Whither Tech-Journals?


Joe Kraus has a wonderful tale about his first meeting with venture capitalist Vinod Khosla of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers; how he gave Excite the money to buy the biggest hard drive, and how he forced them to bet big on buying a search button on Netscape. I know this story: Vinod told me this when I was working on his profile. It is a wonderful yarn, something to really write home about.

In the good old days before blogs rolled around, the Silicon Valley magazines, some of them damn fine ones like the real Red Herring made a living out of telling these titillating, sometimes inspiring tales of the technology insiders and entrepreneurs. As a reporter, many of us wrote the heroic tales of the entrepreneurs (at least before the dot-bomb hit us hard …. and every police and farm beat reporter got a gig covering Pets.com, Epinions or something equally frivolous,) and birth of new technologies. The lessons of the struggle, and the highs of success, and the disappointments that come with the failure – those were part of the stories told by magazines like Red Herring.

When Red Herring shut down, I wrote an obit of my beloved magazine for Salon. It was called Death of a Cheer Leader. My argument was the Silicon Valley was changing, and there was no room for an insider’s magazine. Looking back, perhaps I can feel slightly smug and say, boy was I right! To be fair I was partially right. There are two reasons we are seeing the slow demise of the technology journal. Here is why: now entrepreneurs like Joe Kraus are telling their stories on their blogs. Jeff Nolan, Ed Sim, Fred Wilson and Bill Burnham impart their VC wisdom on the web, in the process cutting out the middle man, the technology journal. Today there are two dozen venture capitalists and about 100 odd entrepreneurs who are sharing their stories with us – tomorrow there will be ten times as many. It is inevitable. What boggles my mind is that Red Herring, the posthumous edition is going to come out soon, as a weekly.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have dedicated bloggers such as Rafat Ali and Matt Haughey have come up with low-cost high return trade publication model, which is and which should increase in popularity. Previously I had argued that when you have Engadget and Gizmodo, do you really need tons of magazines devoted to Gizmos? William Hambrecht, the founder of Hambrecht & Quist investment bank was recently on Charlie Rose, and he said something to this effect: “You’ve always known that half your advertising dollars are wasted, but, you never knew which half. Google figured it out, with its pay for performance advertising.”

Well those gizmos magazines, or the trades devoted to a single industry are the first ones which are under serious risk from specialized blogs, especially if there are run and managed by journos like Rafat and Peter. Why I mention those folks, because I think if you move away from the read-right click-link-publish model of blogging, there are still very few reliable sources in the blog world. But they are coming. Mark Evans, a journalist for National Post has a blog now. Tom has one, and so do a whole slew of really scary smart people. Everyday I find turning to Microsoft Bloggers, Mozilla Bloggers and others for more current, and perhaps better and nuanced information on their respective industries. I get to read about telecom disruptions and wireless innovations before they are on the front page of a tech trade magazine.

Using me as a sample of one, I feel technology journalism as we know it is in serious quandary. Sure it can coast for a while, because I think the readers right now have to struggle with hundreds of feeds, and often shoddy quality of writing to get the same experience they normally associate with technology journals. However, it is only a matter of time someone develops a smart aggregator that can spew out a News.com clone minus the overheads. JD pointed out that there are some risks to this model, as shown by the right leaning tendencies of Google but I am sure they will overcome that (and I am glad to see Google and I agree!)

Here is an idea – scratch that – more of a challenge. If you are a RSS guru, how about developing this smart aggregator. You could do something like this: filter news sources to say 500 weblogs – top five in 100 tech categories like say RFID, Telecom, VoIP and I don’t know, Satellite Radios. These are not the link variety blogs, but folks who meet Jason’s 50-post-a-month criteria. Take the top stories – i.e. most linked and most commented stories and use that information to create a self-updating homepage which is entirely blog-powered. Actually it’s more like people’s choice awards, except on every story. If you stick to technology – you are going to produce a better and very high quality publication. Fair and balanced!

Anyway back to the topic of Technology Journal! What’s the future? Reinvention! And some more painful shrinking in the marketplace. If you read my Salon.com piece, you will get a sense of what I am talking about. Otherwise face the same crushing force of Moore’s Claw that has shaken the very foundation of telecom business (in the form of Internet Voice), computer business (in the form of ever powerful and every cheaper computers) and the software business (in the form of Linux) Folks like Joe Kraus, and other insiders are commoditizing the experience. Technology Journals needs to build value on top of that. Those who have figured it out and there are two who have figured it out and will survive, for others…. Go back and read what Hambrecht said!

Being Sunday, I decided to do a non-broadband post. VoIP, and high speed stories return later today…. hopefully. Pray that the Yankees win, for they lose, and I get down, and well cannot blog! In case you were wondering most of my blog posts were done before they blew the lead today in a 12-5 beating at the hands of Boston Sux

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