Digital Broadcasting vs. Digital publishing

Reading Craig Mod's wonderful tome on Subcompact Publishing, this footnote really struck a chord: (Yes, I read the footnotes. And his were nicely done, btw. Moving on.)
One can argue that — technologically — we've been building and refining certain infrastructures and tools for digital publishing in anticipation of better consumption devices. Blogger was released in the late 90s. Live Journal. Geocities. All of those old platforms were ahead of their time. Twitter, too, is something of a platform built for the bubbling emergence, but with their reluctance to offer good archives, I'd place it more in the broadcast category than publishing category.

I'm not sure why, but I'd never thought to distinguish between broadcast mediums and publishing mediums online, because 'online' has so often been talked about like it's a medium of it's own.

The way I heard people talk about 'Online' in j-school, it seemed to come with a set of genres but not many rules; like radio meets the wild west cliché. You have your voicers (traditional news) and your trashy banter talk shows (Perez hilton) and your music or other 'genre' shows (Pitchfork, GvB). Unlike radio, no one can agree on how to do much of anything, and building and writing things for the web is complicated by outdated expectations of what publishing should be.

That vocabulary seems to be shifting now - like the movement away from 'click' to 'tap' and 'hit' in the meantime. As different models form we're beginning to see different publications create new management models and distribution strategies, and the vocabulary around them is changing. Online isn't a medium, it's becoming a utility.

Broadcast mediums tend to be defined by the assumed passivity of their listeners. Publishing mediums by their stylistic consistency and coherent editorial tone.

To those I'd add a third use of the medium as well, if it doesn't muddy the waters too much: conversational mediums. Confessionals, almost. Sites that use publishing models in a slightly more collective-navel-gazing way, like XO Jane or Thought Catalogue. To be clear, I love both of these publications, but often it does feel like navel-gazing: cathartic, mildly titillating, subjective and community-forming.

I read Quartz, Smashing, Gizmodo, Foreign Policy, Reuters, the Gaurdian and the New York Times for published news and interesting views; I read XO Jane, the Awl, Thought Catalogue, and This Recording to gain perspective, reassurance or food for introspection. I comment on the latter, or at least tend to pin them. It takes a really insightful or deeply delved long-form piece from one of the former for me to form the same kind of emotional connection (or, pin to a reading list. Super deep connection eh!)

These are not to be confused with all the 'new media' subgroups, and traditional "Newsprint" mediums' classification by the frequency of publication/distribution, which creates different expectations and formats as well. Online, there are the social mediums - 'lighter' third-party content delivery mechanisms - plus different formats - video, audio, visual, and the subsegmentation of sites by reputation, topic and again publishing frequency. Like music subgenres (italodisco post-punk tropicalia house indiepop, anyone?), how we talk about and categorize our information consumption structures is shifting.

The common coefficient is that in every case, the 'medium' is being used for very different tones in ways that grow out of the people using them. Oddly, the format I most often consume 'newsy' publications in is as emailed newsletters, or I skim the headlines in my feed reader. (Industry, longform or music publications get the same treatment as more emotionally resonant publications, though: I save them to read in the appropriate frame of mind.)

The point of Mod's piece seemed to be that no one was doing it as elegantly or simply as This Magazine, but I'd argue that the case (for lack of a better phrase) is very similar to a gorgeous email newsletter. But I love email newsletters and feed readers, and it's the same 'form' of publishing taking place, with similar constraints. Mod seemed to be exploring how they set their distribution and constraints in the essay, which was wonderful; more broadly, setting the constraints appropriately for each publication without getting bogged down in legacy framework is really the next new challenge, and it's something all writers, designers and web-building-people should think honestly about. Sending out a blast is very different to starting a discussion, and should happen in very different contexts.

Publishing is evolving, obviously, as discussions like this (and essays like his) detail. Sometimes the simplest forms really should win out, and sometimes I want to get lost in Symbolia.


* Sidenote: So excited about the A11y project, all of the readings have been saved for this weekend.