Are you networking, in all the right ways?

The other day, a friend of mine said some sites we were discussing should get together and become a “portal.” I had to bite my tongue. Portals — what a sad, misguided idea that was!

Portals always seemed to me like an undifferentiated mess — like the failed Pathfinder site that Time Inc. carried around its neck like an albatross for so many years. Lump all your stuff in one place, regardless of whether it belongs together or not. Aggregation must be smart — isn’t it? No. Aggregation without intelligent planning and goals is just throwing ingredients into a pot and hoping the result will taste good.

If you don’t select the right ingredients, it’s not going to be good.

Jeff Jarvis has fallen in love with Glam and written rather a lot about it. Here’s the core post, with an excellent illustration that tells the whole story:

Glam is a content network. … Glam is also an advertising network that supports the creation of content. That’s how you encourage others to produce more. So in the end, Glam is really a platform. That’s the key.

Even better than Glam — since I couldn’t care less about the fashion, beauty, lifestyle, celebrity scenes on which it focuses so adeptly — is the networked community that Seed magazine has built with ScienceBlogs (also mentioned by Jarvis). I first learned about Seed (and ScienceBlogs) last year from a Ph.D. student in molecular cell biology. She praised both to high heaven and gave the impression that a lot of scientists simply adore them. As soon as I laid hands on a printed copy of Seed, I adored it too. It makes Popular Science and even Scientific American look so last-century! (SciAm’s 60-Second Science doesn’t add anything but a perky façade.)

When you go into ScienceBlogs, you see the beauty of a site that has a clear focus on a certain set of interests and also recognizes that the person coming in for cell biology is not necessarily dying to read about quantum physics — but she might be interested in just the right article.

Do you know the old saying, “A rising tide lifts all boats”? The idea of networked value always links back to Metcalfe’s Law: The value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of users of the system — or, as I like to simplify: A network with few nodes is pretty much pointless, but as the number of connected nodes increases, the value of the network grows exponentially. (Some have disputed the exact math.)

The reporters and writers and photojournalists and videographers and graphic artists who work for a news organization are suppliers in a network. So are all the others (including the users) who contribute to the mission of the news organization. Their products — whether blogs or slideshows or hard news stories — are nodes in the network of content provided under that news organization’s brand identification.

  • What is the platform you have designed to promote and disseminate that content?
  • How does it mesh with related and relevant nodes that are being created outside your network?
  • Most important, how are you curating the nodes and the linkages?

In an art museum, the curators not only acquire and display works of art; they also rotate the artworks in and out of view, place them in different arrangements, in different rooms, and promote them, from time to time, with special exhibitions. This applies not only to artworks the museum owns but also to traveling exhibits and works that are on loan.

Go and look at the illustration in Jarvis’s post and see how and why Glam has grown to be much bigger than iVillage (23 million unique visitors for Glam, compared with 18 million for iVillage), the previous darling of the fluff-content universe online.

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