I've been thinking about ecosystems lately. As we're digging deeper into YouTube at Vox Media, I'm coming to appreciate the ways YouTube personalities interact with each other, recommending each other's work with in-video shout-outs. It feels a lot like the early days of blogging. Back then, linking to and recommending each others' posts was the whole fun of it; Technorati existed mostly just to validate this behavior.
Today everyone in the media world is launching email newsletters. Jason Hirschorn, Ian Schafer, Ann Friedman, Lauren Sherman — as I'm typing these words I see that Dan Shanoff is soliciting signups for his forthcoming dailyish email (I signed up) — my inbox fills anew each day with emails. So many emails. Great. But what I miss from emails is the sense of community, the shared experience of shared linking in real time. Obviously Twitter replaced parts of that; Facebook others. Still, it's a far noisier conversation these days, and perhaps there's something to be said for good old blogging itself.
What I miss from newsletters is the sense of community, the shared experience of shared linking in real time
I ran into Rex Sorgatz, an old-school blogger of the Fimoculous school, last week. We got to talking about the old days and blogging. He remarked that all the individual bloggers he still reads are the folks that have been blogging since forever. Me too: Kottke, Waxy, Anil, to name a few.
I once defined myself by blogging. In the first year of Curbed, in 2004, I wrote every post on the blog, roughly six to eight a day; in the first year of Eater, in 2005-06, I shared the blogging responsibilities with Ben Leventhal, writing at least a couple posts every day. (The data tells me that over the years, I've written a total of 7,152 posts for the Curbed network of sites, which feels respectable, if low.) I loved those days: writing post after post after post, day after day, forces a different mindset as a writer. You loosen up; you get conversational.
These days, the other blogs — websites, fine — I read every day are professional outgrowths of that old blogging school. I'm now the Editorial Director of Vox Media, having sold our company, Curbed Media, to Vox last fall. Here at Vox, we put a premium on product and design, and that comes through in the gorgeous layouts that have graced so many Verge features over the last few years. That's not going to change. Nor is the deep reportage that underlies so much of the best work across Vox's sites. But there's also something great and internetty about moving fast and breaking things. It's been a lot of fun over the last month to watch Nilay, in his new role as editor-in-chief of The Verge, encourage his team to re-embrace an ethos that I can only describe as bloggy.
Perhaps it's time for #blogging to reclaim its seat at the table
It's not just The Verge thinking this way at our company. At SB Nation, the site that spawned Vox Media, sports blogging covering 300-plus teams across North America is alive and well. At Vox.com, the newest site in the Vox stable, OG bloggers like Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias are developing an entirely new framework for explaining the news of the world and have built an audience of 10 million uniques in just four months — but they've launched blogs on the Vox platform, with names that gloriously echo the past.
SB Nation, The Verge, Polygon, Vox, Eater, Racked, and Curbed all do far more than just bloggy work, obviously; the longform undertakings of each of these have changed conversations, unseated the powerful, and won awards. But at a time where #longform is a hashtag known to all, perhaps it's time for #blogging to reclaim its seat at the table, too.
Today, I'm raising my personal blog from the dead
Thinking about all this has stoked my desire to get back in the game myself. So, today, I'm raising my personal blog, lockhartsteele.com, from the dead. Over there, on a daily basis, I'll be blogging about Vox Media editorial, as well as things that have nothing to do with our company, such as restaurants and — indulge me here — the Red Sox. Part of my goal is to offer a clearer window into what's going on in the Vox Media world; the other, simply, is to regain the practice of daily blogging.
For some, Medium has worked for this purpose; Tumblr fits the bill for others. At Vox Media, our platform for content creation is called Chorus. It's the technology behind The Verge and the other websites in the Vox Media family; the company lovingly refers to it as a "modern media stack." You've probably heard about it; we like to talk about it. I suppose I could be restarting a blog on our platform, with a URL like editorial.voxmedia.com. As much as I'd like to be using Chorus, that falls flat for me: who, outside those that must, reads company blogs, beset by the weight of prose that must meet the approval of many before it's published? (Still, I urge you to read this truly excellent blog.) More pertinently, though, it's just not possible for me to be blogging at my personal domain while using Chorus. Ain't wired that way.
Here now, the buried lede
At least right now. These days at Vox, we're doing a lot of thinking about where Chorus itself is heading. Built as a platform for the best digital talent, it's grown to become the best thing going for the creation of digital brands. Here now, the buried lede: perhaps Chorus should become a tool for more than just those of us employed at Vox Media, and a platform that transcends words in the ways that Vox Media has long since transcended just being a collection of websites? The team behind Editorially — Mandy, Jason, and David, each oldschool internetters of the highest order — recently joined Trei's insane Vox Product team to help us address that question. Without giving too much away: watch this space.
Meantime, Vox Media's editors-in-chief will keep hiring and cultivating the best talent in the world. Our communities, also powered by Chorus, will continue to encourage the best conversations. And Vox's reputation for beautiful product design should only grow.
Here at The Verge, it'll be thrilling to watch Nilay and The Verge team move faster and break more things — while, of course, slowing down and lingering over the more deeply reported stories that matter, too. The two are not mutually exclusive; think chocolate and peanut butter. And foie gras. Though maybe not all in the same bite. Or maybe all in the same bite.
But for me, the web ecosystem will always be bloggy at its core. I'm looking forward to being a part of it again myself.