15 Mar 2007 10 am eastern

Independent content is the new web app

Attending SXSW Interactive not only tunes us in to web trends and ideas we may have missed, it also makes clear where we are in the life cycle of developments with which we are familiar. Thus in 2001, if you weren’t already aware of it, a quick scan of panels and parties made it manifestly obvious that blogging had peaked. The spread of web standards was the previous year’s meme: practically everyone I met in 2000 apologized that their blog didn’t validate “yet.”

Two years ago, everyone I talked to at SXSW Interactive asked what app I was working on. I felt painfully unhip to still be doing content and design—like I’d shown up for a punk gig in disco drag.

But times change. Even the quickest scan of this year’s parties and sponsors made it obvious (if it wasn’t already) that the Web 2.0 “get bought” window is closing fast. If your tag management app isn’t out of alpha by next week, don’t bother—unless you actually wanted to create a tag management app, and weren’t building it to finance a Sean John lifestyle.

I came away this year with two impressions:

  1. Possibly because “Web 2.0″ has pumped money into the field, people care about the craft again.
  2. Web 1.0 is the new Web 2.0.

As the second point is more interesting, I’ll focus on it.

SWSX Interactive is about zeitgeist, and what’s on people’s business cards can tell you as much about the industry as what’s being discussed on the panels. Last year people’s business cards told you that AOL, Google, Apple and Yahoo were hiring everyone with a nice blog, a SXSW panel, and an A List Apart article to their credit. This year’s business cards are about (drumroll) content.

The kind of content we used to create on personal/independent sites like {fray} and afterdinner.com, many of us are creating again (not that we ever stopped). But this time, we are creating it at the behest of companies like AOL, Google, and Yahoo.

Ficlets, for example, is a collaborative fiction site put together by Cindy Li and her colleagues. It’s awesomely cool. But instead of being something Cindy and her colleagues do at night, after their day job, Ficlets is their day job. And it’s not a long-shot day job at an underfunded startup. It’s a day job at America On-Line (and the content is part of the AIM.com network).

Not long ago, giants like AOL were buying startups like Brian Alvey and Jason Calacanis’s Weblogs Inc. network. That was smart. Now the giants are creating their own startups and networks. That’s also smart, and it’s doubtless more cost-efficient than hunting and buying.

What is the trend? First, big companies (excluding AOL) ignored the web. Then they hired professionals who didn’t understand the web to design their sites and other professionals who didn’t understand the web to create their content. Last year, or maybe two years ago, these companies began hiring smart, experienced web designers who understand usability and web standards. Now they are hiring smart, experienced web content creators. Web 1.0 is the new Web 2.0. Long live Web 3.0.

[tags]sxsw, sxswi, web1.0, web2.0, independentcontent, webdesign, aol, google[/tags]

Filed under: Community, Design, events, Ideas, SXSW

38 Responses to “Independent content is the new web app”

  1. Zeldman taps the SXSW zeitgeist, and calls it web 1.0 at Skiff at South by Southwest said on

    [...] clipped from http://www.zeldman.com [...]

  2. Design-Feed Latest said on

    [...] Independent content is the new web app Jeffrey Zeldman Presents The Daily Report | 1 hour ago [...]

  3. Cindy Li said on

    This project was all because of Kevin Lawver. It was his idea and his “awesomeness” that made it happen. I was just lucky enough to work on it. :)

  4. Bill said on

    Can anybody recommend a book or two on writing quality web content? It’s something many people always preach but nobody ever explains exactly what “quality web content” is. There are people who say “write to your audience”, but that is vague. Nielsen recommends writing on an 8th grade level. Every SEO company in the world will say to write using keywords strewn throughout the text (how awful is that to read???). What if you have an e-commerce site, how should content be written? There are a ton of questions I have but I am having trouble finding good resources to help develop the skills required to write quality web content. This sounds like a frustrated rant but interpret it as a desperate cry for help.

  5. Jason Garber said on

    Jeffrey, it was great meeting you (albeit briefly) in Austin and we’re all psyched you’re enjoying Ficlets! It’s been really satisfying working as a startup within AOL and we’re hoping to spread that bug into other areas of the company. Cheers!

