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March 10, 2014

Ezra Klein/Matt Yglesias Start-Up "Vox.com" Promises to "Explain the News"

You can check out their video Press Release at vox.com.

I only have a few thoughts here.

First, Klein/Yglesias are attempting to create a product that highlights their particular talents (such as they may be...). Nothing unusual in that.

However, there is a general history of failure when people attempt to create a "New Form of Entertainment!!!" that highlights their hybrid skills (such as they may be...)

Fact of the matter is, actors, dancers, and singers are in high demand in entertainment. Someone who can do it all -- the oft-claimed, seldom-seen "triple threat" of actor/dancer/singer -- is probably going to wind up being an actor, or a dancer, or a singer.

Klein and Yglesias seem to be like a "Triple Threat" of yore staging a two-man show (well, three, there's some woman involved too) which plays to their skill set of acting while singing while also dancing.

Those two-man Showcases of Talent! are generally known for not being known.

Second, Klein/Ygelias' pitch -- that they're going to take advantage of the format of the internet to make things more explanatory and richer in background information -- is, as it stands anyway, the sudden discovery of the Hyperlink.

Since the beginning of the Internet, people have been claiming the Hyperlink -- why, something's linked which provides background information, and you can click on it, or not, as you choose! -- was going to be the One Big Thing that would give the Internet the advantage over the print article.

I think one guy wrote a hyperlinked novel to demonstrate how the wonders of technology could transform the experience of reading a novel.

I don't know the name of it. I doubt more than 100 people do. Even the guy who wrote it would have to check Wikipedia.

The hyperlink has not in fact changed everything. Most people ignore the hyperlinks now embedded in news articles because they seem to be put in there by a not-terribly-smart computer, and usually just disclose a Bing search. (Or an ad.)

But let's suppose that Klein and Yglesias actually exploit the usefulness of the hyperlink, which, while currently available, is not being exploited much at all:

How much does that really add? It adds something; don't get me wrong. Convenience is in fact Added Value. If they offer a three paragraph digest on the Ukraine protests in every Ukraine article, well, that's not unhelpful. Someone coming in late to the story can click on that and get caught up to speed with a short, superficial blurb. (And short superficial blurbs do have their value.)

But I'm a bit underwhelmed that ultimately their Business Model -- their brand differentiation; their shot at immortality -- is to finally fully exploit the Hyperlink.

Well, that's not quite fair. They talk about all these new and innovative ways they're going to empower the reader to use technology so as to be More Informed Than Ever Before, but they offer no details about this. I think they flash a graph up for a moment (in which the the things being charted are unidentified -- so the yellow bars in the graph might just be representing the length of various yellow bars).

Given the lack of detail as to how they're going to dual-handedly transform the news-consumption experience and empower the reader like never before: I think they're just going to be doing hyperlinks.

And some chatty videos. People do enjoy discussions, so offering people discussing news topics adds a bit of value to the print version. Hey, we ourselves do a podcast.

And some chatty "faux-conversational" explainer pieces. In fact, Vox explains itself via a video, and then a "faux-conversational" explainer piece.

But mostly, I think, it's going to be the Hyperlink, and brief stubs explaining terms of art and key ideas.

I don't exactly wish them ill because I'm not exactly allied with their competitors (the regular media), and, to be honest, anyone making money from the internet sort of helps anyone else working on the internet.

But videos talking about the news, a blogger's chatty, casual style, and hyperlinks are not exactly cutting edge technologies in 2014.

I suppose design and execution might make all of this work better than one might be inclined to guess. Integration is itself a thing; the iPhone only did what five or six gadgets already did. The iPhone, however, successfully integrated them into one device.

So... I guess this could turn out to be the iPhone of blogs.

But I think one's guesses about the fate of the enterprise depend, to a large degree, upon one's estimation of the combined, triple-threat talents of Messrs. Klein and Yglesias.

Meh.

They're no True Detectives, I'll say that much.

Bo Knows Retractions: I included a mention of Bo Jackson as a double-threat who only turned out to be a single threat. This has generated argument in the comments, with some saying he played baseball at a "high level" until his serious 1991 injury.

I forget, to be honest. I will assume Commenters Are Always Right and credit Jackson with being a true double-threat until his injury.



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posted by Ace at 04:00 PM

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