Salon builds it — but will anyone come?

For a number of months now, the online magazine Salon has been building a hosted blog network/media hub called open.salon.com, which launched this morning. According to a recent blog post by Open Salon director Kerry Lauerman a few weeks ago, the network has attracted about 1,300 bloggers while it was in beta. I came across some invites that Kerry posted on a number of blogs, including this one; other bloggers participating include this one and this one. One blog quoted from Salon’s invitation email:

“We don’t want to oversell it, but we really think that with the help of smart media people like you, we can begin to invert the pyramid of only a few people controlling the global conversation, and figure out new ways to liberate great ideas and great writing for an ever-growing avid audience.”

According to the description by Lauerman, the new Salon site or network is both a hosted blog community and a media hub or aggregator. When you go to the open.salon.com site, you get a “cover page” that features posts from a variety of blogs, as well as a tag cloud showing the most popular tags. The page also shows the most highly-rated posts — since blog posts within Open Salon can be given a “thumbs up,” much like other social-media sites (and some mainstream media sites such as globeandmail.com, which has a “recommend” feature on every story). If you set up a blog, you get to add friends, and then their most recent posts appear in your sidebar.

Salon’s cover page feels a little like the front page of WordPress.com in a way, which also features some content from the blog network. But Salon is planning to go much further (and says it isn’t “one of those giant, anonymous blog networks): not only will it highlight posts on the “cover page” of Open Salon, but top posts will also be featured at the main Salon.com site as well — an interesting step. And the other big move is that Salon has a built-in compensation scheme called Tippem, which uses the Revolution Money payment system developed by former AOL head honcho Steve Case. Tippem is similar to Tipjoy, which I have installed here on my blog but haven’t actually seen used very much.

I think Open Salon is an interesting experiment for the online magazine to make. Although it has some excellent writers and some great content, it’s been awhile since Salon did anything that caused much more than a ripple as far as online media goes, so part of my interest lies in seeing whether the site can pull this off or not. And Salon has certainly put together some or all of the pieces of a new-media strategy: blogging, a Digg-style rating feature, featured content promoted on the main site, and a micro-payment system. Even if it doesn’t work, it should produce some interesting lessons.

Update:

Editor-in-chief Joan Walsh said in a statement that “Open Salon eliminates the gatekeepers [and] makes our smart, creative audience full partners in Salon’s publishing future,” and she has also posted some comments about the launch, including some links to what she describes as the “excellent writing, photography and art, even music, that we’re already getting — stories and posts and images that are as good as what we publish on Salon every day.” Salon co-founder Scott Rosenberg, meanwhile, notes in a blog post that Open Salon is the culmination of a project he started several years ago.

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