Joe Sparrow : MONTAG: an infinite magazine

MONTAG.WTF was an utterly uncommercial print magazine of weird sci-fi and future-tech that I pitched to, and, thanks to the boldness of Thom, their then-CMO, it became real. It was backed for two years, creating six themed online issues, a weekly newsletter, four print runs totalling many thousands of truly beautiful copies, and 14 podcast episodes.

It was made really good by some amazing artwork by an excellent Italian artist called Edo, and an incredibly talented writer, technologist and everything-er, called Kathryn.

Inevitably, MONTAG eventually got canned after various supportive senior staff members moved on, and MONTAG became this weird promo thing from the early days of a startup that had also moved on. We had no KPIs to hit, and no data points to prove our worth, and thus we trudged sadly to the chopping-block.

Now that MONTAG is dead, Grover – once a rare startup with a really cool and interesting creative product that they could promote their business with – is now in a preferred, safer position of being a big startup with lots of money and success.

Anyway: MONTAG was not only great fun to do, it showed that with some bravery, vision, creative thinking and hard work, a business can create something unusual, beautiful and unique to help it stand out from the crowd.

Here’s the best bit: after I left, Kathryn – who is, as I mentioned, pretty brilliant at everything she puts her mind to – trained a recurring neural network on the many hundreds of thousands of words we had written for MONTAG, and now the AI posts a brand new article every week, over on MONTAG.XYZ. The articles are remarkable: almost believable and human, but with staggering injections of weirdness just when you don’t expect it.

MONTAG.XYZ: “everything we do online is Translate.”

This is fascinating and a minor triumph for Kathryn; it’s also possibly the first time an established magazine staff has been wholly replaced by an AI. The MONTAG experiment will now live forever in an endless series of AI-written posts – and that’s something I didn’t expect when we started. But that’s what comes of taking small creative gambles like commissioning MONTAG.

(I rounded up some of the stuff from Issue 1 here.)