A new web site with no purpose, on purpose

The Outline is the most honest media launch I’ve seen in a long time. There’s no pretense about the problem it’s solving, the niche it’s filling, the unserved audience it’s serving. It’s not special sauce for millennials.

“Our foundational reason for building The Outline is that we’re really excited about putting something into the world that wasn’t there before,” founder / editor Josh Topolsky wrote in his introduction to the site upon its launch this week.

Yes. Thank you. In other words: Because. That is why people create new things. That is why we have art, and it’s also the excuse for most business. You may want to earn an income from it, or get rich at it, or become famous, or achieve influence, or take on some problem that needs fixing. But there are many ways to pursue those things. You launch something brand new because you want to make something brand new. And maybe, just maybe, it is lovely too.

The Outline is an online news magazine, built with $5 million from investors who see mad and profit-making genius in Topolsky. I see a modern-ish blog with a mix of post types and links to stories elsewhere. Time will tell on the payout. I saw a nice ad from Cadillac. The focus on power, culture and the future is familiar territory for web publishers and a realm that fills my feeds. The trick is to make it feel fresh, which might, just might, bring in enough loyal readers and advertisers to keep it going.

The approach reminds me of a more colorful version of QZ, another thoughtful web magazine aimed at a similar white collar magazine audience. Perhaps the words themselves will feel more special, literate, literary, personal or something compared to those of QZ, Fast Co., The New Yorker, The Atlantic, the … whatever. As I write, I realize that four-year-old QZ, which is also smart on presentation and reporting, blends in with all the rest. I stumble across it from time to time. It’s there, I can’t really say why or that it fills any void in my life, or the world. The Outline is refreshing because it makes no claims to any of that. For now, at least, it is pure style: words and links set against dark colors plus cutesy graphic “stickers” sprinkled in for visual spice. That, plus lots more Cadillac, could make The Outline a nice business, or at least a very nice blog.

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