One of the reasons some of us cloying humanists whine pitifully about corporations having so much sway over American culture is that corporations are agents of social Alzheimer's disease.
Yesterday I saw a bewildered Facebook post from a member of MyRagan, a social networking site for communicators that was created by the only company I've ever understood deeply, Ragan Communications. (I started working at Ragan when I was 23 and worked there full time and as a freelancer until I was 39.)
"To show how little time I've had, I didn't know myragan.com was no more. Today I was looking for the myragan blog of the photographer who used to provide photography tips. I can't recall his name, alas. Boo hoo."
This came as a surprise to me too—a sad surprise. For in the spring of 2007, the year before I left Ragan's freelance employ, I had a carpal tunnel-plagued hand in launching MyRagan, which was kind of a MySpace for communicators.
"It's not just MySpace," Mark Ragan claimed in MyRagan's early days, "It's MySpace that's fused with good journalism. So that you're actually going to have something that no other site has. You're going to be able to go to this site and read the latest news. You'll be able to look at controversial stories that are happening to communicators. You'll be able to see stand-up reports from our reporters at conferences and events. But you'll also be able to leap from those stories to the social part of it."
In February of 2008, Mark Ragan talks about MyRagan, still in its adorable infancy.
"It's really exciting," Mark added, "that a communicator who's working on a particular problem in Sydney, Australia, could send a bulletin around the world and and get help with that problem from a communicator in, ah, Namibia."
Okay, so he was a little overheated on the thing.
Well, we all were.
In the first week, in the first month, were signing up by the hundreds and thousands and then more thousands.
I remember being absolutely flabbergasted, after all those years of leafing through IABC directories and scrolling through subscriber lists to find communicators to interview for Ragan Report stories, to see what seemed like every communicator in the world staring at me from the computer, reachable by a mouse click.
I breathlessly compared the early days of MyRagan to having a huge, round-the-clock house party with thousands of communicators spilling in and out of the house, sleeping on the lawn, breaking things and then complaining drunkenly about broken things.
It was exhausting. It was heady. It was great.
And now it's gone. Boy, you take your eye off a thing for four years …
What happened? I went online, and discovered that myragan.com was now just an undated web page.
MyRagan has closed shop …
But don’t worry …
Ragan still has myriad social media options for you.
When MyRagan launched in the spring of 2007, it was the first—and only—social network for communicators. The site grew steadily, even as more players entered the social networking space, among them Facebook and LinkedIn.
During that time, MyRagan members shared advice, asked questions, commiserated over lousy bosses and obnoxious clients, and ranted and raved about language errors.
Let’s take a brief moment to remember all the fun we had—
And now that we’re done with our moment, here’s some great news: There are a variety of websites and online communities where you can continue to share, learn, complain, and laugh.
There’s our flagship site Ragan.com, plus …
PR Daily, the must-read daily news site for the public relations, marketing, and social media industries.
Health Care Communication News, the must-read daily news site for those of you in the health trade.
HR Communicator – the essential morning newsfeed for human resources professionals.
PR Daily Facebook page.
PR Daily LinkedIn group.
Ragan.com LinkedIn group.
The Ragan Communications Facebook page.
What happened to the "the latest news"? What about the "controversial stories that are happening to communicators"? And the "stand up reports from our reporters at conferences and events?" What happened to "being able to leap from those stories to the social part of it"?
Now have to go to a half-dozen places to get all that—if we can get it at all.
This is progress?
No, it's shit.
But it's not in Ragan's interest for us to remember the golden promise that MyRagan offered—the cozy community where communicators from Sydney and Namibia and Doylestown, Ohio, could meet and exchange ideas and share feelings simultaneously with keeping informed on all the latest happenings in Communication Town.
It's not even in Ragan's interest to explain to us what happened to Communication Town. Did all the smart kids get tired of the town and move away? Was there a plague that wiped out the population? Was there simply no money in it for Ragan?
I forwarded all of the above to Mark Ragan and asked for his response. Here's what he wrote:
I think the MyRagan.com social network could never have survived in the age of LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and now Google+
We could have kept it on life support, but the business case simply wasn't there. Besides, the platform had grown stale.
The big three social networks invest millions of dollars in software upgrades, applications and mobile integration. They could offer our members far more bells and whistles than we could ever dream of programming into the site. As those networks got better, it was increasingly obvious that ours had become stagnant.
Like so many other media companies, we decided to create communities on LinkedIn and Facebook. After all, that's where are readers wanted to be. I don't know of a single customer of ours who doesn't have a Facebook or LinkedIn account. To think that our audience would continue checking in with MyRagan.com in addition to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn would have constituted serious denial.
Finally, our four major news sites are so throughly integrated with social media today that MyRagan had become superfluous. Today a reader can share any of our stories in seconds by clicking on any one of the share buttons on the page. If they comment on a story, that comment can link other readers
directly to their Facebook, Twitter of LinkedIn profiles.
What happened to MyRagan.com is really the story of social media today. With giants like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter dominating the landscape, there's very little room left for other communities. One can see this with the introduction of Google+. How many Facebook users will create new profiles and begin posting status updates to yet another social network? I love Google+, but if I had to gamble on its survival, I would bet that it has very little hope of challenging Facebook.
I hope that helps.
And David, I haven't been able to locate your profile on Google+
A thorough explanation, and candid too. So why didn't he give his customers such a full accounting, so they, who had participated in the MyRagan community, might also learn the meaning of its slow withering and eventual death?
Because most of them probably didn't ask. Because it's no fun to talk about failed things. Because Mark was onto bigger and better things.
Mark acted as any businessman would given such a situation—as any businessman must. You don't ask customers if it's all right to discontinue an unprofitable product line, and you don't call a press conference to announce the cancelation of a service.
But now our communities—our communities!—are increasingly being designed, built, maintained and occasionally torn down by corporate executives and their necessarily narrow interest in "the business case."
If we can't escape this inexorable march toward a private-sector-run public life, we at least ought to try to remember the steps we took on this strange journey, in case we ever want to follow our footprints back out.
(And Diane, I think the photographer's name is Jim Summaria.)