  6. Elisa said on

    Let’s not forget the User Experience Design team who *really* put their heart and souls into this! They worked very closely with Kevin to bring the UI and Graphic Design to life.

    http://design.aim.com/?p=28

  7. pauldwaite said on

    Bill: haven’t read any books on the subject, but I think it boils down to:

    1. Keep it succinct (cos people scan more and read less on screens).
    2. Use headings, paragraphs and lists to indicate the individual ideas in the writing (cos whilst scanning, people will process the shapes and thus get an idea of the structure much more easily than actually reading).
    3. Keep it succinct. I know I said this before, but it bears hammering home: good writing is conveying the same information with fewer words.

    Great examples on daringfireball.net.

  8. Brad said on

    Bill, an excellent book on the craft of writing is Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style.”

  9. [chrisbrogan.com] » Tags Are Your New Website said on

    [...] Tools are tools, but content is still king. Check out Zeldman’s latest post for evidence. http://www.zeldman.com/2007/03/15/web-1-point-0-is-the-new-web-2-point-0/ [...]

  10. Marla Erwin said on

    Bill, “quality content” has two parts: 1) you have to have something interesting to say, and 2) you have to present it in a way people can (and want to) read and retain.

    For the first part, you either have an interesting idea or you don’t. See Seth Godin’s marketing books for some pointers on developing/recognizing good ideas and making them “stick.”

    For the second part, there are a few books that touch on the subject, but most boil down to the same points as this eyetracking study of how users read and retain news: make it scannable, don’t scrimp on whitespace, and use images that say something.

  11. Ma.gnolia.com - Find Web Sites & Build Community Online said on

    [...] Independent content is the new web app [...]

  12. Ara Pehlivanian said on

    Does that mean though that because content creation is on the rise, that site design is (going to be) in decline? Or can the two co-exist and thrive together?

  13. Chris Huff said on

    Ara: No, I don’t think that it means this at all. I think that good design will be assumed. Sites must be designed well, or else they will distract from the content. But we must remember (and I think this is why the trend is going this direction) that it is the content that makes up the internet. Design is a mode by which we communicate that information.

  14. Ara Pehlivanian said on

    @Chris: You know what’s funny, I distinctly remember Jeffrey talking about standards based design freeing us up to focus on content eons ago (in the first edition of his book I think). I guess it’s finally catching on … ;)

  15. Le blog de dev de somebaudy.com » links for 2007-03-16 said on

    [...] allons bon, le contenu reviendrait a la mode. Jeffrey Zeldman Presents : Independent content is the new web app plugins gratuits pour Photoshop & Illustrator10 Tips to Help Keep Your Desk Clean50 States in 10 Minutes : un jeu qui rappelle une chanson des animaniacsVOCO Clock : se faire réveiller par Stephen Frears ! PagesAbout [...]

  16. Web 1.0 is the new Web 2.0 » De Zijlijn » Naar Voren said on

    [...] Omdat iedereen nu wel weet dat de hypes weer als lawines van de berg rollen, is het goed om af en toe eens een beetje afstand te nemen. Zeldman ziet een positieve ontwikkeling… What is the trend? First, big companies (excluding AOL) ignored the web. Then they hired professionals who didnt understand the web to design their sites and other professionals who didnt understand the web to create their content. Last year, or maybe two years ago, these companies began hiring smart, experienced web designers who understand usability and web standards. Now they are hiring smart, experienced web content creators. Geen reacties [...]

  17. QuirksMode Blogs said on

    [...] Independent content is the new web app [...]

  18. Adactio: Journal - Storytelling at South by Southwest said on

    [...] Zeldman nails it when he says that independent content is the new web app. I for one welcome our new storytelling overlords. [...]

  19. Bechs Webbrok » Blog Archive » Web 1.0 er det nye web 2.0 said on

    [...] I hvert fald hvis man skal tro Jeffrey Zeldman, der endnu engang langer ud efter web 2.0 begrebet. Zeldman rapporterer fra konferencen SXSW Interactive og skriver på sin weblog, at hvor sidste års trend for store web virksomheder som Google, AOL og Yahoo, handlede om at opkøbe smarte, webbaserede applikationer, handler det nu mere om at få neglene i gode, uafhængige indholdsproducenter. Med andre ord; content er stadig king og det er således den samme gamle sang, som før opfindelsen af begrebet web 2.0. [...]

