May 16, 2006
Microsoft Sidewalk anyone?by
Does anybody remember when City Search and Sidewalk were supposed to take over the world? Back in 1997, I was the new entertainment editor at SFGate.com, the fledgling website of the SF Chronicle and SF Examiner (before the JOA separation operation was performed); as we were trying to figure out how to create our own cultural presence on the web after a century of publishing a newspaper, these new corporations muscled into town with so much money that we thought we'd be dead within the year. Really. Many critics, editors and reporters signed juicy contracts and abandoned print -- supposedly forever. The future of arts journalism seemed secured -- and newspapers weren't going to be part of it. Well, Sidewalk tanked, and City Search survived, but it isn't threatening anybody's job except for listings interns. One main reason for this, I believe, is local knowledge, local authority, connection to the community, all of which takes a long time to develop. The other reason is critical authority. Microsoft tried to buy that authority in the marketplace -- and they did recruit some talent. But their corporate listings machine, even if peopled with a few actual critics, didn't win over readers (although City Search did, and continues to in some cities, drain off some of those all important advestising dollars).
But the challenge of blogs is something different -- because the web currently functions as a universal publishing platfrom. I think we should appreciate this problem while we have it. The glut of opinion -- horrors -- is so much better than its opposite, which is very centralized, corporate-controlled media. But this very glut is also an opportunity for criticism, whether it's published in newspapers owned by verneralbe companies or new outfits such as as Gothamist (and SFist and all its other spawn) or Terry Teachout or the SF community visual art site Fecalface.com. Because with all these choices and voices, we need an organizing intelligence to make sense of it all -- and there is a massive audience of art lovers and consumers out there craving knowledge, craving critics. Once newspapers and magazines quit panicking over blogs and the internet in general, maybe they can beat the bloggers at their own game. Or maybe not. But I do agree with Doug that the blog/old media dichotomy is a red herring.
Posted by at May 16, 2006 8:26 PM
Don't you think that one of the things that killed Sidewalk and Citysearch is that they were ahead of their time? They sprouted before the ad dollars (and the eyeballs) were there. I think both models are perfectly suited to today's climate and now alt-weeklies are picking up the slack and creating similar sites now that they can get revenue. I don't think the reason those sites failed is because they didn't connect. I know that Citysearch hired locally when it started. And I think AOL now has the same model.
Posted by: caryn at May 17, 2006 6:14 AM
Jeanne wrote: "Because with all these choices and voices, we need an organizing intelligence to make sense of it all -- and there is a massive audience of art lovers and consumers out there craving knowledge, craving critics."
I disagree (a little bit). The blogosphere acts like a giant brain, organizing itself into a hierarchy of quality. The good stuff gets linked to and lots of people read it. The more a site is linked to, the more people begin to read it daily on their own. It's survival-of-the-fittest criticism/writing-style.
Posted by: Tyler Green at May 17, 2006 6:37 AM
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