Only folks who truly believe in the kind of futuristic world depicted in "The Jetsons" -- a picture phone and robot maid in every home -- could truly believe that the World Wide Web augurs the demise of all publishing on paper.
Books and magazines will still have a place as long as people have opposable thumbs, which seem custom-designed to hold down pages. Paper's portability and shelf life are unbeatable for anyone who reads in places other than a desk, as there are places in each house where reading is still done the old-fashioned way: seated, in a quiet place where paper reigns.
What, then, is the future for print publications about the World Wide Web? For the past year, one school of thought held that coverage of this media frontier would necessarily confront a serious problem of time lag. The World Wide Web is a fluid, mutable creation that tends to resist classification, so it was believed that anything written about it would necessarily be a snapshot, blurry and imprecise as anything taken of a moving subject.
Of the magazines trying to make sense out of the web, one of the best is the aptly named new glossy the WEB Magazine. It's a snapshot, but well defined -- it even has those annoying blow-in cards, the 3-by-5-inch subscription pleas that deliver a vicious paper cut if given half a chance. Of course, hard-core chip-heads will see it as a tree-killing, dioxin-spreading, landfill-cluttering vestige of a pre-web world without plug-ins or applets. Despite these seemingly fatal flaws, the WEB Magazine works.
Editor Steve Fox believes his product (bimonthly until February, monthly thereafter) should be "a map, a compass, a savvy tour guide to tell you what's worth your effort." For the most part, it meets this goal, with a balanced offering of front-of-the-book briefs, substantial features and reviews and a listing of eclectic websites. (Flip right past the first 46 pages to get to the real meat of this sandwich: the "Views and Reviews" section.)
Once the urge to surf has been sated, the rest of the magazine comes into focus. Pictures of computers are boring, so there's a human on the cover. Unfortunately, that person is Cindy Crawford, who is likely the most overexposed rent-a-face of our day.
Crawford's mug is there for a purpose, as a visual lure to a high-glam-factor opening story about the coming Webstock 96 online love fest of live concerts, celebrity chats and we-are-the-world attitude. Scott Zakarin, the person behind the wearisome web soap opera, the Spot (thespot.com), is Webstock's "Creative Producer."
If that isn't enough to curdle the blood, this event, says Michael Goodwin, has the possibility of unleashing another horde of corporate demons onto the web, the graphics-rich portion of the Internet, with the goal of turning it into a "high-traffic, high-profit outlet for movies, concerts, TV shows and the stars who promote them."
A longtime America Online subscriber might say, "So? What's wrong with that?" Entertainment companies already dot the AOL landscape like billboards on a bad road, pushing products with no-news-here chats with demi-celebrities, and bandwidth-wasting multimedia downloads.
But Goodwin, avoiding the tender toes of potential advertisers, dances gingerly into the fray surrounding the arrival of big money into the 'Net. (The WEB Magazine is an offshoot of IDG, the Boston-based computer mag publisher that also publishes PC World.)
Another main feature is doubly predictable: It's a piece about online sex, and it's by Dr. Ruth Westheimer, likely the most over-sexposed rent-a-therapist of our day. Westheimer defends online sex as a healthy outlet for sexual feelings, so long as children are protected, spouses aren't injured.
The webzine Salon has one of its best issues of its brief life (www.salon1999.com). Laura Miller artfully blends the kernels of two new books about suburbia -- "Blue Sky Dream" by David Beers and "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" by D. J. Waddie -- into a short, powerful piece as effective as a boxer's jab.
"Suburbanites themselves have been idealized by TV sitcoms, filmed by documentarians, studied by ethnographers, hunted by marketers, denounced by leftists, tracked by demographers and sneered at by urbanites," says Miller. Elsewhere, she continues, "The suburbs gave us towns-by-design, providing exactly the external conditions that every homeowning citizen demanded and every scientist endorsed. In a way, it was the cul-de-sac of American utopianism."
Conspiracy theoreticians have a place to seek new fodder now that webzine Salvo (www.salvo.com) is up to speed. The politically charged site was quiet for a month while its editor attended to non-Salvo business. It's back with its buffet of nonpartisan rants that spew spittle flecks at anything having to do with legislation, authority and what the parents of Salvo readers would have called "The Man."
Pub Date: 9/22/96