Siteseeing: The Onion

Over the course of the semester I’ve been looking at the satirical news website The Onion. I’ve chosen this site because it’s one that I’ve visited on a semi-regular basis for several years. I’ve seen it evolve from a very low-budget, simplistic site to one that involves many forms of new media, including downloadable audio and video files and online streaming.

Where words go to die? : Background and history of The Onion

BuzzMachine founder Jeff Jarvis once claimed that paper is ‘where words go to die’. The Onion is an interesting example because it was first published as a print newspaper in 1988. It was originally distributed free to students in the Wisconsin area, where it developed a cult following due to comedy headlines like ‘Midwest Found Between East, West Coasts’ and ‘Somalia Defeats Rwanda to Win Third-World Cup’. The Onion website was created a few years later, and today content is published both on the website and in print form. Both the printed newspaper and the website are among America’s most popular, and the success of both questions the notion that print newspapers are being superceded by their online equivalents. The Onion is one of the few business models that manages to integrate their print and online content seamlessly, rather than having one appear as an appendage to the other.

Keeping up with Web 2.0: Key site features

The Onion website is constantly updating and improving its content and modes of delivery in keeping with online trends. While The Onion does not provide many forums for user-generated content, the website has several features to encourage a degree of interactivity. These include:

  • audio streaming of comedy radio
  • video streaming of comedy news
  • staff-generated blogs
  • RSS feeds
  • an e-newsletter
  • Google maps tagged with fake facts.

Building the business: Creating a strong user community

As their operations have expanded, The Onion founders have sought to develop and maintain a strong user base by creating a sense of community around the site. In addition, they have launched several auxilliary sites, which aim to attract users from The Onion community.

  • The AV Club, launched in 2004, originally began life as the entertainment liftout for the print version of The Onion. As with The Onion, content for The AV Club is syndicated for both the online and the print versions. The website contains reviews, feature articles, regular columns and a crossword.
  • The Decider, launched in 2008, is quite similar to the business model we proposed for our website. The homepage of the site features links to several separate sites, each based around a different American city. Each of these sites features staff- and user-generated content about local gigs, shows and community events.
  • The Onion Store contains a range of humour-based merchandise, as well as straight Onion-branded merchandise. It has regular sales and deals, which are announced to users on the site and through an e-newsletter. In including a store feature, The Onion is not only creating a handy revenue stream, but is encouraging readers to buy merchandise which identifies themselves as members of The Onion community. They are trading upon their ‘cult’ status to create a sustainable business through the website.
  • A Personals section, which contains real personal ads from The Onion community users. The Personals section of the site, added in 2008, is the fastest-growing section, and provides a social networking aspect to the site. Users can post a profile of themselves, including what they’re looking for (romance, friendship, play), browse others’ personal profiles, and even create blogs.

Favourite headlines

A few of my favourite recent headlines from The Onion include:

  • ‘Obama Depressed, Distant Since “Battlestar Galatica” Finale (31 March 2009)
  • ‘God Makes Surprise Visit to Local Church’ (21 April 2009)
  • ‘KFC No Longer Permitted to Use Word “Eat” in Advertisements’ (26 May 2009)
  • ‘Detroit Mayor Throws First Brick in Glass-Breaking Ceremony for New Slum’ (12 May 2009)
  • ‘In An Attempt to Jump-start the Economy, Obama Declares Tuesdays Ladies’ Nights’ (7 June)

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Group project update #3

I’ve spent the last few days writing copious amounts of content to fill up our site, posting on twitter for our tweet grid and sourcing potential images. We still have a long list of things we’d like to do before the final assignment is due, but I think we’re in pretty good shape in terms of having something presentable to pitch tomorrow. Hopefully the time we spent in planning our business model and mapping out the navigation of the site will show through in our final product, too. Our site has several layers, both of content and functionality, but I think it is still easy for users to navigate and post on.

