The result of eCommerce on the High Street has been that you either find cool little independent shops which offer something you can’t easily replicate online, or massive chains which provide goods you need right now. The main effect of disruption has been for people stuck in the middle like Woolworths and HMV.
And small, local shops have probably never been more celebrated. There are days to officially support them, awards for the best of them, campaigns to promote them, and ways for them to come together.
I’ve never owned a shop, so it’s been a reasonably good thing for me. I like small businesses that do something interesting, I like the fact I can find almost anything online, and when I need to go to a large shopping centre or supermarket, there’s one somewhere nearby.
But I wonder what will happen if the internet goes the same way. Will there be any outcry of support for small websites and blogs?
In almost every niche there’s an example of ‘big chain’ publishing. The large publishers of the past have managed to somehow survive and adapt somewhat successfully to the digital world, even if it’s been with reluctance.
And there are the big content shopping centres of the internet; Facebook, which is so ubiquitous people around the world don’t even associate it with being part of the internet. Yahoo!, still. And Medium.
In many ways I like Medium.
It looks nice. It launched with a focus on writing, and particularly long-form writing. There’s the secret paid support for some writers and public offers for some others. You don’t have endless advertising, or fifty thousand recommended articles from Outbrain, Taboola, or Zerg etc. And there are countless fantastic articles on subjects I’ve never even considered reading about, alongside the things which I know would interest me.
But in some ways I hate it.
It’s no longer about just long-form. You now have a stream which mixes longer and much shorter pieces. And the idea is that it provides the best one-stop place for all content, just as Facebook began with connections, Youtube for video, and Google for search.
It feels more and more like the Bluewater Shopping Centre of online publishing. Nice design, good amenities, and an easy place to spend more time and money than you intended. But also slightly soulless and constricting.
And every day we read about another death of blogging, as someone with a fairly well-known name decides to give it a rest for a while.
In print publishing there has always been the odd breakout hit in an industry dominated by those who could afford the staff, the presses and the distribution. And the same will be true of digital publishing in the future. But sadly I doubt we’ll see the same types of support for the small-to-medium websites and blogs which let you feel like you were entering a local cafe, pub or someone’s living room to listen to what they had to share and discuss it with them.