Having spent much of the past three years writing about restaurants, it is only natural that my friends, when told about my job at Parse.ly, respond, “does that have something to do with food?”
True, I clicked on Parse.ly’s job posting because of the name—I, too, wondered what Parse.ly might have to do with food.
But having spent much of the past three years working for newspapers, magazines, and digital publications, it is only natural that I spent this summer working at Parse.ly, a startup that provides analytics for the web’s best publishers.
When I started working at Parse.ly in June, I walked through the door with a few preconceived notions about digital publishing. Such generalizations are not even close to plausible. I thought that digital publishers were clinging to an analog era. I thought that digital publishing was lagging behind the evolving web-mobile interface. And I thought that most digital publishers wouldn’t know how to use analytics even if they were given a detailed instruction booklet. After all, as a recovering digital publisher myself, I was clinging to an analog era. I was lagging behind the web-mobile interface. And I personally believed analytics to be little more than a diversion and a sales tool for booking advertising space.
Over the past three months, I have made up for most of the past three years’s mis-instruction. I learned that most publications have one foot in the analog, one foot in the digital pool. I learned that web-mobile platforms are being innovated by publishers, not by social developers. And I learned that given the best analytics—Parse.ly’s analytics—publishers are able to improve their editorial strategies and produce better content for all of us.
There is a reason why I needed to be reeducated: there is much obfuscation and misinformation on the part of digital publishers themselves. The media scrum around, well, digital media is insane. Every day one opens the ‘ol browser only to find conflicting stories and opinions on everything from the New York Times’s paywall to a pseudo-publisher like Google. The paywall is working! The paywall isn’t! Google is a publisher! Google isn’t! Although the big questions surrounding digital publishing don’t have easy answers, readers, like myself, tend to draw the wrong conclusions from such contradictory speculations. It is easier to see the battlefield of future publishing and conclude, digital publishing is doomed, than to see the battlefield of future publishing and conclude, digital publishing is spiraling in the right direction.
Debates over digital publishing are, fortunately, dialectic. Analog and digital perspectives meet: out of their grand collision, a fertile fireball emerges, a synthetic, creative compromise between the two perspectives. Thus, publishing innovation always proceeds as two steps forward, one step backward, or a halting, staggering wander forwards. Progress is not linear, but spiral. As we circle back with longing, as we linger and indulge in nostalgia, as we try to reclaim what is outmoded and atavistic, we are drifting forwards. The circle rotates around a progressive axis. Though we perceive its motion as cyclical or static, digital publishing is, indeed, making progress towards more viable economic models. The process is painful and slow.
For example, the great growing pain of our moment is plagiarism. In a web-based publishing world, “stealing” and “copying” might better be referred to as “recycling.” Is there a line between a reblog and a rip-off? What is the protocol for Internet attribution? To what extent can you rewrite your own ideas? We should not forget that plagiarism, of the self or of others, is not a modern phenomenon; it is merely the case that the Internet makes plagiarism all the more visible and traceable. Therein, digital publishing is forced to confront an issue that was submerged or avoided for the past two millennia. When we have drafted some half-way satisfactory answers, the rotation about the circle will be complete, and we will have made a few inches of “progress.”
TL;DR: Everyone needs to calm down.
This summer, I learned that there is such a thing as a “fitness office.” I had the opportunity to talk with a ton of startup CEOs. I went to some good places for lunch, like Alidoro and the Calexico Cart. I lived in Crown Heights and explored neighborhoods beyond my usual reach, including Sunset Park, Hasidic Williamsburg, and Bay Ridge. I saw at least two movies a week, more art than I could safely swallow, and a concert or two. The pieces of my summer puzzle don’t fit together in a coherent picture, nor would I want them to. I trust, however, that my miscellany of experiences, along with my work at Parse.ly, condenses into a few productive and ambiguous configurations.
Having spent much of the past three months writing about startups, it is only natural that my friends, when told about my job at Parse.ly, respond, “what did you do?” I could answer with a straightforward explanation of my duties, obligations, and responsibilities. Instead, I usually say, “I learned as much as I could.” That implies an unequal transaction of value between myself and my employer, but I think it’s an honest and fair description of what happened in Herald Square.
I’ll be taking a few weeks off from blogging here; look for content from some other Parse.ly employers. In September, I’ll be back on a weekly basis. Enjoy the dog days. ~Jason