The Medium is the Matrix

Publishing on the World Wide Web

First Published: Internet World
Date Published: May 1995
Copyright © 1995 by Kevin Savetz

The pen is no longer the only thing that is mightier than the sword. Freedom of the press no longer requires a press. The mighty pen and grinding printing press are being challenged by something new: a quirky language called HTML and a paperless printer known as the WorldWideWeb.

In fact, the web is changing what is means to publish a newspaper or magazine. Today, dozens of periodicals exist only as organized globs of ones and zeros on a web page. The web is even changing how publishers of traditional journals market their products.

No one at Internet World expects you to abandon your trips to the newsstand or cancel your favorite magazine subscriptions. We don't expect online publishing to replace traditional methods of publication. Reading the latest news and gossip on a computer screen will probably never be as enjoyable (or as portable) as curling up in bed with a copy of Reader's Digest or shoving your nose deep in the Examiner to avoid eye contact with strangers on a cross-town bus.

However, you should expect publishing on the Web to change the way publishers think, to change the way you perceive the media, and to give a voice to just about anyone who has something to say. Publishing on the Web will never replace traditional printed media, but has already begun to redefine it.

The type of content publishers - "publisher" being defined as anyone with access to a WorldWideWeb server and a cursory knowledge of HTML - put on the web can vary considerably. There are dozens of Web publications that don't exist in the "real world" of print media. Other magazines and newspapers publish their entire contents online as well as on paper. Many other traditional publishers put excerpts of their paper product online in the hopes that you'll purchase the whole enchilada.

The San Jose Mercury news, a forward-thinking newspaper based in Central California, is bridging the gap between traditional publishing and electronic publishing. In fact, it does both.

"The technology is providing many different ways to distribute traditional newspaper information. In Silicon Valley (our market) it's important to reach out to users using new technologies. Our readers expect it so we try to provide," Chris Jennewein, General Manager of Mercury Center, said. According to Jennewein, the web's "Mercury Center" is accessed about 10,000 times every day. In addition to the WWW Mercury Center, the San Jose Mercury news operates a news forum on America Online and a news clipping service called NewsHound (see sidebar.)

There's nothing magical about traditional methods of publishing. "We're not wedded to ink on paper," Jennewein said, "We want to be the one essential source of information for our market in the South bay [of California.] A large part of our market wanted to receive information electronically. We feel strongly that we've got to lead the market, to lead today's readers info more personalized information retrieval." (To see it for yourself, point your web browser to

As a happy offshoot of providing digital news to its readers, the Mercury News (and all other Web-based publications) can be read far and wide -- certainly by people far outside of their physical geographic area.

"The New South Polar Times" is a bi-weekly newsletter written by one of the staff at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, Antarctica. The workshop leader, Katie Wallet, and the officer in charge of NOAA operations at the station, Lt. Tom Jacobs, decided that students and teachers from around the world would be interested in learning about Antarctica, the scientific research which was taking place at the station and life at the station. Realizing that communication with individual classes was prohibitive because of the busy schedule of the staff at the station, they decided to create the newsletter which would be made available on Internet.

Indeed, it's the newsletter is rather amazing. Written by one fairly lonely, very cold individual, it can give you a glimpse of a life you probably never considered -- performing scientific experiments in temperatures of -30C ("a rather warm day") in the dead of an Antarctic winter. This is a clear example of a person who doesn't have access to traditional publishing channels -- and a newsletter that is perfectly suited to the global nature of the Internet. (It's at

Even if your location is more civilized and your impact on the world at large is less profound, a Web-based publication may be just the thing to make your voice heard. For instance, countless individuals have created online īzines, electronic versions of the cheap art and grey matter venues that litter college towns around the world. It may sound trite, but the web is the closest thing to a level playing field in publishing today. The web page of a Fortune 500 company is no more expensive, no more important, no easier to access than the one coded at 3AM by a college freshman with a head cold. Everyone from bored kids to experimenting teachers - people with a lot to say or nothing at all - are publishing their pictures, prose and persona on the web.

Computer Mediated Communications magazine is the perfect example of a publication that's distributed solely on the īnet. CMC Magazine reports about people, events, technology, public policy, culture, practices, research, and applications of computer-mediated communication. It is distributed for free over the Internet, is privately published, and does not accept advertising. It does, however, exemplify web-based media. (

Boardwatch magazine, a print magazine covering BBSes and online services, also offers a web site. Since the publishers have a paper-based magazine to sell, Boardwatch's web site offers useful information without giving away the proverbial farm.

One of the finest, and shortest-lived, web-based publications is -- rather, was -- the San Francisco Free Press. Striking union writers, editors and other workers for the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner newspapers published a free online newspaper. The Free Press, known as the "freep" to its followers, lasted from November 3, 1994 until November 19. Publication stopped when the striking workers resolved their contract disputes. Those back issues are still on the īnet, and are still worth reading (at It's a beautiful example of how a group of talented newspaper workers can get by without so much as paper to print on. Unfortunately, the Free Press couldn't (and wasn't intended to) make money.

Of course, publishing on the web isn't the perfect answer for everyone. The major barrier for anyone who wants to get paid for disseminating information is that it is cumbersome to receive money over the Internet and difficult to limit access to paid subscribers. Internet analyst Daniel Dern says, "The easiest way to approach Internet publishing is to not try and get money from the users -- basically because we don't currently have any, much less good, monetary charge and transfer tools." Dern notes that this is changing, but don't hold your breath. "Meanwhile," Dern says, "either find a way to get paid for making the information available or simply give away access to the information for free. Done appropriately, giving your information away for free can be an effective way to gain visibility, publicity, generate sales of a larger object, e.g., CD-ROM, book, floppy, compact disc, art print, t-shirts."

Another problem with web publishing lies in the nature of Hypertext Markup Language, the codes that represent how images and text are placed on the screen. HTML has been called (kindly) a graphic designer's nightmare. However, the recent past has seen additions to HTML (pushed forward mainly by the NetScape web browser) that downgrade HTML from a nightmare to a bad dream. Thanks to NetScape, HTML ain't so bad.

What about advertising? Advertising on the web is less of a problem that you might think. Corporate logos and web page "sponsorships" are popping up all over the īnet, and why shouldn't they? What do you think those elegant graphical web browsers are for anyway? (Have you seen the AT&T logo on the web yet? "You will.")

1995 is just the dawning of publishing on the web. As HTML becomes more robust, more of us get faster Internet connections and still more folks get access to the īnet, the quantity and diversity of online publications will flourish.

'Zines and things

If you're looking for some newsy reading material on the Web, look no further than Rosalind Resnick's page, a compilation of 50 reviews of major electronic publications. The page also features awards for what Interactive Communications International considers the six best online publications - from the Los Angeles Times "TimesLink" (best online publication) to the London Daily Telegraph (for best design.) Check it out at

If you're looking for mind candy, check out Stream of Consciousness, a poetry and art 'zine, at Or, read Verbiage, a collection of short fiction: Then read Digital Rag, an odd little 'zine that defies description (except to say that it categorizes its features into "Lint", "Foam" and "Sweepings."

A huge list of 'zines available on the web and via other Internet tools, is available by gophering to and choosing "Electronic Serials."

Articles by Kevin Savetz