About a year ago I proposed that 8a.nu needs to rethink itself, an argument that I still stand behind. The world of human interaction on the internet has changed radically in the past two or three years, a process aided primarily by the arrival of a new generation of smartphones and the now ubiquitous Facebook. The degree of connectivity available to people is unnerving at times, especially given the GPS function in iPhones, etc. It is possible via Foursquare, Twitter, and Facebook(though you may regret it later) to broadcast to the world at large what you are doing where and with whom.
In the world of climbing, 8a.nu has rapidly built up an extensive membership that regularly updates ascents. With almost 35,000 members and over 1.5 million ascents logged, it has remained the go-to source for news in the world of sport-climbing and bouldering. Recently however some efforts to compete with 8a.nu for eyeballs have emerged. Examples include 27 Crags, Climbfind, an online partner finder,and Sendage, a site developed by Jamie Chong, that is intended to be a place to assemble and cross off ticklists. It has the feature or problem, depending on your viewpoint, of being built on top of Facebook. It also offers to import, a la Gmail from Hotmail, all your info in your 8a account.
Looking over these efforts, it is clear that they have a certain amount of momentum behind them. Yet I do not see the so-called "killer app" emerging from them. The attraction of 8a is precisely what many of its detractors complain about and that is the point system and ranking. This is what attracts, in part at least, the many top climbers who post there, and this in turn attracts many viewers. With this constant stream of new ascents, 8a.nu has a great source of news and other features that bring back visitors again and again. Sure the design is antediluvian and the functionality idiosyncratic but it remains an invaluable resource.
The Climbing Narc has written recently about Sendage, and asked, "This all begs the question in my mind if it is even possible for a site to catch on in the log book space given the head start that 8a.nu enjoys." The question that is truly begged, i.e. omitted or left unsaid, is whether any similar website can find a new wrinkle on the basic premise that 8a.nu is founded upon, that of ranking and competition. Looking over Sendage, for example, I don't see this happening. The same for 27 Crags. Both sites are, well, small. They don't appear to allow the visitor a constantly open window into the world of high-end climbing, which is a major draw for 8a.nu. This may change but I don't see the potential avenues for this occurring built into either site.
The competition is not for eyeballs or headspace but more for time spent by its users and visitors, and of course free content, content that draws advertising dollars. Maybe the problem with climbers is that they really would prefer to go climbing and not invest too much more time than necessary writing about it on the internet.
It's obvious that 8a needs an overhaul but its basic proposition to the user remains the most attractive of the options out there. Unlike MySpace, it's not likely to be going away anytime unless something really amazing comes along.
In an upcoming follow-up post, I will discuss the current state of online media in climbing in general.