Why This Website Sucks, And What We’re Going To Do About It
On my behalf, before I begin this long-winded explanation of why the site sucks, I’d like to point out that at least I didn’t take the low road to high site traffic by creating a site entirely based on My Little Pony Porn or pictures of dead babies on sticks. So there’s that. In any case, if you’re a regular visitor who has ever had a gripe about Dissociated Press, now is your chance to speak up. After almost five years and over 1500 articles with only a brief break in 2011, we’re going on another (longer) hiatus, and will return in a vastly improved form.
Why the break? Well, when I launched the site back in 2008, it slipped nicely into what was at the time a roomy niche. A few sites like BoingBoing had been around for a while, but clones like Neatorama or yours truly were fairly new. In fact, one early challenge for me was to zero in on content that wasn’t appearing on Neatorama. As immense as the web is, the selection of super-current pop culture and tech topics that are actually worth featuring on a given day can be pretty slim. So traffic was plentiful for quite a while, and every day we featured punchy, digestible content built around linking to interesting things. I laughed occasionally when talking to business friends who didn’t get it, but ironically the site’s traffic grew by sending people somewhere else. The key of course being to send them someplace interesting, and to do it every day. But around 2010 a big shift on the web began. With the explosion of “user generated content”, suddenly everyone and their grandma had some kind of blog or social media platform to broadcast their thoughts, and since very few people can actually write in the first place, the idea of writing EVERY DAY was obviously a preposterous notion for the vast majority of these new content creators. So what do you do when you want a well-trafficked site but can’t write your way out of a paper bag? STEAL. The first form of this was content farming, which Google amazingly took the time to deal with. More recently, one of the buzzwords is “curation”. Although there is certainly a legitimate form of curation that could benefit the web, by and large the term is ignorantly (or sometimes knowingly) used by newbie internet marketers as a replacement for the term “content scraping”. Want to rank in Google? Find all the top results in Google, and repost them in various ways, pretending you’re performing a valuable service by “curating”, like you’re the director of the goddamn Huntington Library or something, when in fact you’re just “creating” crap content by repurposing content that in many cases already was crap.
Anyway, I suggested in the headline that I’d explain why this website sucks. Well, while some have complained that I write like a girl, or questioned my fundamental ability to reason, yet others have been so oblivious to the irony of certain articles that they felt compelled to fact check my assertions about NASCAR tracks at the Oklahoma bombing site, or think they’re sending emails to Glenn Beck when they post a comment .
But probably none of those things are the core problems.
The main problems with the site in my view are three-fold. First, the web is simply too “noisy” now. The niche this site used to operate so well in is well-populated with better sites, and once you’ve seen the interesting links of the week, you’ve seen the interesting links of the week. Probably ten times in fact, on Facebook and Pinterest. Second is content length. More than ever, there is a big divide between people who prefer extremely punchy, nearly tweet-like short form content (i.e. variants of microblogging), and people who prefer long-form content more like the Atlantic Monthly or Wired. Dissociated Press lands somewhere between the two extremes too often. And then there’s the “brand”, such as it is. As I pointed out prior to our last break, “Dissociated Press” is kind of clever, but a little too obscure. Interestingly, people clever enough to get the joke constantly call it “Disassociated Press” instead of “Dissociated Press”. And merely “web-two-point-oh-ing” the name leaves you with “dissctdprss” which just doesn’t have the same impact as a name like “tumblr”. Which begs the question, what DID they do with all the vowels left over after Web 2.0, anyway?
But the biggest reasons behind why I’m retiring the site to languish as a relic of the Google AdSense driven, pre-tablet, pre-HTML 5 web are based on those very concepts. Aside from the content issues mentioned above, the site is horrifically tablet-unfriendly, and retrofitting the entire site with a more mobile-friendly format would require hours and hours of hands-on recoding. Trust me, we did some testing. And the majority of the site’s revenue was originally generated by text ads, which – although they were very effective years ago when they cleverly resembled a site’s content – are really just perceived by most smart users as conventional ads now.
So we’re looking at this as a great time to make a fresh start, and we recently alluded to where we’re headed; a tablet friendly, punchy, image-rich digital magazine.
If you’re a regular visitor, feel free to drop us a line if you’d like to be informed when the new site goes live.