Thursday, March 2, 2006

Reinventing the Saturday Evening Post: Gather Collects Content that People Actually Like

When I was a kid (yes, that long ago) I used to like a weekly magazine called The Saturday Evening Post, a collection of news, fiction and humor that was tuned to what was then very mainstream Amercian tastes. Norman Rockwell, famed painter of classic American scenes, had his work grace the cover of the Post many times. The original Saturday Evening Post drifted into memories a long time ago, a victim of modernizing tastes. The title was revived in recent years with somewhat the same formula of content and an online version but it doesn't capture the American imagination as the old version did. The original version included the works of leading authors of the day such as Jack London, Rudyard Kipling, H.G. Wells and Willa Cather: it was a good read. Upton Sinclair is said to have called the Post "standardized as soda crackers," and it certainly did have a pretty rigid formula. But it was more than just what sold ads.

In some ways the Gather.com community has rediscovered this formula using user-generated media. If you look at the most popular categories on Gather - random musings, life, love, humor, politics, writing, family, poetry, relationships, living, children, storytelling, writings, U.S. politics, poems, travel, food, news, memories, kids - it reads like the table of contents of the old Post. The photos posted and appreciated by Gather members are for the most part very down-home pictures: weddings, pets, pretty trees and so on - snapshot versions of Rockwell paintings. And in the middle of the Gather formula are writers trying to write quality fiction and topical content that has far more than just "sex appeal" at its core. It's largely intelligent content written by and for average people who are able to express their common values through the Gather system.

While the Gather community is still evolving, the content it's collecting is demonstrating not only that the editorial quality of user-generated media can be quite high but that there is a sum value to a well-designed authoring community that can have both personal and mass appeal as few mainstream media outlets can hope to generate. Gather was growing more slowly than Newsvine for quite some time but in Alexa stats it is catching up quickly both in terms of current traffic and traffic growth rates. I believe this is in part because Gather has stuck to their knitting on getting a strong user content community developed that is no longer overwhelmed by its mainstream content from NPR. Content needs to be authentic from the user on in, something that Yahoo is learning the hard way according to today's New York Times and something that business publishers are learning as they integrate their content in with their client's work needs. The true democracy of content in this era is that content that works for the true benefit of an audience is winning.
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