The coverage of the deal thus far has focused on two primary angles: either Disney acquiring a "hipster" parenting site, or the vindication of the blogger-network content model. (Babble runs a large network of "mommybloggers," as they have come to be called.) But I think there's a simpler lesson here that's being overlooked. Babble was a cultural and commercial success because it took on a topic that was exhaustively covered by existing media, and wrote about it in a fresh, nuanced, and more complex way. It had a genuinely new voice that was far more in touch with the actual experience of parenting, and it featured talented writers who wrote about their lives with a sophistication that was simply nonexistent in traditional parenting sites or magazines. (They even asked me to write a piece about parenting that pulled in Jane Jacobs and complexity theory -- an invite that let's just say I would be quite surprised to receive from Parenting.com.) As Rufus and Alisa wrote in their initial mission statement:
We created Babble for one very simple reason: we can't find a magazine or community that speaks to us as new parents. Every publication we encounter presents procreation as a cute and cuddly experience, all pink and powder blue, at best an interior decorating opportunity, at worst a housekeeping challenge. None of it is true to the experience we are having, and that we see around us.
So to me, the success of Babble should be a corrective for all those folks who think that the Web has lowered our journalistic standards, or that original, provocative writing online doesn't have a business model to support it. Yes, Babble was not a commercial success on the level of Facebook or LinkedIn or Zynga. Content sites don't have that kind of scalability. (Though they may well have an easier path to profitability.) But Babble did make a tidy return for their investors, led by Village Venture's Bo Peabody, who has long argued for the value of advertising-supported content sites. The commercial viability of the web shouldn't just be about a handful of billion-dollar IPOs. It should be about a thousand smaller-scale successes, where new voices can both find an audience and create sustainable business models. Babble managed to do both those things in just a few short years -- and that's great news for all of us.