  20. SXSWi Wrap-up at Insulated Mug said on

    [...] Richard Rutter of Clearleft and Mark Boulton presented on the necessity of cleaning up type on the web. Jeffrey Zeldman summoned up the importance of content on the web in his summary of SXSWi when he said: SWSX Interactive is about zeitgeist, and what’s on people’s business cards can tell you as much about the industry as what’s being discussed on the panels. Last year people’s business cards told you that AOL, Google, Apple and Yahoo were hiring everyone with a nice blog, a SXSW panel, and an A List Apart article to their credit. This year’s business cards are about (drumroll) content. [...]

  21. Snapshot BLG: Why Panels Sometimes Suck said on

    [...] I was reading Jeff Zeldman Presents, a blog by the author of Designing with Web Standards. In the spirit of “stumbling upon” interesting articles, I clicked on an article in Mr. Zeldman’s right hand nav bar. This turned out to be a thoughtful discussion of the role and value of panels at conferences. [...]

  22. Camaban » Blog Archive Zeldman makes me chuckle » :The work and pleasure of a mad, fictional, pre-historic monument builder said on

    [...] I’m not sure whether I agree or disagree with it, but I do find it particularly amusing when Jeffrey Zeldman says things like web1.0 is the new web2.0 [...]

  23. De blog a medio tradicional… una vez más | Denken Über said on

    [...] Y la pregunta en realidad me parece interesante porque es un modelo de “red de blogs” que NO es una “granja de blogs” con una estrategia editorial, de monetización y de crecimiento totalmente diferente pero que podría competir con los medios tradicionales de nicho (un C|Net, un IGN, etc.) y donde, lo importante y que es la base de su crecimiento, es el contenido… ¿tendrá razón Zeldman cuando dice que el contenido es la nueva killer-app? [...]

  24. Camaban » Blog Archive Web 2.0 jumping the shark? » :The work and pleasure of a mad, fictional, pre-historic monument builder said on

    [...] I linked to Zeldman’s Web 1.0 is the new Web 2.0 the other day. [...]

  25. Weblog Discussion: A Look ahead in Web Design Trends said on

    [...] Weblog Discussion: A Look ahead in Web Design Trends: Jeffrey Zeldman gives excellent insight in what he believes we can expect in the next year or so in terms of web design based on his attending sxsw 2007. He’s right in saying that sxsw interactive provides hints as to what’s coming and what’s dying. [...]

  26. Bill Slawski said on

    Every SEO company in the world will say to write using keywords strewn throughout the text (how awful is that to read???).

    As an internet marketer who helps people with the SEO on their sites, I’d like to respond to that comment, Bill.

    Certainly people should use words that their audience will expect to see, and will search with to find that content in the first place. There’s nothing wrong with making some intelligent choices about the words that you use when you write something.

    But the practice of writing for people and for search engine optimization is pretty much the same – use a particular phrase to be the subject of a page and then use that phrase naturally within the engaging and thoughtful prose you create for that page. Chances are good that because it is the subject of the page, you will use it in the title to the page, the main heading, and in the body text of what you write. You likely will even use it in links to the page, and others will use it to link to you.

    It’s not a question of writing something, and then stuffing it with keywords, but rather using your keyword phrase as the subject of what you write, and then writing naturally. Take the post at the top of these comments, for example. The focus of the post is “independent content.” It appears in the page title, it appears in the post title/main heading, and it could easily and naturally appear once or twice in the body text of the post, without the post being “horrible to read.” Many links to the post will likely use the post title in the anchor text of the link.

    Good writing for SEO purposes isn’t a matter of stewing a dictionary of keywords through text, but rather of writing intelligently, with focus. In a few days or weeks, this page has a chance of ranking well for the phrase “independent content” because of that focus.

    Places to learn about writing quality content?

    Any good book on writing fiction or prose will likely help you learn about writing quality content for the web. Sitting down and writing, and writing some more, and then some more will even bring you further. Write some fiction, try out some sonnets, haiku, lymericks, satire, letters to friends.

    Read some good books, and think critically about them, and how the writer reaches out to his or her audience, evokes emotions, gets you to care about different characters, gets you to maintain an interest in the story, tells you about the setting.

    Go to places like Poynter online, and read through the many articles about journalism, editing, photo journalism. There are many blogs from marketers and copy writers who describe what they do when they write to audiences.

