Wired Ventures Limited
As president of Wired Ventures, Jane Metcalfe has been a pioneer in both print and on-line publishing. Wired magazine and its on-line companion, Hot Wired, have offered readers a new technical viewpoint, that ponders the cultural impact of digital technology.
Jane Metcalfe was born on November 15 1961. She attended the University of Colorado in Boulder where she graduated with honors and earned a degree in International Affairs. In 1983 she met her partner, Louis Rosetto, in Paris. Metcalfe and Rosetto have a son Orson, who was born in 1997. In 1994, Metcalfe was elected to the board of directors of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization that was created to protect and promote civil liberties of on-line technology users.
Even though Metcalfe's degree was not technical, some of her first jobs after college were computer oriented. She worked for the International Herald Tribune in Paris where she co-developed a multicurrency accounting system for a Wang mini computer. In 1984, Metcalfe helped set up an asynchronous telecommunications link between Paris, Geneva, and Washington, D.C. She returned to Paris in 1987, to become the Director of Export Sales for the Paris-based fashion house Valentine Palomba, where she introduced the use of computers for catalogue production and accounting. Later she worked, along with Rosetto, for Electric Word magazine, an Amsterdam-based journal which dealt with the topics of optical character recognition, machine translation, and speech recognition. While with Electric Word, she served as director of advertising sales and as an associate publisher.
Metcalfe and Rosetto began planning a new type of magazine in 1991 while they were living in Amsterdam. The pair moved to San Francisco and cofounded Wired, a monthly print magazine that explores how digital technology is impacting our culture. Metcalfe is president of Wired Ventures, while Rosetto serves as editor and publisher. The pair used their own money to create the magazine, with the support of a few investors. The premier issue of Wired was published in 1993. There were 150,000 copies of that first issue, and in just a few years monthly circulation had grown to 400,000. By 1994, Wired won a National Magazine Award.
Metcalf and Rosetto created a magazine that examined computers' potential to benefit society as well as individuals, a concept that makes Wired radically different from the many other technical magazines. It represented the change in society "led by technology, absorbed by business, and spread by artists."
Wired magazine became known as "the" leading edge of digital culture worldwide. Although Metcalfe knew she had developed something very powerful and influential, she never anticipated the overwhelming response to her magazine. Metcalfe recognized that the "digital subculture" was a rapidly growing group of people and she was one of the first to create and provide a media form specifically for that group.
Wired Ventures also developed a free on-line version of the magazine, called Hot Wired, which provide the stories seen in the print version as well as other services. Metcalfe described Hot Wired in The New York Times as "a complementary but also a parallel medium. The magazine is a beautiful format for our material, like the 15,000-word stories. Hot Wired has shorter, crunchier bits of information."
Metcalfe used Wired to promote her belief that interactive communication can benefit everyone, not just computer junkies and wealthy businesses. She told the New York Times that "there's a fundamental shift going on in society right now . . . the digital revolution is whipping through our lives like a Bengali typhoon . . . . We're profoundly optimistic about how we can use technology to change things." Metcalfe also predicted in Self magazine that computer interactivity will "bring out the artist and the communicator and the intellectual in everybody." Wired examined the growing computer culture with stories that ranged from a piece about "Microserfs"—employees at Microsoft, by Generation X author Douglas Coupland, to a discussion of whether computers will give government agencies the means to invade an individual's privacy.
Jon Gluck described Metcalfe as a passionate and tireless Wired promoter. He further characterized her as "confident and always in overdrive." Metcalfe addressed the issue of being a woman in the male-dominated computer world in Self magazine and noted that when she and Rosetto were approaching investors regarding the magazine, men would avoid making eye contact with her. She chose not to dwell on this kind of experience and stressed her opportunities to make an impact. "The business needs artists, designers, and writers to make it more intuitive, more human. I think that's a more feminine approach to a problem," she said.
During its first two years, Wired took off at rocket speed. The magazine quickly found an enthusiastic audience and financial support from the likes of publisher Condé Nast. Five years after the magazine's debut, though, its future looked troubled. The Economist speculated that the magazine had taken a turn for the worse in terms of content and finances: "[it] has evolved from the hip bible of the Internet generation to an advertisement-packed lifestyle magazine for the pretentious technophile."
Chronology: Jane Metcalfe
1984: Worked at International Herald Tribune in Paris.
1987: Worked at Valentine Palomba.
1991: First plan for a digital magazine.
1993: Published first issue of Wired magazine.
1994: Elected to board of Electronic Frontier Foundation.
1995: Wired went international.
However, the magazine's real concern was not a loss of popularity but rather its inability to find the financial backing to expand. In 1996 Wired Ventures attempted to raise money with a stock market offering, but was rejected as being too highly priced at $293 million. One casualty was the British edition of Wired, which had been operating at a loss. At the same time, on-line publishers such as Microsoft and C/NET were creating stiff competition. Although Wired Ventures maintained a creative edge, it had to prove that it could survive financially.
Social and Economic Impact
Metcalfe has played a major part in the digital revolution. She has said that relying on digital communication is inevitable and that those who resist will find fewer opportunities. She also strongly suggested that digital communicators should be "courageous and innovative proponents of technology." Wired has impressed the publishing industry as a breakthrough product. Gluck opined, "What Jann Wenner's Rolling Stone did for hippies, what Gloria Steinem's Ms. did for feminists, Metcalfe's Wired is doing for [the] emerging group of media-savvy urban professionals," a group that has become known as the "Digerati." Wired is also notable for its graphic style as well as content. With neon colors, unconventional typefaces and layout, its appearance has been likened to MTV.
Sources of Information
"Crosswired." The Economist, 8 February 1997.
Donahue, Deirdre. "Tuned Into Technology." USA Today, 28 April 1994.
Flynn, Laurie. "Sound Bytes: Tracking High-Tech Culture." New York Times, 10 July 1994.
Gluck, John. "Technology Jane." Self, August 1994.
"Jane Metcalfe." Wired Ventures Limited, 1998. Available from http:digerati.edge.org/digeratie/metcalfe/index.html.
Simons, John. "Tired: Hyped Firms Wired: Real Profits." U.S. News & World Report, 21 October 1996.
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