Over the last couple of days I’ve had a close look at the other sites, MelbinNoir and Choc Rocks. I really like the design of MelbinNoir. The red, black and white colour scheme works well, and there is a definite Friday-night, jazzy vibe to the whole thing which makes me think of music, entertainment, going out. I like the clickable calendar. Their content is well-organised on the homepage, too – the use of leading and long excerpts gives the impression that the site is filled with content, but at the same time this content doesn’t overwhelm the reader. If we get time, I think we could take some of their lessons on board, in terms of using fonts and logos to create a brand identity. Creating a strong brand identity was the reason we chose our green, blue and orange colour scheme – which is suitably friendly and ‘studenty’ – but I think we could go further in that direction.

Choc rocks has a lot more content than the last time I checked, and they’ve also done some work on the design. It’s looking good. I like the Chokkie by ‘burb feature and the Your Say, which is moderated by the website operators.

From here: tonight will be spent working on my part of the pitch, and tomorrow we’re meeting up before class to go through what each of us plan to say. Fingers crossed it goes well!

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Literary links

In my work as an editor, I read a few literary-type blogs regularly. It’s great because it’s a way to slack off at work while looking as if you’re being quite productive. A few I read, or at least browse, regularly, are:

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Linx wot are funny LOL

Is grammar declining in the age of digital media? Some argue so. The following: Internet Age Writing Syallabus and Course Overview is an amusing dissemination of twitter, blogspeak and all that is wrong with the modern world. The mock syllabus covers everything from the fundamentals (Week 1: Reading is Stoopid) to why curling up with a good book is bad for the back. My favourite is Week 5, which covers the advanced use of acronyms. This article proves that books are, indeed, where ‘paper goes to die’.

From the internet comedy mecca that is The Onion comes the opinion piece If Someone Wanted to Publish My Blog Posts For Money I Wouldn’t Say No. One could argue cynically that this is the impetus behind most blogs. Perhaps.

And lastly, an overzealous neighbour has an amusing exchange with his neighbour here. From the same guy who did the series where he offered to pay an overdue bill with a picture of a spider.

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Re: Group project updates #1 and #2

I seem to have mammoth troubles with posting on WordPress from my computer, so here is a couple of past posts that didn’t quite make it on in a timely fashion.

14 May 2009
Group project update #1

We’re starting to make headway on our group project, which is a great feeling. We met on Sunday off Lygon Street (of course) and nutted out much of the hefty agenda I’d emailed beforehand. The agenda was as follows:

1. Refining business concept
– refining purpose, audience and goals
– deciding on a website name
– nutting out revenue and funding model (advertising? advertorial?)
– core values / ethos (?)

2. Website plan
– deciding what sections we’ll have (Work, Live, Play, How To?) and how
they will interconnect
– deciding what features we want (RSS, comments, etc)
– outlining a rough site map (space for advertising, etc)
– dividing up what else we need to investigate (WordPress capabilities, etc)

3. Building website
– technical stuff that I have no idea of
– deciding what content we need
– drafting rough timelines for completion of certain stages

We spent most of the time refining our business model, and we discussed issues such as whether businesses would pay for job ads if they could post twitter updates about jobs, whether real estate agents should be allowed to post on the housing section and whether we can post our own images. I think this was really useful to help us conceptualise exactly what would be useful for our users and what wouldn’t.

Toward the end of our meet, we compiled a list that was partly things that need to be done and partly a wish list. Our list included things like writing extra content for the site, investigating CSS for a twitter feed, using weather widgets on the news page and including an ‘Apply Now’ button on the jobs section, like they have on seek. We decided that we’ll start with what is most vital, and work our way down from there.

Over the next week, we’ll get started on actually building the site. We’ve decided to go with justhost and use the WordPress plug-in. I’m glad with this, as it means our plans are less limited by WordPress’s capabilities. And we have so many plans…

14 May 2009
Group project update #2
We met in the library last Sunday and officially launched our site. Yay! Briony did a fantastic job with nutting out the tweet grid – don’t ask me exactly what she did, but best I understand she found a widget and changed the HTML to customise it for us. We still have to create pages and post content, but it feels so good to have something tangible to work with now.