  27. Fed Up With Dumb Search Marketing Tactics and Web 2.0 - Blog Post - Cre8asite Forums said on

    [...] I loved Zeldman's thoughts and observations, related to this:Independent content is the new web appQUOTEWhat is the trend? First, big companies (excluding AOL) ignored the web. Then they hired professionals who didnt understand the web to design their sites and other professionals who didnt understand the web to create their content. Last year, or maybe two years ago, these companies began hiring smart, experienced web designers who understand usability and web standards. Now they are hiring smart, experienced web content creators. Web 1.0 is the new Web 2.0. Long live Web 3.0. [...]

  28. Steven said on

    What’s in store for the next generation? Are they to sit at their machines all day creating content? How much reading are we all to do?

    The rapid evolution of content equally requires sophisticated philtering phor phreeing up time phinding phavorable rather than phony content. The net effect of generating such massive amounts of content is a new Web 2.0 filtering, aggregation, and SEO industry providing jobs to techos and communication creatives while content producers hedge their bets on Affiliation and Adsense as a viable source of income.

    Brace! Corporate World 1, for our collective consiousness is already pushing your boundaries for accountability and transparency as we say whatever we like about you and have our friends cast their votes.

    Web 2.0 is environmentally friendly. Writing on our wired solar powered machines at home there is no need to commute, saving a ton each of CO2 per year.

    All hail the content re-purpoSirs!, Blogmaniacs, Soshil bookakimaaks, and SEOligists – the net is MUCH more interesting, expanding, filling my mind, connecting me, making me smarter.

    When I was a kid whatever my parents told me was gospel. But my own kids will never take anything I say as the truth until they have corroborated with others on the subject matter – online. If I told my kid that Emporer Nasi Goreng built the Great Wall of China to keep the rabbits out, they will quickly identify me as an idiot.

  29. google - Google Search said on

    [...] Independent content is the new web app [...]

  30. Near-Mint Heroes said on

    [...] Independent content is the new web app. Basically bigwigs are going to be looking for talented people who can provide content for corporate blogs and other web 2.0 projects. [...]

  31. WebSG: Content is King said on

    [...] In line with with his recent article “Independent content is the new web app”, Jeffrey Zeldman spoke about the importance of good copy on websites. [...]

  32. Why I am leaving AOL - The Brian Alvey Weblog said on

    [...] out the short survey form after the jump.Continue reading Why I am leaving AOLPermalinkEmail thisComments[0] [...]

  33. Jean.Goodwyn » If Content is King, This is Treason said on

    [...] How can that be? There’s plenty of information about how important content is. How can companies who want to succeed on the web be so disconnected from such a major key to success? Are those of us who build the web just bad educators? Is it a classic case of companies focusing on style over substance? [...]

  34. rjwhite said on

    I found this post by googling ‘collaborative fiction weblogs,’ because- well, I’ve been feeling rather at sea in describing my site to people and what it is, exactly. It’s kind of a fiction/humor thing, there are several writers and it’s not strictly a weblog.

    It’s more of a zine that happens to use weblog software in order to publish online. I mean, is there more of this out there? Is there some sort of organization of it all? None of the major directories have a specific category for it- it’s just broken into whatever genre… It seems like this medium is perfect for something like this- easy to publish, easy to let people know whenever a new ‘piece’ is up, etc. There’s just that odd stigma that the weblog format tacks onto the whole thing.

  35. south by southwest festivals + conferences said on

    [...] “Attending SXSW Interactive not only tunes us in to web trends and ideas we may have missed, it also makes clear where we are in the life cycle of developments with which we are familiar.” – Zeldman.com [...]

  36. Notes for January 22, 2009 « Information Design at Penn said on

    [...] in shaping the internet that he is often called the “king of web standards”, wrote a very influential article on the fact that no matter how flashy the package is, content is still essential to any graphic or [...]

  37. Longboard: Internet Archives said on

    [...] Independent content is the new web app. Does this mean it's time to dust off Independents Day? [...]

  38. Facelifting the Medium » arunerblog said on

    [...] of graphical adroitness to do much writing on it. Now of course, smart designers will tell you that content is still king, and only a bad carpenter blames his tools. Who really cares about ugly fonts and the lack of [...]

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