Fast Company

The Media is Social

How FastCompany.com will alter the digital landscape.

Fast Company is about to shake things up again.

Back in 1995, in our first issue, we announced on our cover: "Computing is Social." It became a Fast Company mantra and helped open the eyes of a generation of entrepreneurs to the possibilities of the Internet.

In November of 1997, before social networking on the Web was called social networking, FastCompany.com started the "Company of Friends," dubbed the "Fast Company Readers' Network."

The network featured members' professional profiles, online business discussions that were moderated by volunteer group coordinators, and in-person monthly meet-ups of more than 200 regional groups around the world. (Sound familiar? MeetUp.com was founded five years later in 2002 and LinkedIn followed in 2003.)

As progressive as Fast Company was, serving our online community of about 100,000 members was a secondary mission to creating great editorial content.

But no more.

Starting today, we become the first major media website to tackle the following problem: Can a business publication blend journalism and online community to create something better than either by itself?

We think so. If done right. That's what we've been thinking about and working on at FastCompany.com for more than a year now.

Why bother in the first place? I could get high minded and talk a bit about what my colleague Jeff Jarvis of www.BuzzMachine.com and the director of the new media program at the City University of New York calls the rise of "networked journalism."

There are a lot of important reasons why amateurs should be powerfully enabled to participate in journalistic endeavors.

But we're also doing it because it's fun. It's innovative. And it's very Fast Company.

So what is it?

First off, here's what it's not: It's not a pure social network. A pure social network tries to recreate what Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook calls the "social graph" of a community that already exists. You go to Facebook or MySpace and find the friends and co-workers you already know. The real world gets reproduced virtually. Maybe you meet a friend of a friend.

We're not that.

We're an entirely new community of people brought together because we want to share ideas about business. We like business. We think it's important. Work gives more meaning to our lives. We believe business profoundly helps define our culture.

We don't always know each other yet. We're an open community. Feel free to introduce yourself to a stranger with interesting ideas. Try not to pay too much attention to the resume info on their profile pages - pay attention to their ideas, what they write or say.

Personalized profiles collect most everything a member contributes to the site: from a blog if you choose to write one, to your answers to daily questions from our editors, and much, much more.

If members participate actively, we'll all get to know each other very well.

Second, the site is not an end to professional journalism. We're still the website of one of the most influential business magazines in the world. Journalists like Robert Safian, Ellen McGirt, Chuck Salter, Linda Tischler, Will Bourne, Charles Fishman, and Adam Penenberg will continue to produce thought-provoking, ground breaking stories.

Our newest online FastCompany.com editorial employee, superstar tech blogger Robert Scoble, www.scobleizer.com will continue to cover Davos and CES and SouthbySouthWest. We'll even be introducing a full slate of professional video programming (featuring Scoble and Shel Israel, among others) on www.fastcompany.tv on March 3.

We are, however, an open forum.

Write an interesting blog post and you'll find yourself featured on the homepage of FastCompany.com alongside Scoble, McGirt and Fishman.

Respond to one of our articles and you may find yourself in an exchange with the author. Or perhaps you'll add the author to your contact list so you can keep talking about related issues.

Suggest an interesting Fast Talk question for the community to debate and you'll find not only fellow readers mixing it up but our writers and editors as well.

Contribute a provocative video and tens of thousands of our million monthly visitors might take a look.

Join a group centered around a Fast Company core topic and engage other experts in your field.

Fast Company is about eight core topics: innovation, technology, leadership, management, design, social responsibility, careers, and work/life balance.

When you contribute content to the site, you can tag the content according to one of these topics and add your own free-form tags. We'll automatically tag certain content, too (if, for instance, you're responding to something, like an article about technology, that's been previously tagged).

Will we stray off-topic once in a while? Sure. It's sometimes too much fun to resist. For the most part, only the content and groups that fit our business-focused mission will bubble up to be featured on the site. That's part of what our editors will be looking for.

We intend to stay a site centered around business conversation and that makes us unique. Facebook and MySpace already do a good job as general-interest sites. LinkedIn is a site for professionals to manage contacts. We're different.

Third, we're not chasing a fad. We've been in the business of online community for a decade. Opening up the site to deeply ingrain it with the voices of our millions of online and print readers has been a goal we've had since our owner, Joe Mansueto, gave us the means to realize this vision when he took over in 2005.