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The Web.Studies Gauntlett

I recently read David Gauntlett’s introduction to the second edition of Web.Studies. The introduction was published five years ago and already reads as quite dated – it makes you think of all the internet phenomenona that have cropped up since its publication: the popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook: the downfall of kazaa and rise of itunes; the preponderance of publishers, both small and large, who are publishing and selling through the internet. It’s almost self-defeating to aim for a print version of something that analyses a constantly evolving digital world.

However, despite this (and despite Gauntlett’s at times unctuous tone) I found it interesting. The concept and capabilities of Web 2.0 is potentially fascinating. Gauntlett claims that ‘the fact that it is quite easy for media students to be reasonably slick media producers… means that we are all actively engaged with questions of creation, distribution and audience’, and this is important to consider in designing and planning a website.

Gauntlett talks about ‘stodgy’ discourse in media studies, arguing that new media has given it a kick. I’ll take his word that this is true; yet I wonder how much of an impact it has had outside academic circles.

I am by no means a sophisticated computer user; just because I have watched dozens of Hollywood starlets, from Sandra Bullock to Gwyneth Paltrow, hack their way through firewalls and download company data doesn’t mean I’ve learnt anything. However, even to a ‘technological outsider’ like me it seems that there is still, even today, quite a lot of ‘stodgy’ discourse surrounding new media – in particular, there is a limited understanding of the purposes, capabilities and aims of the different forms of technology.

I see this a lot in educational publishing, the industry I work in. In recent years, many publishers seem to have leapt onto the ‘technological bandwagon’ – creating CD-ROMs, DVDs, interactive PDFs, websites, downloadable resources and electronic games – often without thinking too carefully about the different forms of technology suited to the audience. It is only now, I think, that many publishers and teachers alike are starting to become more discerning in their use of technology and understanding that different forms are best suited for different teaching purposes. They’re realising that just because it blings, doesn’t mean kids will find it engaging; and, importantly, doesn’t mean that it is the best way of imparting knowledge to them…

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Welcome to Iced Vovos

Welcome to Iced Vovos. In my postings I’ll be writing about digital media issues and subtly weaving in references to the readings to show that I’ve done my homework. If the popularity of my text messages is anything to go by, I’m sure this blog is destined to become one of the most popular on the World Wide Web (not the Internet, which is just a series of networks that allows computers to talk to one another).

About the blogger

– I have recently become acquainted with the concept of ‘Wed 2.0’.]

–  I was once described as ‘the love child of Julia Roberts and John Lennon’ by a drunken family friend, although it is clear that I look nothing like either and it is doubtful that they would have been romantically involved if the circumstances were right anyway.

–  My favourite words include ‘sarchasm’ (the gulf between the person who makes the remark and the person who doesn’t get it); ‘juniper’ and ‘ambidextrous’, as well as perennials such as ‘its’ and was’.

The genesis of Iced Vovos

Near where I work, there is a hairdresser called Vovo. Walking past, I began thinking about how that’s a good name as it reminds people of Kevin Rudd talking about iced vovos in his election victory speech, and makes the whole place have a subtle, left-leaning vibe: you feel like they’re the sort of people you want tousling your hair, maybe even the sort of people where things could lead to an after-work drink once your hair was done. And vovo itself is a great word – catchy, with its repeated syllables – and Kevin Rudd, in his speech, not only used the concept of the iced vovo to invoke comforting images of family life and companionship, but used the phonetics of the word to appeal to the audience who, on a subconscious (preconscious?) subliminal level would respond to the sound and by extension feel that Kevin was a strong and capable leader who inspired confidence. Then I thought it’s probably one of the few blog names not taken on wordpress. Ironically, it was (damn Katt and her nursing blog). So I went for the less-illustrious ‘iced vovos’, even though singular seems more definitive. Fascinating? Indeed.

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