Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ One of the Greats is Gone

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Sept 02, 1998

Posted to NewsTrolls September 2, 1998

It's fitting - and purely coincidental - that the relaunch of HotWired should occur a day after the launch of News Trolls.

And the nature and shape of the new Hotwired site says much about why and how News Trolls came into existence. Indeed, the first article on the first page says it all:

Inside Wifey Inc.: Affectionately known as Wifey and Hubby, a Washington state couple are turning their private bedroom antics into a new-media empire.

With this launch, and this lead article, HotWired's descent from the cutting edge to the pits of pubescent pablum is complete. Sex on the web - that's how HotWired enters its new incarnation.

We could see it coming. HotWired - and its parent magazine, Wired, now sold to Condé Nast Publications - has been sliding down this path for some time.

The complaints stacked up one after the other on HotWired's online forum, Threads. Brain Tennis is gone, users lamented. Hot Seat is gone. And in one last final UGH, media columnist Jon Katz departed the sinking ship.

Threads - interestingly - no longer plays a role on HotWired. The new site has three main components: Wired News, RGB gallery, and Webmonkey.

Why these three? HotWired's press release tells the story:

Relevant Knowledge reported that its (Wired News's) monthly readership had exceeded those of The Wall Street Journal Interactive,, and CNET's (and) .... Over the past year, Webmonkey has become the most popular HotWired section, with page views increasing 330 percent since June 1997.
It's all about page views, folks. And why page views? Because it's all about money. Less travelled portions of the website were discarded. Media criticism doesn't draw the advertising dollars. There's no quick cash to be made by hosting a user forum, especially one where the users post critical comments.

Here's what I wrote about Wired in June:

We know how it works. Microsoft is not going to advertise in a publication which proclaims it as the evil empire. Disney is not going to advertise in a magazine which proclaims that film is dead. Even isn't interested if you are slagging the publishing industry.

But the big problem is: the values of those new readers, and the values of the advertisers who cater to them, are the old values. In order to attract them, Wired had to change. And change it did, in ways documented at length above, until the Wired of today was, in attitude, inclination and temprement, the polar opposite of the Wired of five years ago.

When I say Wired became a corporate shill, that it's the advertiser writing the content, what I am saying is that Wired - in the ways just documented - is representing the interests and values of its advertisers and the readers they cater to, as opposed to the interests and values of the hackers, phreaks, wizards and geeks it first sought to reach and talk about. When I say Wired sold out, I am saying that they know where the wave of the future is, but have turned away, more interested in making money than making waves.

So what now?

Just in time, as it turns out, we, the news trolls inhabiting Wired Threads, observing an obvious parting of the ways, fled the ship and landed here, founding News Trolls. We left not because we knew HotWired was going to sink our forum (they never had the decency to tell us) but because HotWired was in full retreat, becoming less and less relevant.

While we at News Trolls have disparate ideas and beliefs, we are united by our interest in media. We have in common the understanding that the leading edge of thought about the internet does not consist of How-To guides or the reports about the top software companies.

We are interested in the medium itself: how it gathers news, how it disperses news, and how it makes news. We are interested not so much in how it works - and even if we were, there's no shortage of such sites, including the now lamented HotWired - as we are interested in how it's used.

"The medium is the message", wrote McLuhan famously, and less famously, "the content is the viewer." We are interested in the content, because in the content, lies the viewer. What it important about the internet, and interesting about the internet, is how people's values and beliefs are reflected, and how they collide, locally, nationally, and globally.

There was once a time when Wired understood this. When Wired understood that the internet represented a global culture in transformation, a renaissance, a revolution. When Wired was down with the Dish-Wallahs. Underground with pirate radio. In on the edge. Irreverant, irresponsible, and cool.

I was there when MudDog MUD crashed for the last time in 1994. I was there when The Spot breathed its last in 1996. It's a sad day when an online community dies, its denizens scattered to the four winds, and today, too, is a day for lament. One of the greats is gone.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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