Are you Wired?

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Wired is a print and digital magazine focused on how emerging technologies affect culture, the economy and politics; it often reflects the techno-utopian views of its founders. However, its focus has shifted slightly over time from being a broader tech news reporter to become more focused on pop-culture for the benefit of younger readers, who are generally the top target audience for the latest news on new consumer technologies. It has been in circulation since March 1993. Below we find an archived example of the online version of Wired from 6th December 1998 as the first image, and another from 18th December 2013 as the second:

Credit: wired.com, 1998
Credit: wired.com, 2013

Hailing from the text-and-image era, we find in 1998 a simplistic website design packed with text. The first couple of lines of each article are visible beneath their respective hyperlinks, a feature which has been completely removed from the 2013 version so that only the headline is visible. Instead of text, each article title is now accompanied by a hip, media-friendly feature image so that there is far less text visible on the frontpage. This makes sense since, with the prevalence of social media in the early 2010s, consumer attention spans were shortened, and their focus shifted from extended writing to image-based content. This “less writing is more” style is also reflected in the logo, where the “News” has been removed. The rest of the “Wired” logo itself has received some subtle changes to make it smoother and more suitable for consumers preferring visually stimulating content, whilst retaining the distinctive black/white letters on the white/black backgrounds respectively, as it has always done.

There are other stylistic changes to the site in 2013 versus 1996: the date has been removed and the color pallet has been simplified (red, green and yellow all mostly removed from the site design, with color primarily visible in the feature images for articles), which makes sense as the contrast between the black and white “background” and the feature images – which are often multicolored – invariably causes consumer attention to shift towards them, and the articles they link to. Of particular note in the 2013 edition is the “Everything That Happened in 2013 in One Image”, showing off a magnificent little world: a veritable cornucopia of an image now available after over a decade of technological evolution, weaving together aspects from civil rights, TV programs, technology, video games, streaming services, combat sports and more. This is exactly the kind of content that was simply unavailable in 1998. By way of contrast, the only meaningful image on the front page of the 1998 edition was an image of the Wired’s print version.

Credit: wired.com, 2013

Particularly, the shift in both design style from simplistic and shallow to somewhat multicolored and deeply layered, plus the type of content itself that Wired makes front-page news (e.g. “Will Arms Treaty Hurt Privacy?” in 1998 versus “Shia LeBeouf may have plagiarized his apology for plagiarism”) demonstrates a clear shift to being more pop-culture based and topical for a new generation of Generation Z, tech-savvy consumers who prefer stories about celebrity gossip than the state of world peace.

Additionally, the site layout in 2013 demonstrates more efficient use of space on the page: there are more subsections and subcategories visible (seven in 2013 as opposed to five in 1998) but these are now spaced right in the middle of the page and not in the far top right. The initial view of the page is now more landscape than portrait in 2013, and the removal of a stock quoting tool in 2013 also subtly reflects how Wired became more of a specialized site for tech news, and not a generic catch-all where you could also do market research like in 1998.

Credit: wired.com

Finally, it is worth touching on the changes from previous iterations to today’s version (above). The standout feature is the significant re-introduction of the color red, with two ads pushing “Wired Access”, the site’s subscription-based service. This is a clear sign of how the shift to paywall-free, accessible news for everyone creates financial pressures on news organizations that didn’t exist when a majority of their readership bought the print version. Apart from that, the layout is even more minimalistic than in 2013, with the distinctive black and white logo colors no longer dominating the top of the page, making it a world away from the 1998 text-heavy version. The colors are still retained (indeed red is more prevalent now as it was in 1998) but they are utilized in a subtler fashion by to delineate each of the articles. In true 2020 style, politics is now front-and-center of the agenda, with no less than 4 articles directly related to the US political situation and/or popular movements – this is consistent with the wide-ranging but shifting areas of coverage Wired has shown throughout its various iterations, as it remains topical for the latest generation of tech-interested readers (who are inevitably on the younger side).

N.B. initial description of Wired as “techo-utopian” referenced from Wikipedia.

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