Semaform follows function


The new slate of offerings from Ben Smith's (of BuzzFeed fame) new media startup Semafor is out -- starting with a series of newsletters in tech, media, business, climate, Africa, and more. The goal of Semafor is to compete as a new global-focused entity with storied enterprises like Reuters and The Associated Press -- no small task.

The newsletter-first rollout is a sign of the times, wherein all of a sudden email is hot again and is now being (re)envisioned as the foremost channel for subscribing to a particular topic or individual domain expert's point of view on a topic. What that says to me is that news product development has utterly failed to solve a very basic problem of signal:noise ratio, in providing audiences with simple ways to follow specific threads from end to end or on an open-ended basis. The pseudo-death of RSS played a role in that, as did the advent of Google and Facebook's demands for ever-increasing scale in order to simply tread water on the revenue side as a digital publisher. You can't achieve massive scale by amplifying a proliferating stack of niche topics -- though not for lack of trying: we had a good run of it while it lasted at Weblogs, Inc.

Having been down in the trenches of new media for the better part of two decades, I'm in no way shocked by the lack of technological vision on display. So many promising new experiments were gobbled up by aging corporate behemoths or print conglomerates that could barely figure out how to keep the lights on, or prevent websites from crashing down under the load of burst traffic during Apple keynotes or other tentpole events. They were figuring out "this whole technology thing" as they were flying the planes, most of which felt as if they had been built during World War II. They never really figured it out -- and they still haven't.

Nevertheless, I'm excited to see what Ben and co. have in store -- because the upside of Going Back to the prehistorical yesteryear of the Inbox is its relative simplicity. There is an appeal to the Marie Kondo-ing of technological wizardry that tries to pass for information innovation, and a return to a Back to Basics approach of good storytelling, ethical journalism, and Just The Text, Ma'am. Bring it on!