As slow as the newspaper business has been to understand, embrace and exploit the Web and online technologies, the magazine business has been even worse. Much worse. Except maybe in the technology sector, very few magazines have come up with interesting, usable Web sites, much less taken any kind of leadership position in the field.
There's just something about the magazine metabolism that doesn't mix well with the Web. (Pathfinder, anybody?) Which is odd and sad, because specialty magazines are the centerpieces of devoted communities of readers that could be energized to do fascinating and highly active social media products online. It's truly been a missed opportunity for magazines. (Jeff Jarvis has some smart thinking on this.)
But let's give credit where credit is due: Conde Nast's new flip.com project looks like a home run. Basically, Conde Nast is taking a shot at MySpace, with a product aimed at teenage girls that will let them create "flip books" to show off...well, pretty much whatever they wants. Think of them as online, multimedia scrapbooks, places where teenagers can post and share whatever is special to them. Participants also will be able to form clubs online, have social hierarchies, etc.
It sounds just like junior high, and that's exactly the point. It's not really MySpace—and wisely, Conde Nast is saying that it sees flip.com as a complementary product—but it looks like a really elegant idea, and with Conde Nast's magazine promotional power behind it, they could really have something here.
Of course, there are a million ways they could also screw it up. But flip.com is one of the most innovative online products to come from a mainstream media company in a long, long time. Publishers of all types should be looking for similar out-of-the-box ways to reach online audiences.