The following list details the 100 online publishers we deem most important right now in order of significance. What goes into this editorial judgment?
We factor in traffic data, though we don't base our assessment on only that. We consider prestige, share of voice, content quality, overall design and UX, innovation and, well, importance. We could get into complicated formulas here (as we have in the past) and be accused of being wonkish numbers crunchers (as we have in the past), but it's really just this simple: If you don't like it, make your own list.
#1 The New York Times
Somebody has got to set the tone. And, apparently, it can be a thankless task. The New York Times may have become the poster child for print publishers challenged by the economic shift from analog to digital publishing, but in an ironic twist, it also is becoming more contextually relevant than ever before. As the sea of content published online expands and fragments, the NYTimes.com stands out as the standard bearer of quality journalism, informing its readers and feeding countless derivative reports throughout the blogosphere. It's also found ways to present content in new ways online, such as the election-day infograph that kept many transfixed last November. The Times may be struggling with its business model, but it remains the model for the Fourth Estate -- in print, online, or anywhere else.
Google may stand for just the opposite of what The New York Times does in regards to online publishing. When it comes to Google News and other tools, it doesn't tell us what we should be reading, but rather what we are reading. And in many ways, it is the wolf at legacy publishing's door.
But there is one place where Google aggregates a truly mass audience, and in that place its editors tell us what they think is important that day or week. That place is the Google.com homepage, where Google Doodles display.
Google may be known best for organizing the world's information, but the search engine, on occasion, is known to create some, too -- six characters at a time. And while it doesn't do so all that often, when Google turns its trademark logo into content, it can have a profound effect, reminding the world's information users about some important holiday, milestone or anniversary, or maybe just the birthday of a beloved scientist like Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein. If a picture is worth a thousand words, Google has proven that a doodle sometimes can be worth millions of hits. Whether it is a week-long takeover featuring a different "Sesame Street" character to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the long-running public television series. Or whether it is turning its logo over to user-generated renditions created via its periodic Doodle competitions, Google proves that you don't have to publish a lot of content to convey a lot of meaning. It all began in 2000, when Google Webmaster Dennis Hwang, then a company intern, began celebrating various global events and holidays with crude doodle iterations of the Google logo. Recently, Google added applications functionality to its commemorative logo publishing, marking the May 21, 2010 30th anniversary of the Pac-Man video game with a playable Pac-Man version of its logo, which could be played directly from a Web browser.
Besides the content Google frames for users on its home page, it's a powerful contextualizer of news and other Web content. Previously, part of OMMA's definition of an online publisher was that it employed editors. In the case of Google News, the algorithms play the role of editor. For instance, a robo-editor created a package as a lead story about the BP Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, pulling a headline and blurb from a Wall Street Journal story and adding an in-page video of the underwater saw malfunctioning from Google's YouTube. And the story got there in the first place through an analysis of Web activity that found the story to be topical, newsworthy, and important. The page then displays that content amongst other relevant content giving a quick impression of the news of the day at a glance, and allows more depth with a few clicks.
More advanced developments from Google Labs, such as Spotlight, provide even more sophisticated editorial functions. Spotlight, much more than just a repository of most-popular features, according to Google Labs, indexes "in-depth pieces of lasting value." The algorithm resurfaces stories that it deems have "enduring appeal," slowing down the news cycle in which stories that take more than a glance to comprehend end up getting skipped, and by surveying online activity, find stories a reader might have missed, but may want to read.
Sounds like something an editor would do.
In fact, the original stated editorial goal of Henry Luce when he created Time magazine was to provide the busy modern reader with a news weekly that aggregated (though of course with original writing) all the week's important news in short, easily digestible blurbs. In an age when information can overwhelm, and content has been dethroned by clutter, through innovation the engineers at Google are contextualizing news in the 21st century in much the way Luce did in the 20th.
If Jimmy Wales's social experiment Wikipedia did only one thing, it proved that people could collaboratively produce valuable content. Of course, it did, and continues to do, much more. Wikimedia's for-profit counterpart Wikia (whose biggest hit so far has been the mind-bogglingly exhaustive Lostpedia) expands the concept with a consumer publishing platform.
#4 The Wall Street Journal
Murdoch and Co. are the only newspaper publisher that has figured out how to make money online (though, perhaps, they are the only newspaper publisher which is in anything like a tenable position to do so).
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