Home > web 2.0, zac echola > Conversing with Zac Echola About the Internet

Conversing with Zac Echola About the Internet

Back in the annals of last year, I wrote a two-part article (part one is here) on the business of being creative in light of the revolutions brought about by the internet and the complexities it brings about. One of those that I interviewed was my friend Zac Echola.

Zac works for a newspaper. Technically speaking, he works for a communications company, and he recently transitioned into the online department, focusing almost solely on marketing. He has helped push for site redesigns within the company’s satellite papers as well as the flagship paper of the company. In addition to his professional endeavors, he runs two blogs, Blog-o-Blog and It’s Randomonium!, and is a co-creator of WiredJournalists. He’s a bit of a mover and/or shaker in his local scene and, in my opinion, has talent far exceeding his place in corporate America.

But enough butt-licking. I’m here to present ideas, not convince my friend he’s God. (Plus it’s hard to be sycophantic toward someone who doesn’t have the good sense to move out of North Dakota…)

Anyway, a lot of the ideas I have about the internet, communications, and media either come from Zac or are things we both independently discovered and coincidentally agree with each other about. So it only seemed natural to me to post the entire conversation we had back in July. This is by no means an exhaustive delving into Zac’s ideas, but it’s a good summary. If you really want to get in-depth, I highly suggest you check out his Blog-o-Blog. Since I don’t really have a byline, consider this Zac’s co-author credit, because it’s just as much, if not more, his writing as mine.

How did you go about amassing so many contacts and networking? How much work does it take per day, on average, to acquire new contacts and maintain old ones?

I never really tried to build a large network. It sort of just happened. It started out because there were a few journalism related blogs out there I thought were interesting, but they didn’t touch on bigger issues. Blogs tend to be short posts about random things happening in a given area, but I wanted to participate in that conversation. It started by getting into lots of debates within the comments of other posts, but then I started blogging to write longer, more cerebral pieces that I thought needed to be addressed but didn’t quite fit well in the comments of other people’s blogs.

As I posted more and read more, it just grew. I’d follow links from the blogs and sources I read and if it was consistently interesting to me, I’d follow those blogs too and on and on. Information overload happens quickly, so at times I step back and let the core people in my network filter content for me. I guess I’m just lazy.

As for other networks like twitter, facebook, friendfeed and a million other sites: Once you grow a community on your own blog, you’ll notice that the conversation isn’t exclusive your blog(s). It moves around. I try to be where those conversations happen.

Right now, I don’t actively seek anyone out on most sites. I see a few new followers every day in my inbox and if we share contacts or I’m interested in what they have to say, I’ll follow them, too.

While your online presences have nice design, it’s mostly text-based. Would it be possible to have such a presence in the print world?

I don’t like design that gets in the way of ideas. Some people like to cram as many links into a page as possible, but I’m more concerned with the content itself.

It’s certainly possible to have a text-centric print product. The New Yorker, for example, has a very conservative design. Many pages are just walls of text. That’s OK to me.

Design should enhance the idea or make the product easier to use, not hinder it. I choose a rigidly minimalist style because it keeps me (and I hope it keeps my readers) focused on the ideas and not the look.

Online and print text-based content still rely on advertising to generate money. Is there a stable, non-intrusive way to make money from content production other than advertising? Will there be?

I don’t think a transaction model (whereby I pay you for for the pleasure of looking at a Web page) will ever truly work on the Web outside of porn. Luckily for us, intrusive and annoying ads have given way to other types of advertising, such as text-based ads which are projected to grow at a much faster clip than the annoying ads.

It’s fairly simple economics on the Web. As long as the cost of bandwidth, processing and storage drops and use of the Internet increases, it will always make more sense to trade “free stuff” for increased market share. It costs pennies to serve up a page, so if you make a few pennies more in advertising on that page you’re doing well.

Current “get traffic quick” schemes revolve around getting other people to link to you, as that’s how Google tends to rank pages. Would this be legitimate advertising/marketing, or shameless whoring?

On one hand, yes it is shameless whoring. On the other hand, it’s networking, community building. A network of links is really just a network of people behind their screens. You can make robots link to you in a variety of ways, but I think people see through that and even if it increases your page rank at Google, you’re not going to see quality page views and you aren’t going to build a community that will essentially act as a free marketing department for you.

While the Web is certainly global mass media, it is also an aggregate of individuals at the same time. When you treat your site as simply mass media as we currently know it, you’re missing out on a huge value proposition–that one-on-one interaction with individuals.

I don’t think we should simply put a generic ad or piece of news content in front of 100 people when we could use the same technology to engage those 100 people on an individual basis. It may be a little more work to do the latter, but the payoff would be so much greater.