To make the vision a reality, we have become heavily invested in the Open Source movement. FastCompany.com is now one of the most sophisticated websites built on the open-source platform Drupal.

We've worked with some of the most talented user-interface experts and Drupal developers in the world to build our platform and we've staffed up internally to become one of the best Drupal shops in the nation. Our office is now the New York home of the monthly Drupal meet-up.

Open source allows us to take advantage of the work of thousands of developers contributing back their work free-of-charge to the platform. We hope the development work we contribute back will help to improve all sites running on the Drupal platform. We're committed to supporting OpenID, the movement to allow portability of a member's own data from one site to another. (When you register at FastCompany.com, feel free to import your LinkedIn, Gmail, Yahoo mail, or Outlook contacts. If Facebook opens their "walled garden," we'll help you import those contacts, too.)

Finally, we don't intend to be a closed-site. We want to share our model and our technology. We'd like to join with like-minded sites and to share the software we've spent a year developing - if they'll join us in an open network where members can easily find each other and engage in a dialogue.

If you're interested, just become a member of FastCompany.com. That's where you'll find me.

We think our site will help change how traditional media websites think about online community. It's shouldn't be bolted-on to the main website as a side show. And it's not something only pure-play start ups can do well. In fact, media websites can leverage their editorial staff to develop a deeply engaging conversation with and amongst their community. It's a model the pure plays can't even compete with.

Community should be at the core of all media sites. From now on, we'll see that social media doesn't need to be separate from traditional media. The Media is Social.

Edward Sussman is the president of the Mansueto Digital network of sites, which includes FastCompany.com, Inc.com, IncBizNet.com, IncTechnology.com and starting in March, FastCompany.TV and Scobleizer.com.

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26 Comments

  • Kittipong Seraneesopon

    it sound great, hope you keep walking as a lead on the internet. i'm also the one who starting internet market to though blogger as well. here is my example hibiscus

  • Peter Wilkins

    Nearly a year has passed, what lessons have been learned by Fast Company? Good and bad... I think it would be an interesting article for the thousands of entrepreneurs exploring new ventures in social media.

    --
    Peter Wilkins
    www.omaxen.com

  • Peter Wilkins

    Nearly a year has passed, what lessons have been learned by Fast Company? Good and bad... I think it would be an interesting article for the thousands of entrepreneurs exploring new ventures in social media.

    --
    Peter Wilkins
    www.omaxen.com

  • Peter Wilkins

    Nearly a year has passed, what lesson have been learned by Fast Company? Good and bad... I think it would be an interesting article for the thousands of entrepreneurs exploring new ventures in social media.

    --
    Peter Wilkins
    www.omaxen.com

  • Peter Wilkins

    Nearly a year has passed, what lessons have been learned by Fast Company? Good and bad... I think it would be an interesting article for the thousands of entrepreneurs exploring new ventures in social media.

    --
    Peter Wilkins
    www.omaxen.com

  • Francois Basili

    I remember vividly how I got a jolt upon first seeing the cover of Fast Company’s first issue back in 1995. I immediately felt that I’m looking at a very different magazine with a unique personality, mission, and message. I became a fan for several years and then I started to feel that the magazine was repeating itself. I joined New York’s CoF and enjoyed it and benefited from it. But CoF was left to die almost at the same time that the social network movement was being born.

    Yes Fast Company was a pioneer in understanding the promise of social computing before it was a reality. But it limited its own vision by thinking of itself only as a magazine, not as a seed of new media.
    Well, an opportunity was missed. Now I’m glad that Fast Company is expanding its self vision and talking about combining journalism and social networking. That’s what the new social media is about. Better late than never.
    Francois Basili
    President, HumaNext.com

  • Heath Row

    For the history books, the Company of Friends launched Oct. 15, 1997 -- that's when we first announced it in Fast Take -- the magazine and Web site's email newsletter. For the first few months, I manually entered new members into an Excel spreadsheet, sorted by geography, and emailed people the contact info of other folks I thought they should connect with. Pretty soon, we had 13 original colonies -- urban areas in which there was enough critical mass for people to get together face to face. Man, was I glad when we moved to a Web registration and membership search function! ^_^ This is another great step for Fast Company.

  • James Burns

    I see that you've converted your site to Drupal, definitely a great move in my opinion. Looking forward to seeing the next evolution of Fast Company.

  • Tim Gregory

    And you need to hide the commment box for anonymous users - I entered a comment, hit submit, then got taken to the registration page. After registration my comment was gone!

