February 15, 2008

Extreme Makeover: NGM edition

Yesterday marked the launch of National Geographic Magazine's new website. I like it: all white background and simple, simple, simple with lots of pretty pictures. Also, a devotion to perfect squares--square text and square pics. Plus a better use of online ad space, which is vital. I get so tired of annoying in-your-face ads that ruin a site (i.e. CNN). Anyway, it's nice to see someone get it right online. So many publications try to recreate print online and the results are tiresome. The internet's a totally separate media with refreshingly different capacities. Forgive the comparison but I feel like I'm witnessing the renaissance when there were so many centuries of established medieval art and then someone figured out perspective. And yet folks like the NY Times, Washington Post, etc. all want to keep painting pretty two-dimensional medieval scenes. NGM's figured out their own way to adapt and garner a Web 2.0 following. I like it.

A separate thought: I've noticed how in recent years, NGM has made a decided shift towards all things imagery. Yeah, pretty pictures is what they do best, but it's not the only one way to tell a story. Conservation porn is only one broad brush in the painter's box, and I'm afraid that these days a lot of people are using it. I'm guessing that once upon a time, some 10-year-old kid in Kansas got a big thrill from the world of stunning photos that arrived in his mailbox every month. These days though, ten seconds on Flickr gives you the same, filtered out of an infinite photo library of semi-professionals and talented amateurs who grew up with the magazine and are now copying its style with aplomb. Yes, NGM has that X-factor of je ne sais quoi that sets them apart, but my two cents is that in the long run, photography is a medium to an end, and not an end. Unless you're just an art gallery.

P.S. The polar bear pic is Creative Commons, yanked from Flickr. And it's adorable.

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