John Hermman, formerly a Tech editor at Buzzfeed and (for now) writing for The Awl, thinks we’re living in the twilight of a web site as a publication’s embodiment and lifeblood. (Here’s the full article.)
In short, “websites are unnecessary vestiges of a time before there were better ways to find things to look at on your computer or your phone.”
The only thing that keeps people coming back to apps in great enough numbers over time to make real money is the presence of other people. So the only apps that people use in the way publications want their readers to behave—with growing loyalty that can be turned into money—are communications services. The near-future internet puts the publishing and communications industries in competition with each other for the same confused advertising dollars, and it’s not even close.
Hermman points to Fusion, a joint venture of entertainment companies Disney and Univision, as an example of a new breed that isn’t site-centric.
For Fusion to talk about “promiscuous media” and “build[ing] our brand in the places [the audience] is spending time”—as opposed to publishing everything on a single website and hoping it spreads from there—is not strange in the context of television companies. They’re used to filling channels that they don’t totally control.
What’s a publisher, you ask?
[Publishers will] begin to see their websites as Just One More App, and realize that fewer people are using them, proportionally, than before. Eventually they might even symbolically close their websites, finishing the job they started when they all stopped paying attention to what their front pages looked like. Then, they will do a whole lot of what they already do, according to the demands of their new venues. They will report news and tell stories and post garbage and make mistakes. They will be given new metrics that are both more shallow and more urgent than ever before; they will adapt to them, all the while avoiding, as is tradition, honest discussions about the relationship between success and quality and self-respect. They will learn to cater to the structures within which they are working and come up with some new forms.
So, publishers, if you believe Hermman, get ready to retool your tools, metrics and lingo. Goodbye HTML, hello Facebook. Goodbye articles, hello cards. Goodbye clicks, hello shares and comments.