  • Tim Gregory

    Hi Ed
    Thanks for the insight. I work for an online media company, and we're watching what you're doing with a lot of interest.
    I'd like to pick at one point in your article - your claim that you are "committed to supporting OpenID". I've taken a look at your registration, and it seems to me that you are happy to be an OpenId provider, and vouch for an ID on other sites, but you don't seem to be committed to accepting OpenID sign-ons from other sites. Not that you should, necessarily. I'm just pointing out that your committment to OpenID extends as far as Yahoo and others that are willing to act only as providers...

  • Goto Ao

    Mr. Sussman has offered a plausible defense of his business model that's too provocative to ignore. Here's my reply. To begin with, Mr. Sussman need not defend his model. He did, as I said, "take the plunge". And that's not to be sneezed at. One therefore wishes him well, provided that Fast Company editorial can resist the tempation to gatekeep its online readership/members, which with the present model it can not do. Sure - a "conversation" (as Mr. Sussman puts it) will presumably occur. But, what kind of a conversation will it be? For example, will the eventual output resemble the online rhetorical "blend" posted on the web site and disguised as a question- namely: "Can a business publication blend journalism and online community to create something better than either by itself? No it won't. It's possible (I suppose) but will not likely happen precisely BECAUSE Reed's Law, which in theory SHOULD drive Online Fast Company to a relatively quick critical mass, can't do it because of a structural impediment in the present model that Mansueto can not overcome without rejigging the model. I liken this "impediment" to a form of innovative incrementalism, which is what Reed's Law avoids. Here's why that's the case. The nub of Mr. Sussman's innovation is what he himself has identified by comparing Online Fast Company to a public park. The analogy is understandable, so far as it goers, but it's not accurate. Online Fast Company is NOT a public park; it's a private park where Mansueto journalists will nonetheless have the power to gatekeep the park. And that gatekeeping proclivity embedded in the business as an unqualified necessity (the model requires it) is the one really important thing that illustrates the difference in "quality of innovation" insofar as Reed's Law applies, to the dissimilarity, say, between Wikipedia and Online Fast Company. Mr. Sussman also claims that other new media companies are watching closely his innovation. Fair enough! But, nearly all these new media companies are basically the same. The pour old media content, regardless of who produces the content, into a new media model and then (apparently) congratulate themselves, to paraphrase Mr. Sussman, as having "changed the way old media companies think...." Have they actually changed anything? That kind of "thinking", if those folks think at all, is what I previously referred to to as "walking backward into the future": namely, the rear view mirror effect which appears to have captured the so-called new media. Therefore, if Mr. Sussman truly wants to "change" things with Online Fast Company, by which I mean create something that's transformative, original, never before been done, completely different, innovative to the core, then may I offer several humble suggestions, if Reed's Law is a corporate goal? (1) Use the people park analogy, but don't call it public. It's a private park and there's nothing wrong with that. (2) Hand out all those wonderful editorial tools to all comers, but don't look for a "blend", if by "blend" Mr. Sussman means a transformative blend. His blend will be a mongrel. It won't transform, change, alter, anything of any real substance that the paper edition of Fast Company isn't already doing. Good business journalism? Perhaps! But let's not call it innovation. It's conventional journalism with technology, which ultimately and only expands on letters to the editor, but without (in most cases) the editor. Pouring the content of the old into the new is merely more of the same old, same old. Everyone's doing it, in one way or another - Web 2.0 and all that. I say this because if Online Fast Company is "different", say, from Facebook (which is a contrast that Mr. Sussman used), the difference reminds me of a face lift. (3) Think "information utility", like a water supply or an electricity grid where Online Fast Company provides the spiggots or the wire lines- and then stands back. That way, end users (or at least some of them) can mix, mash, alter, change, screen out or keep in ANYTHING they wish in terms of editorial content, without gatekeepers of any kind. Content is King! (4)When that happens, which is to say IF it happens that Online Fast Company becomes completely laissez faire" (which is unlikely) real innovation blows away every one of the other so-called new media mongrels by allowing Online Fast Company readers to (by all means) do what they are presently doing, with the tools they have been given to do it, but with a "value added" feature that can only be done once, and first, on the public Internet. When that value added component is present it then becomes the model that fuels all other competitors who eventually try to replicate the model, but generally fail or at east don't do all that well. Is there a magic formula for that value addedcomponent? Not at all. We know it when we see it and we consistently see it in Reed's Law applied to true innovation. Think Wikipedia, Google, Firefox. It's not magic and there's no formula. It's simply "real" innovation instead of incremental tinkering. In short, and in the context of Reed's Law, a "real" innovation in the context of Online Fast Company would allow readers themselves to form their own private Web channels supported by their own advertisers, with help from Mansueto's advertising folks, but outside the brand name itself. That's what I mean by truly eradicating "walled gardens". Online Fast Company might not be a walled garden in any conventional sense, but it still has a perimeter. And that's where Reed's Law excels: it eliminates predefined perimeters precisely because they don't exist until an actual real innovation creates one, which then defines the boundaries or "rules" by which everyone else, namely the new competitors, the imitators, have to play. But, won't that kind of "real" innovation impact the bottom line? No, it won't. It will DEMONSTRATE Reed's Law, rather than imitate Reed's Law, because the present model from Online Fast Company can't possibly scale the way that the curve in Reed's Law ought to scale in terms of end-user adoption - and for a rather pedestrian reason: too many predefined perimeters. Eliminate an existing perimeter with a business approach that redefines one further time this Web 2.0 mania, with a model, formula, call it what you will, that can NOT be reproduced by competitors unless they conform to an existing (new) perimeter created by the first mover - and Reed's Law kicks in.(5) Finally, if it's not magic, how does one do this? It's a challenge to be sure. Therefore, why not open a new "kind" of channel at Online Fast Company that truly allows "real" innovation to flourish.
    Derick Harris

