So you remember when I was griping about the Wall Street Journal's $28 million redesign? Well, I understand that it's essentially justifiable since they're making money. But one of the things that makes it seem particularly ludicrous to me is that, according to Alexa's Traffic Ranking, the WSJ.com site is distantly behind MetaFilter in traffic ranking.
Now, to be clear, let's restate what's going on here. My friend Matt made a little site of his own in his free time. It runs on a pokey old computer that Matt's dad gave him, and the computer sits next to the dresser in my friend Jason's bedroom. And it gets more traffic than the Wall Street Journal's site. I know it's all different because of audiences, and because the Journal charges for membership, and because of blah blah blah. But it's still goddamned amazing.
And it's not an isolated thing. Other sites that pale in comparison to MetaFilter's traffic ranking include major online companies like Etrade, major media outlets like ABC, big-name schools like Harvard, UCLA, and MIT, and dot-com flameouts that burned through hundreds of millions of dollars, like the late, lamented Kozmo and Pets.com.
Consider it: There's a major medium where a regular person has more influence than the shabby presence of the U.S. Senate. If you think the net's dying, or boring, or that it is anything less than revolutionary, or if you've maybe just forgotten those things and forgotten to be excited about what's going to happen when we figure out what the hell this medium actually is, then I should probably just introduce you to some friends of mine.
And I understand that Matt doesn't have the influence of any given senator. But what I'm pointing out is the dynamic... there is momentum behind a future where a Google search on a particular piece of legislation will yield a discussion by ordinary folks on the web ahead of the sponsor's official platitudes about the bill. This is an important realm already, and the Internet is only ever going to increase in influence. The most powerful institutions in our current culture are either unwilling or unable to participate in this new medium, and by the time they realize how critically necessary the web is to communicate with the next generations of their constituencies, they'll only be even further behind.
Like so many things we take for granted, it's a revelation that will only be obvious in retrospect.
Update: Here's the actual numbers of the Wall Street Journal. Significantly higher, but it still doesn't negate the fact that the independent web is only ever growing more powerful.