Too Much Content, Too Little Time

By: Steve Outing

While checking out a few new World Wide Web sites that came to my attention recently, I ended up spending some time at Salon, the new site launched by San Francisco journalists David Talbot and David Zweig and funded by Apple Computer and Adobe Systems. Salon is the Web's answer to walking down to the corner newsstand and picking up of a copy of your favorite magazine. It's an online-only cyberpublication.

I saw plenty in Salon on my visit yesterday to spark my interest. A piece by Jon Katz, "The Year of the Mediaphobe," was well written and entertaining. Also worth my time was a piece entitled "Road Kill: Will the future flatten Bill Gates?" And I couldn't resist Ian Shoales' humor column about his pet peeves on the infobahn. I recognized lots of quality writers' names (quite a few from the San Francisco area, my old haunting grounds).

In all, Salon is a nicely executed, well designed, well funded online publication. But, I fear, it's ahead of its time, as are other new ventures such as Microsoft's upcoming online magazine.

As I will bet many of you do, when I found an article within Salon that I deemed worth reading, I went to print it out, not being able to stomach reading a long Jon Katz piece on my 14-inch Seiko monitor. The problem was, Katz's piece was split up into several "takes." Print out the first; scroll to the bottom of the page; click to the next page; print; repeat through the end of the story.

When I first went to read the Bill Gates road kill piece ... "busy signal." Too many people trying to access Salon's server at once. With persistence I got through.

I longed for the portable digital tablet that so many of us have been pining for as my access window into cyberspace. Curled up in my favorite chair in the living room, not my cramped home office, I would happily spend time "interacting" with Salon on a book-size portable display and never be tempted to run to the laser printer.

So, while Salon is a wonderful concept that I believe will succeed eventually, I don't expect that it's going to be a hit right out of the gate. It's a good thing that Salon has wealthy benefactors like Apple and Adobe, and that Microsoft has (very) deep pockets to support its upcoming cyber magazine. They will need to be patient for these ventures to be truly successful. While Salon and its ilk may be able to attract enough advertising to be profitable, I don't believe that readers will find such cyberpublications attractive in "mass market" numbers until display technology improves. (In other words, when we can drag the screen off of our desks; and the screen isn't attached to a bulky laptop computer.)

While we wait for the holy grail tablet technology to evolve, I have a suggestion for cyberpublishers. Keep it short.

I believe that some of the best Web sites are those that are a "quick read," because at the current state of technology you can't ask a computer user to read a New Yorker-size article on screen. Your readers won't stick around long enough -- or at best they might punch the Print key.

That's one of my complaints with Salon. There was a lot of good content on the site, but I simply don't want to spend that much time reading an online publication on a desktop monitor.

A good model for Web sites at today's state of display technology may be to offer a limited amount of content and keep installments short. That's part of the philosophy with this column, which is published 5 days a week; each column is short, no more than a few hundred words. The idea we had was to encourage people to make a daily visit to the Editor & Publisher Interactive Web site where they'd get a quick hit of newspaper new media industry intelligence. If they want more, there's a lot more material available. But visit here once a day and we'll give you a quick hit of valuable information.

I don't profess to have all the answers, nor do I know if the strategy E&P and I have embarked on is a model that will succeed. I have received a lot of positive feedback, however, indicating that people are willing to make reading this column a regular ritual precisely because it's short and to the point. That's the challenge of all Web sites -- to keep people coming back for more.

Best Online Newspaper Services Competition

Please don't forget to nominate your own company or another for Editor & Publisher/The Kelsey Group's 1996 Best Online Newspaper Services Competition. The nomination form is on the Web at Deadline for nominations is January 24, 1996. Winners will be announced at the Interactive Newspapers conference in San Francisco on February 24, 1996.

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