  • Carlyle Bradford

    I love the idea that Fast Company has decided to to embrace a leading role in allowing its readers and, now visitors to its' online home interact, contribute, and participate in an open dialogue. Congrads! I look forward to this new change in media.

  • Edward Sussman

    Hi Goto, Interesting and long reaction! But what do you think of the value being contributed to the members at no charge? To give the most obvious example, the work of 100 or so journalists, FC experts and editors. One story or blog post that helps you understand the business world better can result in 1) your company doing better; 2) your career improving; 3)your enjoying life more because your intellectual boundaries have been expanded. That's the traditional media model.

    Now add community to the mix, as we have, and now if a story is useful to you, you can enter into a discussion directly with our journalists, plus the many members who might have something to say on the subject! Free use of a software platform that costs seven figures a year to build an maintain! Free access to experts who spend their professional lives trying to understand the world of business, innovation and technology! One metaphor: we've built a public park where people can gather and have discussions in a pleasant environment. And we've stocked the park with a vast library of articles that we've worked for years to create, like a well-tended garden. We've built benches and jungle gyms for people to meet each other and have fun. Finally, we hang out the park and enagage in conversations with you.

    The only price of admission to this very engaging park is that we provide a hot dog stand or two where you can buy buy something if you choose. Yes we charge for our hot dogs (those are the ads for any of you still following this metaphor). But we think the hot dogs are pretty good.

    We also provide vegetarian selections. (see Social Responsibility channel at http://www.fastcompany.com/top...

    Is this model going to help to alter the digital landscape? Yes. Other media companies are watching our model closely, and some important players are talking to me personally. You're going to see variations of this model taking root all over the place, just as our stand alone network, Company of Friends, in business since 1997, profoundly influenced the development of modern social networking.

  • Goto Ao

    First off, let me acknowledge that it is easy to be critical, harder to be constructively critical; and, harder yet to be willing to take the plunge and try something new.

    Having said that, Mr. Sussman argues that [Online] Fast Company will alter the digital landscape. Let's take Mr. Sussman at his word, because despite all the language in the piece about amateur citizen journalism, walled gardens and the rest of it, a simple fact check, since Online Fast Company apparently is about the journalism end of business, is rather instructive when it comes to this so-called "altering" of the digital landscape.

    Mr. Sussman in his penultimate statement in the piece also says [w]e think our site will help change how traditional media websites think about online community". Perhaps it will, but will it really change anything if by "change" Online Fast Company means, alter, transform, morph?

    Let's first have a look at this kind of "thinking", however well intentioned, from the standpoint of some "critical thinking" about, in this instance, business itself and more particularly the apparent "business" of Online Fast Company, as distinct from the "business model" of this enterprise.

