Longtime countercultural website Disinformation.com (www.disinformation.com) has lately made changes that moves it solidly into a Web 2.0 community news portal. On Sept. 25, 2009, it shed its old skin as an open blog and molted into a newer and better version. Raymond Wiley, promotions director for the company, said that the site had been "the portal for strange material in the 1990s" and that the company is now trying to bring back the portal feel to aggregate content.
It's a lot of work. Since its launch in 1996, Disinformation has amassed more than 10,000 news items in its database-most of them user-submitted. As an important source for bringing out odd and under-reported stories and for exposing the "disinformation" pushed onto the consuming public by the mainstream, the site (and other efforts by the company-television, books, films) began to pull in and build ontological connections between such characters as Jim Marrs, Douglas Rushkoff, Robert Anton Wilson, Terence McKenna, and Grant Morrison.
Of course, the many staid and center-left/center-right-oriented news sites thought of as "mainstream" grab the biggest share of bandwidth, and plenty of radically political, zealously ideological, and paranoid "fringe news" sites grab up what attention they can get away with. MSNBC is regarded by millions as mainstream, even if more than a bit lefty. FOX News is similarly seen by its watchers as "fair and balanced"-well within the mainstream, even if pointedly neo-con in its orientation. Then there's David Icke ("Exposing the dreamworld we believe to be real"), Alex Jones' PrisonPlanet, and Coast to Coast AM (the extremely popular radio program and website)-all take leading positions in the world of what's well outside the mainstream.
Disinformation, as a news portal, stands in a different dimension. While certainly not mainstream (since most of the information that passes through its books, films, and website is indeed deeply fringe), it does offer a different dimension because of its sense of humor and its ability, in the words of Robert Anton Wilson, to not believe too strongly "in its own B.S." There's no political agenda driving Disinformation-in fact, its political "otherness" has been known to turn folks away. In our politically polarized media environment, someone reading "Report: Bush Mulled Sending Troops Into Buffalo" (http://bit.ly/DDCNg) will think the site is flaming blue, while a reader stumbling on "Obama Snubs Dalai Lama To Please China" (http://bit.ly/3KwxkU) may figure the site for a "tea-bagger" hangout. It doesn't take long, though, to figure out that Disinformation is neither-it just wants to float the stories that may get sunk in other places.
But there's no denying it has a taste for the weird. The top news categories listed on the old site included aliens, conspiracies, drugs, mind control, paranormal, science, sex, spirituality, and technology. Many of those topics still get top play with the relaunch. (See http://old.disinfo.com/archive for more, and note that these early "category tags" would be influential in the later development of folksonomies on the web.)
The website is part of a corporate strategy to promote The Disinformation Co.'s publishing activities. Wiley says the company is publishing "about a book a quarter, and a new DVD every two months." At the top of the relaunched site, you can click and flip through Disinformation's published catalog of movies and books, iPhone style. It's the first thing you see under the iconic devil horn sigil. The target audience is people who think differently than the mainstream.
Disinformation has been an influential book publisher for years-heir, in some ways, to the now folded Loompanics Unlimited (which gave Douglas Rushkoff his start with Stoned Free: How to Get High Without Drugs). It has maintained ties to the zine and zippy culture of the '80s and '90s, even as it regears itself as a 21st-century media corporation.
Weird is the game. Wiley spoke about the company's affiliation with those even further out on the edge: "As a boutique publisher of fringe material, Disinfo appreciates the interests of David Icke and Alex Jones because part of our job is to find and distribute good examples in the genre." Alex Jones' film Terrorstorm, said Wiley, is a "well reasoned argument on conspiracy theory." The new site, along with new efforts at promotion and marketing, could leave the fringe audience a growing minority. (For a look at the old site, go to http://web.archive.org/web/19961224184729/http://disinfo.com.)
Since the relaunch, Disinformation has seen a spike in use and in user-contributed content. Some of the stories have gone viral from the Disinformation portal, bringing in new traffic; the Disinformation Podcast (http://disinfo.libsyn.com) has been on for a year now. With new free content online and a new site, Wiley says that The Disinformation Co. hopes its many fans will have new reason to be loyal and support its future publishing ventures.
The devil's head, it seems, will act as a ward to keep the too-straight away from the site for a while to come ... while tempting those of us who want to taste forbidden knowledge to get a little cozier with "the others." Its smart, sexy, politically ambivalent, and (now) sleek site redesign will keep us checking in on this news portal.