Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

The Outline of Joshua Topolsky

Yesterday, Joshua Topolsky took the wraps off his new venture, the premise for which was outlined in an April 25 essay that Topolsky published on Medium:

So over time, we built up scale in digital to replace user value. We thought we could solve with numbers (the new, seemingly infinite numbers the internet and social media provides) what we couldn’t solve with attention. And with every new set of eyeballs (or clicks, or views) we added, we diminished the merit of what we made. And advertisers asked for more, because those eyes were worth less. And we made more. And it was less valuable.

The media industry now largely thinks its only working business model is to reach as many people as possible, and sell — usually programmatically, but sometimes not — as many advertisements against that audience as it can. If they tell you otherwise, they are lying.

They are also wrong, I believe, in the long run.

Enter: the Outline. Topolsky and Ryan Houlihan spoke about it at length on his podcast, Tomorrow, but if you don’t have nearly an hour to spare, Mike Shields of the Wall Street Journal summed it up in an article yesterday:

Mr. Topolsky is touting The Outline as something of the antidote to a rising crop of digital media brands that are reliant on social media distribution and, in his mind, are too focused on reaching massive user totals.

Instead, with The Outline, Mr. Topolsky said he is aiming to reach roughly 10 to 15 million users, most of whom come directly to his site. “This has to be a real brand,” he said. The site’s content will focus on three areas: power, as it relates to subjects like politics and business; culture; and the future. He said he’s aiming for a smart, influential readership.

The plan is to produce roughly 15 to 20 pieces of content a day, including text articles, more visual stories and video.

Despite the amount by which I loathe the phrases “real brand” and “pieces of content”, and how vague this mission statement is, I’m looking forward to seeing the results of Topolsky’s work. There are some really smart people — like Leah Finnegan and Adrianne Jeffries, to name two — who are setting the foundation for the Outline. This should be good; or, at the very least, worth keeping an eye on.