The website is dead; long live the network

TheProdigalGuide.com as she was the day we turned her off

There are all sorts of reasons why Straight-Six and I recently burnt The Prodigal Guide’s website to the ground. Some were practical — the costs involved in hosting the site, the time required to maintain a complex magazine, and the creative demands of keeping the whole thing looking and feeling fresh, all eventually conspired to sap the fun out of the thing for us — but the main one was philosophical: I think that for the great majority of watch, car or gadget enthusiasts, the website has simply outlived its purpose. It’s time for something new.

Six and I created TPG to be a sandpit for the two of us to play in, a place we could throw around our own ideas and juvenile humour in the vague hope that others might be attracted and want to join in. That was back in 2007 when having your own website — your own ‘homebase’ — felt vital if you wanted to build a community. And we did. At its peak, the site attracted 25,000 unique vistors and generated 100,000 page views per month.

But today, ‘owning’ and maintaining a website doesn’t feel like a badge of honour; it feels like a chore I could do without. The reality is that the conversations we are interested in — and make no mistake, for us the fun of running the site was in the conversations that our content sparked — have long since migrated to other platforms.

So where to next? Well, any decent marketer will tell you: the trick is not to try to get people to come to you but to go to where the conversations are already taking place.

For short-form commentary and chat, I still don’t think you can beat Twitter. It’s the network that made the reputation of TPG and helped us build a long list of collaborators and friends in the watch, car and gadget worlds.

For video, there’s no better platform than YouTube. Our YouTube channel has been one of the most successful elements of TPG. It now has nearly 3,800 subscribers and 745,000 views. And Talking Hands, our video watch review series, remains key to the channel’s appeal.

For photography, we adore Instagram. It’s er, instant, and there’s a growing community of educated users on it keen to engage in conversation, banter and argument. A quick post on Instagram often generates more comments than a 1,000 word post on the website did. And, truth be told, a quick post on Instagram is often all we have time for nowadays. That’s the reality of running TPG as a hobby: Day jobs, wives and family come first.

And, of course, we’ll also keep our presence on Facebook, Google+ and Tumblr alive by reusing content from the networks above.

But what of long-form writing? Social media are not good for that, right?

Wrong. For long-form writing (because, yes, we’ll definitely still be writing), we’re moving here to Medium. Why? Because I think Ev Williams has got it spot on with this thing. Medium does three things far better than blogging platforms like Wordpress. Medium — more so than any other network — enables you to:

Focus

Medium lets you focus on writing not managing a site. Editing a post, adding some photos and making the whole thing look elegant and stylish is a cinch. In terms of editing tools, Medium includes everything you need — which is to say very little — and nothing you don’t, leaving you to concentrate on what you want to convey. Having spent the last few years, trying to keep TheProdigalGuide.com looking good (who said lipstick on a pig, dammit!?), I can’t tell you what a relief that is.

Collaborate

Medium offers a genuinely compelling new way to interact with content. It’s properly social. Take just one example: as you’re reading a post, if you come across something you love/hate and feel the need to react to it there and then, you can. Just highlight the text in question and then save it for posterity or add a comment right there in the text. No waiting to get to the end of the article, no wasting time trying to explain which bit of the piece you’re commenting on. Medium allows you to interact directly with the content that’s been written, exactly when you feel the need to do so. I think that offers genuinely new and compelling possibilities for generating debate — especially amongst watch nerds like us.

Medium also allows you to share your drafts with other writers for their input before you publish — it’s a really effective way to put interaction and collaboration into action.

And that last point, collaboration, is crucial. Since Six and I know we don’t have time to keep fresh content flowing here as often as we want, we’ll be opening TPG on Medium up to a group of contributors who share our values. No editing, no planning, no agenda; just a group of like-minded fools sharing a publishing platform. I can’t wait to see what happens.

Discover

But Medium is not just a publishing platform; it’s also a discovery platform. Obviously, The Prodigal Guide serves up the only content you could possibly want. But should you feel the need to venture to pastures new just to confirm this, Medium makes it easy to find new content. By borrowing Twitter’s principle of ‘following’ people who interest you, Medium serves up new articles that, more often than not, are interesting and relevant to you.

Add these three things up and we think you’ve got something very special indeed. The Medium story is just beginning and only time will tell whether enough people share this vision but, in the meantime, we’re proud to pin our irreverent ramblings to its mast.

TPG’s website was the result of five years’ work. Five years of blood, sweat and tears (mostly Six’s though thankfully). We also poured tens of thousands in hosting and designs fees into it over that time. Since flicking the ‘off’ switch, many have told us we’re mad. How could we throw it all away and start again? Well, the status quo, conventional wisdom, the herd mentality have never appealed to us much.

I have no doubt that the future — as a writer, a reader or an advertiser — is on social networks. People don’t set out to visit websites anymore. They visit their networks and they value the recommendation of those networks they trust above all else. They view content in RSS readers, Twitter clients or embedded in Facebook — only rarely in browsers. Once you realise that, you realise what an outdated concept a proprietary website really is. For writers, readers and advertisers.

The website is dead; long live the network.

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