Six Apart has had a strange history. Started by the starry-eyed Ben and Mena Trott, the early Six Apart (named after the number of days between the two founders’ birthdays) was like an earlier version of the WordPress story. The Movable Type publishing platform was the premier blogging platform of the mid ’00s, but the company divided its energies, building Typepad as a hosted blogging solution sort of based on Movable Type, but as an independent code base. The company also pissed off it most ardent users with an extremely inartful change in the licensing agreement, leading to the mass defection of the developer community to the then-fledgling Wordpress.
Not content with those diversion, the Six Apart team tried to grow through acquisitions, buying Loic LeMeur’s Ublog company and then LiveJournal, which was sold off years later.
Somewhere in there, they found time to squander their attention by building a fourth blogging platform, Vox, which was an attempt to fuse social networking with blogging, a sort of proto-Tumblr, but it never took off.
In recent years, Six Apart had grown into a services firm and advertising network, supporting larger publishers and dropping its efforts to grow its base of individual bloggers. This was partly a response to the dominance of Wordpress in old school blogging, and the rise of Tumblr, Posterous, and other innovative blogging solutions, but the elephant in the room has been the rise of social networks, like Twitter and Facebook, and the defection of the individual blogger to these social tools instead of blogging.
The acquisition of Six Apart by VideoEgg might represent a kind of end of the enthusiastic, communitarian era of blogging. Matt Sanchez, CEO of the combined company, which will be called Say Media, had this to say:
Mathew Ingram, Six Apart Deal With VideoEgg Marks the End of an Era
The VideoEgg CEO said that the new company would offer “content creators” of all kinds — individual bloggers, video creators, game developers and corporations — a single platform for their content and a way to build their brand through social media, but it’s clear that the point of the merger is to focus on corporations rather than the individual blogger, something Six Apart had been trying to do even before the deal was announced. SAY Media’s marketing presentation says “it’s not just about the amateurs anymore,” and that for brands, “engagement media is where your passionate customers are.”
It’s not social media, but engagement media, note: don’t want to scare off the big publishers with all that social malarkey. And, in case you are wondering, ‘it’s not just about the amateurs anymore.’
I have written a lot about media companies — who were once threatened by the rise of early social media — turning around and repurposing the tools of social media for their purposes. In several presentations and posts in recent years, I’ve made the case that we need to reconsider what the media companies are doing and out participation in it. They are creating ‘media sprawl’ — just like chain stores creating urban sprawl:
Looking back on ten years of blogging, I think we have arrived at a turning point, where we have to reclaim the social space in web media.
Ten years ago, when I started blogging, it wasn’t called blogging yet. I thought I was writing an ‘e-zine’ although it had all the characteristics of a blog: reverse chronological entries, categories, and so on.
We were like pioneers, fooling around out in the wilderness, cutting crude roads, building villages.
Relatively soon, however, this personal publishing by the fringe lunatics became big business and old media arrived. Now the leading ‘blogs’ are either run by old media giants, or bloggers who have become new media giants. Social media has been strip-malled. The funky soulfulness of the early days has been replaced by SEO, ad networks, and ersatz earnestness.
The reality is that so-called social media — even in its earlier, Birkenstock and granola days — wasn’t very social. We didn’t call it that until much later, anyway. We thought of it as personal publishing, and it adopted the basic dynamics of publishing. Most notably, there was a publisher or author and then there were readers. It seemed more egalitarian since anyone could be a publisher, but still there was a broadcast media dynamic despite the fact that anyone could argue or agree with someone else’s posts on their own blog. Then for a few years, we just called it blogging. Rhymes with slogging, because, in the final analysis, most people didn’t blog: too hard, too much work, not rewarding enough.
But the format is perfect for publishing companies, which is why the largest ‘blogs’ now are generally corporate media machinery. And as the blogosphere has become an increasingly corporate neighborhood, people are moving out.
I noticed a few years ago that comments seemed to be moving from blogs into faster paced social tools, like Facebook and then streaming apps like Twitter. (Twitter has become so popular that most of the competitors have closed shop). People are moving to where things are more social, where the author/audience divide is less sharp, and where the scale of interaction is human-sized. This is the new loft district: social networks.
Social networks are truly social, where web media isn’t, very.
Social networks are really about individuals and their personal relationships with others. So, if web media is to really become social — which it isn’t at present — we need to take what we have learned from other, more social tools, and take another run at social media.
Using an analogy from city planning and architecture, we need a rethinking of the basics: something like the New Urbanism movement, that tried to reclaim shared urban space in a way that matches human needs, and moved away from gigantic and dehumanizing cityscapes of the mid and late twentieth century, where garbage trucks seemed more at home than a teenage girl walking a dog.
So, we need a New Spatialism movement, to rethink web media and reclaim the social space that is supposed to be central to so-called social media. Some web media may just remain what it is, like an industrial district at the edge of town. But at least some parts of web media should be reconceptualized, and reconstructed to get back to human scale. Just as New Urbanism is about organizing streets, sidewalks, and plazas to support the growth of social capital, New Spatialism would help us channel interactions on line to increase sociality, and thereby increase the growth of social capital.
New Spatialism is based on the idea that our primary motivations for being online are extra-market drivers: we are not online for money, principally. We have created the web to happen to ourselves: to shape a new culture and build a better, more resilient world. And we need better media tools than we have at present, to make that a reality.