YouTube creators Chad Hurley and Steve Chen are working on their next means of digital disruption with the upcoming Zeen. Zeen first hit the Internet’s radar this past spring, pitching itself as an application that will “discover and create beautiful magazines.” Since then, all’s been fairly quiet.
But at Le Web this week, Hurley and Chen revealed that Zeen will launch very soon, and described the startup as an application that will “in essence allow people to build online magazines in a more visually rich way to present information.” Which alleviates some of my early fears about Zeen: the last thing the Web needs is another Flipboard. Every media conglomerate and their dog has or had one – Yahoo, Aol; and Google is rumored to be throwing its hat in the ring. On top of that, there’s no shortage of visually stunning news and media aggregators out there for users, like Pulse, Zite, and News.me. They’re function and focus vary, but they all turn readers into super-consumers — into that thing that we’ve all become, curators.
And we don’t need another one. Which is why I’m hopeful about that whole “build” thing Zeen’s founders recently said. While plenty of things about the Internet have evolved incredibly quickly, platforms issuing iterations on top of iterations, Web publishing comparatively hasn’t been the quickest out of the gate. Maybe the fact that this market’s roots are in print, an industry that, though struggling, persists, has kept it from plunging head first into massive conceptual change.
The blog has inarguably been a part of the transition for publishers, and names like WordPress and Tumblr have been crusaders leading the charge of change. But the professional Web publisher doesn’t have as many options as you might imagine – really, if you’re in electronic media for a living and you aren’t using one of these two platforms for your writing, then you’re doing it wrong. But I would love to see a more crowded playing field, and one that stepped outside the box of what we’ve come to expect from blogs and Web magazines. In fact, I hasten to use the phrase “Web magazine” because there aren’t many examples of a true Web magazine, and part of that absence is because of status quo (we’re used to writing and reading on the Web in a blog style and form — for the record, WordPress is used by 15 percent of the Web) and part of it is because there haven’t been sophisticated enough tools to facilitate this type of creativity.
And that’s what I want from Zeen. I don’t want another platform to collect news from other sites (we get it, curation is hot — enough already) or a Paper.li rival on steroids. Give us new and better tools for Web creation instead of pretty ways to circulate what’s already being circulated. Discovery is an issue, yes, but it’s one that plenty of startups are already trying to tackle. How about the next evolution of the content management system? It doesn’t sound as sexy, but someone’s got to start cracking on it.
Who better than the founders of YouTube to come knocking on old media’s door with fresh ideas?