Hugely long (and with a spam-filled comment thread), but interesting nonetheless:
Imagine, in 1996, asking some net-savvy soul to expound on the
potential of craigslist, then a year old and not yet incorporated. The
answer you’d almost certainly have gotten would be extrapolation:
“Mailing lists can be powerful tools”, “Social effects are intertwining
with digital networks”, blah blah blah. What no one would have told
you, could have told you, was what actually happened: craiglist became
a critical piece of infrastructure. Not the idea of craigslist, or the
business model, or even the software driving it. Craigslist itself
spread to cover hundreds of cities and has become a part of public
consciousness about what is now possible. Experiments are only revealed
in retrospect to be turning points.
In craigslist’s gradual shift from ‘interesting if minor’ to ‘essential and transformative’, there is one possible answer to the question “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” The answer is: Nothing will work, but everything might. Now is the time for experiments, lots and lots of experiments, each of which will seem as minor at launch as craigslist did, as Wikipedia did, as octavo volumes did.
Journalism has always been subsidized. Sometimes it’s been Wal-Mart and the kid with the bike. Sometimes it’s been Richard Mellon Scaife. Increasingly, it’s you and me, donating our time. The list of models that are obviously working today, like Consumer Reports and NPR, like ProPublica and WikiLeaks, can’t be expanded to cover any general case, but then nothing is going to cover the general case.