was starting to think the project must have stalled, but here's news in the NY Post that the dream still has legs.

The Post says Riordan wants to pattern the newspaper after the NY Observer so strongly that there are rumors he even tried to hire its editor: it's nice to see that while seemingly every publication on the planet is now making itself over in th image of Maxim, someone wants to try something a little different. An LA version of the Observer would be excellent, especially if it adopts the Observer's practice of writing the kind of relatively long features (often about nobodies) that most other publications are now loathe to publish, because they know their readers don't really like reading.

While the audience that Riordan is after -- "We are going to target the 100,000 wealthiest homes in L.A." -- probably likes reading even less than the usual person, that shouldn't be a problem, as there is a grand tradition in LA of wealthy people hiring others to do their reading for them. So hopefully Riordan will find his editor soon and get on with it.

You know who might be an interesting person to involve in this project, if not necessarily as the main editor? Ben Stein. Comedy Central just dumped him, he's looking for a new gig, and if gossip and a non-politcally correct attitude will be the new paper's two main hallmarks, who better to provide that than a conservative bon vivant who knows everyone in town?

A little-celebrated factoid about Stein: his E! Online column, "Monday Night at Morton's," has been running every two weeks since August 1996. I believe this makes him the longest-running columnist on the Internet at this point, as well as yet another candidate for the title of "First Blogger."

Posted by Greg Beato at 10:30 PM