Well, I'm told I was too mean to Alexi Madrigal, and it confused my point, and it looks like that's right. I'm sorry for that. I do think that my basic point holds: despite Madrigal's considerable derision for the idea of Internet brands, the magazine he works for is one of the clearest examples of the branded internet I can think of. Not merely because of The Atlantic's financial success, and not merely because their job listings suggest a company that is interested in creating brand identities, but because they have worked so hard to sell these Ideas Festivals (urge to flame... rising) and Food Summits and such as an extension of the character of the magazine. Part of the problem with the constant drip of "What is the internet now?" pieces is that they tend to work at more of an abstract remove than they need to. The popular idea that everyone is getting their content from Facebook and Twitter links and not from consistently (or "mindlessly," as Madrigal says) going to the same websites just does not seem right to me. I know many people who consistently check Slate and The Atlantic and Salon, etc. everyday. Yes, Facebook and Twitter supply necessary links to the outer internet, but people still seem loyal to particular aggregators and content generators. You can define a certain ethos for any of those websites I just named. That's branding.
Here on my own blog, I have a small core of consistent readers, and then big spikes in traffic when I get links or discussion from big sites or aggregators. I think that's how the Internet functions for a lot of people-- the daily checklist of sites, and then a lot of links from places that you'll only read when someone links to them for you.
Also: I really like Harpers, and I think gratuitous swipes from people at a publication that is more willing to accept the petty corruptions that monetizing for the Internet entails is gross and unnecessary.
That dolphin is actually cool, though, dammit.