What is the biggest thing holding print back from dominance (just a distillation, I know you write extensively about it. Just want a soundbite-y synopsis for other people)? What is holding online back?

Print operations, particularly local newspapers (and local TV, too) need to realize that the Web has destroyed their geographic monopolies. The technology on the Web has lowered the barriers to entry. Anyone with a laptop camera and microphone has a “TV station,” every person with a WordPress.com account has a printing press.

Traditional media were quick to see the value of the Web initially, but have been incredibly slow to understand this essential truth. Rather than building communities (I say this word a lot, but hear me out), they’ve seen bloggers and youtubers as competition. This just isn’t the case. You are only as strong as your network and when you actively refuse to create a loose partnership with real people in your community through networking and linking, while meanwhile these individuals create their own networks without you, you’re placing yourself at a disadvantage.

The only thing that has held the Web back (in terms of traditional media’s use of the Web) is that they’ve refused to dive in and completely understand it, leverage it. Many people in this industry feel they’re in a transition state of business, but the rest of the world already understands the transition happened years ago. Former monopolies will do that to your thinking, I suppose.

Is it worth attempting to break into publishing–print or online–on a financial level? Would one be able to see a recuperation of expenses, at the very least?

Producing something new (like content) costs something. Be it time or money or sweat and tears, it bears a heavy cost. There’s still lots of money on the Web and it grows every day. Good content or good filtering of content to a targeted group of people will almost certainly make you some money. But I don’t think any content creator should expect huge success. The Internet may give you the opportunity for global scale, but it doesn’t guarantee anything.

As for print, I’d avoid it. I would still buy newspaper companies, but not for their printing presses. I’d buy them for their archives of information and their efficient ability to create new information.

Any other comments on the state of print or online content production? (This is probably my favorite single comment Zac made.)

At the end of the day, it’s just the fucking Internet. It’s meant to be a place to watch free porn and laugh at the Star Wars Kid, maybe read an article about the platypus. You’ll notice that neither of my blogs have ads on them. Not even Google ads. They never will have ads, either. It’s about the ideas. It’s about creating lolcats, folding proteins or annoying your family with email forwards.

The web legitimizes the First Amendment in ways the traditional media couldn’t. If some people can make a buck off that, great. If not, I hope that doesn’t discourage them from communicating.

Zac Echola is a muffin but trouble. Rick Cummings fancies himself a writer and thinks he’s better than you.

Categories: web 2.0, zac echola
  1. Libby Walkup
    April 22, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    A question for both of you if you care to answer: How do you feel about sites such as Helium, Triond, Demand Studios, Suite101, Hubpages, and so on? (Though I think I hit all the big ones that I know of.) My blog is a mish-mash of personal interests and experiences. Of course that spills over into the political/informational from time to time, and what I’d like to do is use those other publishing sites for the ‘real articles’. The freelance writing things. Mostly, right now, travel articles. (Of course I can’t get organized or focused enough to publish often, okay, hardly at all.) I am interested in making a few dollars when I can, simply because I don’t have a ‘real’ job and I don’t have any idea what kind of real job I would be qualified for. Anyway, point is, in this ramble, what are your thoughts on such sites, and would I be better off resorting to writing short erotica stories for 40 dollars a pop?

  2. Rick Cummings
    April 23, 2009 at 3:36 am

    Personally, I’m a little leery of the “freelance” sites that pay you when they’re put on a network, because they’re essentially click-fodder, and you only get paid per click (per ad), which is a pretty bad advertising concept, in my opinion. I know Triond has had some pretty bad press in that you usually only have money come trickling in and the amount you accumulate per article is generally pretty small, making you work harder and write more for the same amount of work.

    I’m no expert, but if you have someone that will pay you a guaranteed price up front, you’re probably better off. And $40 a short story is nothing to scoff at. I’ll try to get Zac to put his two cents in sometime tomorrow. (Well, today for you.)

  3. Rick Cummings
    April 23, 2009 at 3:37 am

    Edit, end of graph 1:

    *same amount of money.


  4. Zac Echola
    April 23, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    They’re fine if you’re looking to make money directly from your writing. Though some of them have horrible reputations. I know Associated Content is well hated.

    Libby, I’d suggest using your blog to make connections with other people. If you’re interested in Travel writing, start sending emails and leaving blog comments to other travel writers.

    Focus on the niche and build a network of contacts. Something paid may come up (like being offered to write a guest post on a site like Gridskipper) or something regular might come up.

    It’s all about networking and interacting with people.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: