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"We're a lot tougher than we were when we had an open face to the world. I don't have as many flowers in my hair, but I am still moved when I sing with this band." — Bono

Column: off the record ..., vol. 17-755



Happy New Year!

By all accounts, or at least the one U2 shared on Christmas Day, it should be a happy new year for U2 fans. Let's be honest: With all of the promises and predictions we've heard from various band members over the years about when another album will come out, and when another tour will start, we all have good reason to be skeptical. But when the four of them get together to make a video announcing their intentions, it seems a lot more real and believable. (Even if Bono's the one doing the talking!)

Songs Of Experience isn't a surprise; I think we'd all be shocked if that didn't come out in 2017. But the thing about "special shows" commemorating 30 years of The Joshua Tree -- now that's interesting, isn't it? The mind races: Something like Springsteen did with The River? Combined with a tour for Songs Of Experience, or separate? Stadiums or arenas? Full 2-hour+ shows, or shorter? Will they play the full album? In order? Some cool B-sides from that era, too? That, as much as anything, is what excites me -- the possibility that they might play some songs that have never been played live before.

Some fans have commented in our forum, on our Facebook post and elsewhere that it seems odd for U2 to suddenly decide to look back on an old album like this and plan special shows -- like a legacy, oldies band. I get that and agree that it does seem a bit odd, but I go back to what I've said before in this space: U2's gonna be on the road playing live; why would you complain about that? On the question of why they'd do it, I tend to think there's some truth in what one of our forum members said last week -- it might be more Live Nation's idea than anything, and may be a kind of "make good" over the fact that last year's plans for an album and tour never materialized. That's pure guesswork, but I wouldn't be surprised if something like that factored in.

The @U2 staff spent most of December in a really great, deep discussion about our own future. I've been wondering whether fan sites still have a role in 2017. Are we still needed? If so, why? What should a fan site be doing in 2017, when fans can get their news from Facebook, Twitter or any of several other sources?

I've also been questioning my own commitment to keep the site going. I'm gonna be 50 years old in the not-too-distant future ... and still be running a fan site? Does that seem odd to anyone else? My kids are at the age where they'll be leaving soon; I'd like to spend more time with them while I can.

I feel like we've been in a rut -- like I've been in a rut, too -- and keep thinking about that Adam Clayton quote from the Achtung Baby/Interference video, where he says "if we've gotta keep doing this particular thing for the next 10 years, I'm gonna go crazy." That kinda sums up where I've been lately.

So I took all this to the crew a few weeks ago and we've had a wonderful discussion that's still going on as you read this. We've decided that fan sites still have a strong role and that we need to continue being a trusted source of reliable news and information. We've agreed to finish a new website design -- one that will be better-looking and easier to use on your smartphones and tablets than the current site is. (Five years ago, only 12% of our site traffic was mobile; this year, just over 50% is mobile and I'm sure that number would be higher if the site worked better on mobile devices.) We'll be making some upgrades to the backend of the site, where we manage our news and other content. And we're tossing around some other ideas related to our podcasts, videos and more.

In the short term, we've made a couple decisions that will impact you:

1.) We'll be launching a reader survey in the next week or so. We want to learn more about you. We want to know how you use @U2. We want to learn what we can do better, and what we can do that we're not doing at all. If we asked you to complete this sentence: "I wish @U2 _____________," what would you say?

2.) We'll be putting out a Help Wanted sign soon to see if we can find like-minded U2 fans who want to be on our team and serve our readers/listeners/viewers. This'll be an open call; we'll be looking for a couple specific skill sets (Android app developer, for example), but we mostly want to know what talent/interest you have and how you want to bring that to @U2 and our audience.

3.) We've decided to semi-retire our existing features including this column, OTR, plus Like A Song (LAS), Like A Video (LAV) and U2 Lists. They're not going away entirely, but we've agreed that we should write and publish those when we want to -- when we have something worth saying and sharing -- not because we have to. With U2 being out of the public eye for long stretches at a time and there being very little U2 news to write about, we know some of the OTRs in 2016 were pretty boring. We've been writing some of these features because our editorial calendar told us we had to, not because we wanted to. That's going to change in 2017. You might get two OTRs in a single week, or you might not see one for a couple months; ditto with LAS, LAV and U2 Lists. And, along with No. 2 above about bringing new people on board, we're brainstorming new features that we can share with all of you. (Have an idea? Bring it to us!)

To wrap it up, we're all excited for 2017 and what's to come. There'll be additional changes coming and we're looking forward to sharing them with you as the year goes along. Whether you just discovered us in 2016, or you've been a reader since the 1990s, thanks for following along with us -- cheers to a great 2017 from the whole @U2 crew!

Any opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily represent the views of @U2 as a whole.

(c) @U2, 2017.