It looks like a core editorial mission of Vox.com is going to be delivering those “really good, really clear, really comprehensive online summaries” of issues in the news. And its core innovation, at least for now, is “card stacks”—essentially, standing explainers that break a topic down question by question, chunk by chunk. In an oddly analog analogy, they’re modeled after the index cards you might have used to organize your school notes—click on a yellow-shaded phrase in a card, or in a main story, and it’ll take you right to the corresponding card.What's odd about the "analog analogy"? It's a computer convention, going back to the desktops and trashcans of the 80s. Macintosh came out on January 24, 1984, the winter before Ezra Klein was born. Index cards and highlighters are doubly dorky, both because the real-life tools are associated with college nerds of a distant era and because of the old computer cliché of making things on screen seem like something in the real world.
Why fiddle with Vox's card stacks when there's Wikipedia? It's easier than Googling for background and clicking on the Wikipedia article (which is what nearly always comes up first), but you have to want to stay intra-Vox, and how good are those cards?
Seth Mandel at Commentary tested out the card on Ukraine:
It’s a smooth and readable interface, but the product itself basically comes across as targeting those without the attention span for Wikipedia. Klein has hired the Washington Post’s foreign-affairs blogger Max Fisher to “explain” foreign policy to Vox’s readers. And the Ukraine explainer has a somewhat surprising conclusion.Seems like the analog analogy is a Magic 8 Ball. Reply hazy try again.
The backgrounder on the Ukraine crisis has (at least as I write this) 20 “cards,” each with a subheader meant to answer a specific question about the issue. Because the Ukraine crisis is evolving and escalating in real time, readers will wonder what to expect in the near future. Card 17 presents this opportunity, titled “Is Russia going to invade eastern Ukraine?” Good question. The answer, however, was revealing not about Ukraine but about Vox itself.
As John Tabin noticed last night, Vox’s answer seemed to change within the hour, from “At this point it looks pretty unlikely” to “there are growing reasons to worry that Russia may also try to annex some parts of eastern Ukraine as well.” Why the sudden change? Read on, and it becomes clear. The next card is titled, accurately, “You didn’t answer my question!” Indeed Vox did not answer your question. “This is very much a work in progress,” Fisher continues. “It will continue to be updated as events unfold, new research gets published, and fresh questions emerge.”
Suggestions for further reading about the Ukraine crisis include five major publications: the Washington Post, the New York Times, the New Republic, the New Yorker, and the New York Review of Books. Now, there’s nothing wrong with reading these publications – indeed, the New Republic’s Julia Ioffe is a great source for Russia-related material and the NYRB contributor Vox suggests is Timothy Snyder, certainly an expert on the region.Signs point to
But if you’ve slogged through 19 cards for a Vox explainer, what was your reward? A suggestion that if you want your questions answered, you should really be reading actual reporters and experts. Vox, then, appears to be a collection of road signs, pointing you in the right direction.
Allie Jones at The Wire says:
In an attempt to catch everyone up on everything, Vox provides us with title cards like "What is an Easter egg?" and "How do you board a train?" While Klein calls these "Vox Cards" a core part of the site, they don't seem to provide any information that you can't get on Wikipedia or About.com....
And here's Erik Wemple at The Washington Post (the traditional journalism site from which Ezra absconded):
Yesterday Klein & Co. posted a bunch of articles on Vox.com. Check that, actually: In the words of Klein and a couple of colleagues, they launched the “beginning of our effort to build the vast repository of information that will make it possible for us to explain the news in real time.” Such flashes of insufferability bring yet more scrutiny, more motivation for the naysayers to poke at the new venture.And here's the NYT article "Vox Takes Melding of Journalism and Technology to a New Level," with photos of the Ezra and others posing in their office space as if cued to look intensely focused on the project of transforming journalism. (Like this.)
Here are the last 2 paragraphs of the NYT article:
Ms. Bell said Vox.com would start with roughly 20 reporters with expertise around specific topics, a limited travel budget, and, of course, very inchoate technology.Hey, you guys promised us magic...
Ms. Bell confessed that she was both “excited and terrified” to go out with a product that has had just three months to gestate. “I worry people will say, ‘Hey, you guys promised us magic,’ ” she said, “and I’ll say, ‘Hey, wait a minute. Give us some time and we will get there.’ ”