    Let's do that by first dealing with the model itself. What Mr. Sussman actually is doing here, as I previously pointed out, with his business model is to attempt to extract surplus intellectual value from the web site readership by using Reed's Law. Here's the basic idea: Reed's Law posits the idea that the value of each person's third party contribution, in a collaborative community, scales exponentially because multiple collaborators collectively create something that neither the originator(s) nor the collaborator(s) can produce by themselves.

    No value judgment here! Let's simply understand what is actually going on, so "the audience" can make an intelligent choice as to whether what we are seeing in Online Fast Company is a true media transformation - instead of merely another example of walking backward into the future, meaning the "rear view mirror effect" which has basically characterized every single so-called web innovation to date.

    Walking backward means in essence "pouring the content of the old into the new", but with a twist, which is that instead of publishing content with traditional gatekeepers, meaning journalists, and only journalists, and then selling the product in the marketplace with ads, because circulation isn't enough to make a profit -- the actual purpose of a so-called "new media" company like Online Fast Company is to extract additional surplus value from the audience, by asking readers themselves to not only (a) spend their time at a web site which they can't get back, but to (b) also provide not only the audience but the content itself for the web site so that (c) the new media company can then sell not only the audience itself, (meaning circulation) but also the intellectual property of the audience, all of which is produced for free by the audience,, to third party advertisers.

    So much for the model - which Mr. Sussman believes will "[alter] the digital landscape". One can easily see from a critical perspective that the only thing that is actually being "altered" is the "value equation" to advertisers of an audience that has not only allowed the publisher to sell itself to advertisers, but to also sell to advertisers the "surplus value" of the content for the publication that the audience itself has created.

    Now's have a look at Online Fast Company from the standpoint of "business", as distinct from the model.

    For example, here's What Shelly Palmer said today in his web log about the distinction between a "business idea" and a business:

    "There are really only three business models. I pay, you pay or someone else pays. Combine them into the most complicated schema you can imagine, but in the end – there are only three directions for cash flows. In this case, “I pay,” means that [the business] would be fully funded by its creator or publisher. “You pay,” means that the consumer of the [business] pays.... And, “someone else pays,” [which] means an [advertiser] or interested third party put up the cash. It’s pretty simple, really."

    Assuming that Shelly Palmer more or less has it right (and I believe that he does) we can actually see that all three of those unchanging business variables are at work in Online Fast Company. With one exception: namely, that the readers themselves are to a considerable measure being asked to provide the actual raw product, meaning the intellectual property, that Online Fast Company will then sell, if the "model" is successful, to third party advertisers.

    I believe we can most assuredly assume that Online Fast Company is intended to be a business as well as a model where the actual, relevant and ultimate business question will be as follows: "Can Mr. Sussman's innovation "leverage" his audience, which actually means can he extract surplus intellectual value from the audience, as well as the audience itself, and then transform that value plus surplus value, through advertising, into profits for a third party, himself, in order to enrich Online Fast Company's parent company, and the magazine, and the new television channel, all of them owned by Mansueto Digital"?

    We will eventually know whether is is feasible to do that.
    And, if it is feasible, then more power to Mr.Sussman, so long as his "audience" understands what's actually going on here - as distinct from "altering the digital landscape" which is both (a) nonsense and (b) insults the intelligence of the readers whose intellectual property Online Fast Company will ultimately rely.

    Derick Harris

    Readers can out Wikipedia.org under "Reed's Law" for an elboration of Online Fast Company's business concept.

  • Edward Sussman

    Hi Valerie,

    All 200 CoF groups are still preserved on the network and all 95,000 active member profiles have been transferred over. There is a special page of CoF groups accessible from the Find Groups page to promote them to new members. We hope everyone on CoF will enjoy the new site and find more friends then ever for their groups.

  • Stephen Rouse

    I'm reading this from laptop in my living room in Toronto, Canada. My wife reading to my daughter and I'm taking some time to learn. What a welcome pleasure to google into your new unveiling. I keep the April 2001 issue of Fast Company on my home office shelf. It was the largest issue ever. Nearly an inch thick. And it went away for awhile. Now it is back. Contgrats. I believe in your model. 2.0 Lives...

  • Valeria Maltoni

    Oops you mention CoF. Still, I hope the feedback I provided Lynne made its way to you guys.

  • Valeria Maltoni

    Ed:

    It would have been nice to mention the history of CoF and to leverage the network as users for input and feedback on site features. Why not capitalize on your own success? From a community member and volunteer since 2000, you should have known and done better by members.