Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Misunderstanding all you see

Every once in awhile someone says something about the differences between magazines and the online world that I find to be shockingly out of touch. That's my reaction to a new essay by Bruce Sheiman in min online (there's no permalink for the piece, but it can be found here for at least awhile.)
Sheiman seems to be defending print magazines from some unseen enemy. And he argues that information on the Web is "fragmented, overwhelming, and unfathomable."
I first saw the piece a few days ago, when a magazine editor I know in Kansas City sent it to me. That editor said he could find no value in what Bruce wrote, and wanted to know if I could.

Here are some excerpts from the email I sent back to that editor:
"He (Sheiman) states that a "search engine is not an editor," and implies that this is some sort of shortcoming. That's silly. A search engine is a search engine. An editor is an editor. And one of a search engine's functions is, arguably, to point readers to the work of editors.
But more importantly, a search engine has some editor-like functions. And of course, there are other Web-based tools such as RSS with even stronger editor-like functions.
And most importantly, he misses the biggest point of all -- the Web allows a user to assume the editing role himself. Sure, a professional editor has some value. But that value has clearly been diminished in a world where I can create my own "magazine" on Bloglines with information from 100 sources in about 5 minutes. My "magazine" will tell me when it's updated. It will allow me to talk back to the writers. And I can share it with my friends."
"In a sense, Sheiman understands the branding and identity functions of magazines. But he chooses the easy and obvious examples. And that makes me think he hasn't thought this through.
I mean really, he says a business person's identity is reinforced by reading BusinessWeek in print. Sure. OK. No kidding. But has he seen what has happened to BusinessWeek in the past year? It's become the single most interactive magazine on the Web! Its print edition has become an afterthought. And most interestingly, BusinessWeek has talked about these changes in a public blog. But I'd bet that he hasn't even seen it."

Colin Crawford, vice president for business development at IDG, also came across Sheiman's piece. The essay and Colin's response can be found here.

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