michael sippey on Thu, 4 Sep 1997 16:06:08 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> 101 Ways to Save Wired

Most likely in the spirit of reviving the "discussion" re. Wired Ventures,
Pit asked that I post "101 Ways to Save Wired" to the list.  It was a
special presentation of Stating the Obvious and The Netly News which ran
back in August...  

Below is the introductory essay, contributed by Requestline's Hans
Eisenbeis.  The full feature (including all 101 Ways and an apt intro
graphic) can be found at <http://www.theobvious.com/wired/>.


- - - 

Just one year ago, the offices of HotWired were electric with enthusiasm
and anticipation. Not only were the troops young, beautiful and hip -- most
of the rest of the world thought so too. When it comes to jump-starting
your day, nothing compares to being a media darling --  the feeling that
you're part of something bigger than the sum of your bottom lines.
In short, the "<A HREF="http://wwww.wired.com/wired/1.1/">Bengali
typhoon</A>" of Louis Rossetto's vision still suffused his company from the
bottom up.

Today, after two failed IPOs, the company chafes under the girdle of
financial necessity. What was once truly the flagship of new media, has
been reduced to a half-dozen channels that are beginning to look like
outtakes from just another trade publication. Packet has disappeared into
the bowels of HotWired, and Flux has faded into that new beacon of hope,
Wired News, which reads more like wire copy than Wired copy.  Rossetto will
soon vacate the helm of his latter-day Pequod; cofounder and former deputy
editor John Battelle left recently to start a
Wired-meets-the-Economist-style magazine backed by IDG; and old-timer
Constance Hale has become a casualty of the HardWired meltdown, leaving
shortly before her boss Peter Rutten hit the pavement. Frustration,
exhaustion and simple sadness are palpable in SoMa.

So what's killing Wired's Digital Revolution? The German Romantics called
it Zehnsucht. Something like homesickness, but more like "time sickness."
Not really nostalgia, though there's no small amount of that either. Wired
is "time sick" because it's the child of an intractable speeding-up of
linear time. Whereas old media traditionally allows itself a minimum of
seven years to watch the red ink turn to black, Wired has responded to the
in-house fiscal crises with an agressive plan to tighten margins quicker
than AltaVista spits back search results.

The people in the corner offices seem to be saying to themselves, "What's
making money online <i>right now,</I> and why aren't we doing it <i>right
now</I>?" The pressure to bring good numbers to the show-and-tell has so
far translated into paring down their content (while seeming to retain
a robust, rosy-cheeked engineering department) to the point where anything
that isn't dedicated to the vagaries of software and hardware looks like a 
<A HREF="http://www.cocktailtime.com">hopeless indulgence</A>. If generating
real revenue is the immediate goal, it's a wonder Wired Digital hasn't just
bagged content altogether and become the Sharper Image of the '90s, hawking
the wares straight out of Fetish. Not that there's anything wrong with
that, mind you.

But for those of us who are deeply invested in -- and hope to continue
drawing our salaries from -- the creative possibilities of new media, it's
nothing short of depressing.

Viewed through a less emotional lens, it's obvious that the venture was
never capitalized the way it needed to have been in order to meet
reasonable expectations in a realistic time frame. The fight for content
supremacy is long and dirty, an underfunded war of attrition. Always has
been, whether you're talking about a daily
newspaper or a First Edition hardcover or a killer web site. And the
overindulgent Rossetto wanted them all at once, with a publishing house and
TV program to boot. What most media monopolies take decades to build, Wired
wanted overnight.

Some observers are surprised that Wired hasn't been snapped up by Disney,
Microsoft or The Netly News by now. It would have assured the company's
survival in only the most nominal sense, of course. Maybe it hasn't been
acquired and appropriated because the brand has a lot of irrational value
attached to it. It was the Fruitopia of Wall Street -- great graphics but
too often it tasted a little gamey. Still, call me a hopeless idealist, but
an IPO at any price would have been preferable to the current death by
nickel and dime.

Which is to say that many of us freaks and geeks (some of the much-maligned
"individual investors" who are driving the stock market to its current
irrational levels) still believe in Wired Ventures. And, in lieu of divine
intervention in the form of a blank cashier's check or a 25-hour day, we
humbly offer up 101 ways to save Wired. 

- - - 

All meta, all the time.

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