People love donuts, especially LexBloggers. Many of our products or large bodies of work have a corresponding donut that acts as a code-name in product and internal meetings. While this began as a bit of a joke at first, it’s been a delightful way to keep the conversation playful and lower stress when working on some complex component or running up against the trough of sorrow.
That’s why when we decided to take the work we’d done on LexBlog.com and position it as a publishing solution for distributed organizations and entities, I tried to put my stamp on it with a donut name. My many attempts culminated in a best effort of donut hole, which is why I am not responsible for code-naming products at LexBlog. Fortunately, this was a product that needed no clever name or introduction. When the need for it is so compelling, who cares about what it’s called? The product, ultimately coined Syndication Portals is unique in this space, but fills a void that is growing at the same rate as the internet itself.
My introduction to the internet was through a series of delightfully small, yet fragmented communities. This fragmentation would be a harbinger of things to come, but in that moment they were merely quirky collections of people sharing information. As the internet grew, it became harder to find these communities and more difficult to grow one organically.
The notion of syndication portals, the forming of communities through the aggregation of the knowledge they produce, is what drew me to LexBlog in the first place. The company began testing the idea of unifying the legal blogging community with a site called LexMonitor. When I first encountered LexMonitor and heard its story there was never a doubt that it was something I wanted to work on. I believed, and still believe, that the power of the internet is as a communications device. A way for people to talk across vast distances (and time!) and share information with other like-minded or interested people. LexMonitor was a first attempt at creating a portal into a world of legal publishers that until then, were connected only through happenstance.
As the site fell under its own weight, we launched LXBN (The LexBlog Network) as its replacement. LXBN was built on WordPress, unlike LexMonitor which was a custom CMS written primarily in Ruby, and withstood the test of time. Unfortunately, LXBN was driven purely by RSS and technology that we did not manage in-house. Slowly but surely, we moved to what we have today at LexBlog.com.
LexBlog.com represents a best-in-class aggregation model. Through a combination of JSON and RSS we aggregate legal content from nearly 1,400 publications, 22,000 authors, and 650 independent organizations. Each site has it’s own archive page of all aggregated content, all of the organizations have a single page to view all the publications they manage, and every author has their own home on LexBlog.com. A place to to see all of the content they’ve produced and publications they’ve supported. It’s a beautiful way to peer into a community built on publishing, and one that I’ve never seen before on the web with each author maintaining their own standalone publication.
As this was built for LexBlog, it became apparent that this was a problem we could solve for other organizations, looking for a way to tie their own fragmented communities together. We found a partner in the Illinois State Bar who was willing to take a chance on a new way of thinking about digital communities and publishing. After visiting their offices in the summer of 2018, we were excited to work on our first instance of a Syndication Portal for the bar’s members.
Today, that publication is “going live” meaning that we get to finally talk about it here at LexBlog! After a few months of patiently waiting for LexBlog, the Illinois State Bar began to work with us to launch Illinois Lawyer Now; a publication made up purely of blogs and sites from bar members.
To me, Illinois Lawyer Now represents the future of publishing communities on the internet. Where Google serves as the portal into the internet as a whole, Syndication Portals serve as a window into a very niche community. As the internet has grown, the need for these sorts of communities have grown alongside it.
Instead of hoping to find another bar member who has blazed a path of building a publication online, now all that member needs to do is go to Illinois Lawyer Now. To find someone writing on a specific subject in your state? Just go to the nearest Syndication Portal. Every state bar, large law firm, and legal association now has a way to tie together all of the knowledge produced by its members. Knowledge that spans an array of topics from alcoholic beverage regulation to family law.
It remains to be seen how far this model can extend, but we owe a huge thanks to Illinois for being the first association to take the idea and run with it.