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Convergence, “just working” and online news

2010 December 7

Since the previous post, I remembered that there is in fact one area of electronic media/communications where I, too, really feel that everything should just work together seamlessly, like magic. Online news.

Or rather, online news of some possible near(?) term future. Because for now I’m quite content with the fact that, as suggested yesterday, all of this stuff is already available through the single interface of a web browser on my Mac. And because I like to navigate spatially, I actually appreciate that each news site has its own layout and visual style so I can find my favorite items easily. But, if/when restricting access to paid subscribers becomes the rule, rather than the exception, for online news, I’m going to be joining Ellis and Raulerson in issuing a set of demands that everyone get their cyberducks in a row PDQ.

Because every news site requiring an separate subscription is not going to work. Wake up guys. It’s the 21st century. The old model of subscribing to one or two papers, maybe a magazine or three, as one’s exclusive sources of text-based news is no longer acceptable. We’ve had all-access for more than a decade, and there’s no going back. On a daily basis I read news from at least nine or ten sites which could plausibly claim to be worth at least a modest subscription fee.

And again, it isn’t like a newspaper where one gets the new edition, sits down and reads the items of interest, and is then done with that source for the day. I check online news throughout the day; the (kind of) great thing about it is that it’s always being udpated. There is no “FINAL EDITION.” Effectively it’s like channel-surfing (I just realized that we “surfed” television channels even before the World Wide Web). Does anyone think it would be realistic to require couch potatoes to subscribe to each of their 173 channels separately?

Well, same goes for you, Times, Economist, et al. I’m willing to pay for content, including access to online news, at least in theory. Frankly, the idea that we would build an entire new economy funded exclusively by ad revenue always seemed a bit like a pyramid scheme to me anyway; someone still has to spend actual money at some point, after all. But everyone closing off their segment of the internet behind a “paywall,” and expecting visitors to pay a separate toll at each, is equally stupid and unrealistic if not moreso. (Let alone expecting that we’ll all just pick one or two news sources and settle down into blissful “monogamy.”)

My “demands” don’t even end here, for what it’s worth. In theory, I imagine that you could just have most news sites cooperate with a kind of unified “pass,” which one could sign up for, then remain “logged in” to through browser cookies. And that would probably “solve” the problem quite adequately for at least 90% of people.

Not me. I do not like browser cookies, only turn them on when necessary (and while I’m issuing demands, it would be great if someone added a button or toggle switch for this to the main browser window rather than burying it in preferences) and semi-regularly deleting most of them. Snigger about tinfoil hats if you wish, but I really prefer not to join in just yet with some Assange/Zuckerberg total transparency society just yet, thanks. (Plus I’m pretty sure that such would never really work both ways, unless I missed something and Facebook is providing open access to every internal document and communication they have.) In any event I would really like the option of keeping a complete history of every news item I read online kept out of marketing databases.

Plus, of course, I might use different browsers, which also points to the possibility of different devices which may somewhat chip away at my estimate of how many people would be content with accessing paid news through persistent browser cookies. Home computer, office computer, laptop, tablet and/or smartphone, each needing to be authenticated separately… maybe malcontents like me wouldn’t be the only ones demanding something smarter.

What, then? I don’t know, really. That seems to be beside the point of this type of exercise anyway. I get to simply demand that everything “just work” together, seamlessly, by magic. Figuring out how seems to be someone else’s job. 😉

5 Responses
  1. December 7, 2010

    Let me throw this out there…

    Web portal. In many respects like Google, Yahoo, etc. already have. You can drop in news from your sources of choice (NYT, WSJ, etc.). A little more robust, though, where you could perhaps also get full article embedded in your portal environment using the source’s formatting and/or opening in a new window and/or just pulling in the content with standardized formatting. Right now, it’s kind of hit or miss depending on how (in some cases, if) the source has their feed(s) set up. And the browser should have a built-in function to sniff out available feeds instead of forcing the user to hunt for where the designers hid the RSS icon and wonder why the heck the decided to make it green, unlike the orange version that everyone else uses. And why is it so small anyway? And how the heck should I know whether I was the feed as RSS, XML or Atom? I shouldn’t need to be a programmer to figure out how to use the dang website for Pete’s sake!

    Sorry. Got off on a bit of a tangent there. 🙂

    Here’s the business angle, though. Free portal for everyone, much as how they’re delivered now. But if you pay a monthly service fee, they actively delete/hide/secure your personal data (which sites you subscribe to, which articles you read, etc.) and make a deal about NOT selling it to anyone.

    Since the data about your preferences would be stored remotely, you could comfortably search with your cookies turned off and not lose your feeds, plus it would allow you to switch browsers, even computers, without missing a beat.

    But, you know, I’m a big proponent of portals in the first place so I’m obviously biased with my solution. 🙂

  2. Matt permalink
    December 7, 2010

    Hmm, that’s an intriguing idea, at least.

    Of course I’m still skeptical about the prospects for not only making paid online news mainstream, but for “re-monetizing” the large and growing amount of online content and services which currently change hands (on the face of it at least) outside of the money economy, in general.

    But, of course, I have my doubts about a lot of things.

  3. December 7, 2010

    Ah, the brilliance of my idea, though, is that you’re not monetizing the content, you’re monetizing an individual’s anonymity. Just like you have to pay to NOT be listed in the phone book. You get “free” by essentially selling your privacy rights, but having the privilege of being anonymous? THAT is what you end up paying for!

    (The more I think about it, the more I like the idea. Wish I had a way that I could actually capitalize on/implement it!)

  4. Matt permalink
    December 8, 2010

    Yes I followed that. Though it isn’t quite like having an unlisted number, I think. 1) You don’t avoid being in a huge database, you just get a promise that none of that information will be used or sold, until… 2) the second you stop paying, your reading history goes Wikileaks. It would be a bit like voluntarily signing yourself up for an extortion racket, no? 😉

  5. December 8, 2010

    Which is precisely why I like the idea… at least from the entrepreneur’s side of the equation! >:)

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