My good friend Jerry Daniels is once again seeking the ultimate in self-contained online publishing. He’s been doing this—off and on—for the last 25 years or so.
Daniels started with µFilm Reader and Writer for the Mac back in the 1980s. It was software that let an individual publish (µFilm Writer) electronically in a format that closely resembled microfilm. Because the microfilm metaphor was close to exact, it was immediately apparent to the user how to read the publication. These were the days of nine-inch Macintosh screens, CompuServe, and GEnie. Neither AOL, nor the commercial internet, nor the web yet existed.
I published both a weekly and a monthly for several years using µFilm Writer. The process was fairly painless, as I remember. I wrote each issue in MacWrite and fed it into µFilm Writer which converted it. Then I uploaded it to the Mac file libraries on CompuServe and GEnie. They were shareware publications and I enjoyed a reasonably large readership. Daniels and his wife published the original MacWEEK using µFilm Writer and later sold the name to Patch Communications who eventually sold it to Ziff-Davis.
Now Daniels is back with WOLF, a Mac-only self-contained online publishing system. And a self-contained online publication, Wolf Not Dog: Satisfying your thirst for freedom. Delivered as a freestanding Macintosh application, Wolf Not Dog delivers a new article from Daniels just about every day or so. The next day the article is published on a freely accessible website, but seemingly disappears upon publication of the next article. That’s right, no archive and no RSS feed.
If you want to read something Daniels wrote a month ago, or even a day ago, you’ve got to buy the WOLF application for US$5. Then you get the whole shebang accessible via index, search engine, and tag cloud—all of which are internal to WOLF. Also included in WOLF is a three-tab web browser (no more; no less). The first tab contains a Twitter list of people Daniels follows (you can change this to whatever you like); the other two tabs are available for linked content from articles in the main content section of the application. The tabs can be locked and when filled, links will open in the default browser. All of the available webviews are preloaded when the application is launched making navigating content within the WOLF environment quick. There are also buttons to tweet or email links for articles within WOLF.
Why in the world would you want to publish in an environment that isn’t searchable by Google, isn’t findable on the web, and offers only a single article to non-paying readers? Daniels believes the below-cost and free business models that currently dominate publishing on the web are neither disruptive nor differentiated. The result is an overabundance of free, poorly developed content and services that are all pretty much the same. Daniels cites the nut grafs of Alexis Madrigal’s Atlantic article, “The Jig Is Up: Time to Get Past Facebook and Invent a New Future:”
“The point is that every user of a free service costs the service money. Whereas every user for a paid-for service generates money. What that means is that a growing free site is an acquisition waiting to happen because its developers are burning through ever more cash.
“Free applications and services get driven to do other things, too. They must grow quickly and they must collect vast amounts of data and they must acquire your social graph somehow. Even if those things were all good, they would still reduce the variety of startups that seem possible. The only metric that seems to matter with startups is the number of users it has been able to skim from the masses. (Partially because so many can’t get anyone to visit them and partially because so few of them make money.)
“It’s not that I think paid software and services will necessarily be better, but I think they’ll be different.”
Daniels iterates the four tired, possible ways to monetize online publications:
- Sell advertising
- Participate in affiliate programs
- Sell memberships or subscriptions
- Sell crap like coffee mugs and t-shirts
Really? Almost 20 years into this web thing that was supposed to change everything and we’re still orbiting around the same four possible ways to monetize publications?
Daniels’s current experiment revolves around selling a content-rich, regularly updated application for a pittance and creating similar applications for other premium publishers. I’m not sure what to make of Daniels’s prospects—I certainly wish him the best—at least he’s still pushing and trying new things.
For me, discoverability and open access to the entirety of my work is a huge issue, making WOLF a non-starter. At least for now.
Update: Wednesday, 25 April 2012 2:06PM CDT: Ugh, that last graf makes it sound like I would never purchase WOLF. That’s not true—I willingly paid US$5 for the WOLF application and I’m glad I did. But I probably wouldn’t buy too many of them; I can barely wrangle my RSS feeds, and they’re all in one application. Having a separate WOLF-like application for everyone I want to read that’s publishing interesting stuff would be unwieldy. What I meant to write was that a WOLF-like application for my content doesn’t make sense for me right now. By no means does that mean it shouldn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t make sense for you—I can think of a lot of folks that aren’t steeped in the web, and don’t want to be, but have quite useful things to write about.