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The Paywall Problem

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I find most paywalls completely insidious. The concept is simple enough: allow users to view only a certain amount of content online before approaching them, pockets out-turned, for cash and denying them access to any more articles. But the implementation thus far has almost always been botched, and I remain unsure there is any truly effective way to implement such a system on a world wide web where the information you’re looking for is always readily available somewhere else.

Proponents of paywalls have a sensible reason for it; they want newspapers to make money. This is all well and good. They say that if the walls are not put into place, there will be no other viable business structure, and online journalism could implode. That’s possible, but unlikely.

Detractors of the walls say that they drive away traffic to other sites. They also criticize the idea of making people pay for content that is not hard to find other places. They are also skeptical of paywalls working period, given that they are notoriously easy to crack for anyone with menial knowledge of how the web works.

When the New York Times implemented theirs in March of last year, it cost $40 million and took more than a year to design. That paywall was bypassed in under 24 hours with a simple bookmarklet designed to make the Times’ java overlay not show up. That’s it.

This doesn’t mean that it cannot be done. The trick is in giving the people something worth paying for. I don’t believe the Times has succeeded here, the reason being (aside from the fact that their paywall system is a travesty) is 1) their tiered system and 2) the lack of extra benefits to subscribing.

The Times’ model is stupefyingly convoluted. Non-print subscribers have the option of subscribing to the web site and a smart phone app, the website and a tablet app (no smart phone access, but arbitrarily more expensive) or all three for even more money. But why does one have to choose? Why not have a flat rate for all mobile devices? It’s certainly more inviting (and convenient).

But a bigger problem is that people are paying for access to the same content they previously received for free. The Times’ has not given anyone any extra bang for their (substantial) buck. This is a grave mistake.

If a paywall is to be done, people have to be given some sort of premium content that was no available to them before. Conde´ Nast has done this well with my favorite magazine “The New Yorker.”

I pay $67 a year for 47 print issues of “The New Yorker.” With that comes complete access to an online backlog of issues, all built into a beautiful reader. This also includes a free tablet version that is delivered to my Nook Tablet.

What’s so great about that, you ask? Well, the digital versions are not simply the magazine thrown into a file format.Each digital issue of the New Yorker includes videos to accompany stories that play when you highlight them. For each poem (featured in the magazine every week), readers are given the wonderful option to hear the poet read their poems with a single click. There are slide shows of photos and other neat additions. I am nearly to the point of enjoying the digital edition more than the print one.

To implement a paywall successfully you must incentivize readers to pay, and you have to treat them fairly. While Conde´Nast is a magazine company, not a newspaper company, there’s no reason major news organizatons, with all the money at their disposal, could not churn out a comparable product.

This is how I would implement a paywall:

1) Emphasize premium content

Let people know they are getting something for their money aside from what they can get for free by bypassing a bookmarklet. If you go the extra mile, the readership will appreciate it.

2) Less options, more streamlining

 There’s no reason I should have to choose between receiving a subscription on my smart phone or tablet. This is 2012. All of these things are ubiquitous and used interchangeably. People want to be able to put down their tablet, pick up their phone and pick up where they left off. That’s the way of the future.

3) Cents and Sensibility

 Pricing needs to be fair, and make consumers believe they are getting value. Full digital access to the Times is $35 every four weeks, coming just under $500 a year. For that much, I think I’d stick to the Huffington Post. For free.

Paywalls don’t have to be so complicated, so long as you give people a product that they really want- a product that is worth the (reasonable amount) of money and make them think that they are part of the elite (everyone wants to be special). This is simple. There’s no need to over-complicate.

Journalism is about pith. There’s no reason paywalls can’t be, too.


Written by kolchak

February 13, 2012 at 5:20 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Storify: Facebook De-friending leads to Murder

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This is a fascinating story. To tell it, I decided to post some articles detailing the situation first and foremost. I also added a picture of the suspects for emphasis. I think that it’s importnat to be able to see who you’re reading about, particularly when addressing sich vicious crimes.

The bulk of my story focused on audience reactions. I found it interesting that so many people took the opportunity to make a joke about it. It could be genuine apathy, or it might be their way of masking their feelings towards such a grim subject. It’s hard to say. Either way, seeing a double homicide attached to such a ubiquitous social networking site spurs lots of interesting reactions, and that’s the angle I wanted to accentuate.

I think this is an interesting tool, but I don’t see it being widely adopted in the future. This is mostly due to the public at large having nothing interesting to say. The majority of the posts I came across were simply links to articles with absolutely no added commentary, and the commentary that was there was typically the same lousy jokes or comments.

There may be a use for this type of thing in the future, but I suspect it will be limited.


Written by kolchak

February 11, 2012 at 6:41 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Facebook “defriending” leads to double murder

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  1. Share
  2. Share
    What ever you do, DON’T defriend me.
  3. Share
    @risarambo WTF is going on in this world?! Did you see the murder over a defriend on FB? Left the baby alive in the arms of the dead mom
  4. Share
    Facebook Killings Couple Murdered Killed for Un-Friending
  5. Share
    You better watch who you defriend. It could lead to murder!!… #mi621
  6. Share
    This story is crazy, I think I’ll roll the dice and defriend some people today ;o)
  7. Share
    I read this article Facebook “defriending” led to double murder, police say,” and I want everyone to know that if I ever defriend you, it’s an accident. I swear it’s an accident.
  8. Share

    NASHVILLE, Tenn — A Tennessee couple who “defriended” a woman on Facebook were murdered in their home by the jilted woman’s father and another man, police said on Thursday.

    “It’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen,” Johnson County Sheriff Mike Reece said, adding he had never seen anything like it in his 27 years in law enforcement in the area. “We’ve had murders, but nothing like this. This is just senseless.”

    He said Billy Clay Payne, Jr. and Billie Jean Hayworth were killed last month after they deleted Jenelle Potter, the daughter of one of the suspects, from their “friends” list. Both were shot in the head and the man had his throat cut.

    The couple’s 8-month-old baby was in the mother’s arms, unharmed, when the bodies were found.

    Marvin Enoch “Buddy” Potter Jr., 60, and Jamie Lynn Curd, 38, were each charged on Wednesday in Mountain City in northeastern Tennessee with two counts of first-degree murder. The men were arrested on Tuesday.

    The case was not the first involving violence linked to Facebook. Last year in Iowa, a woman was arrested on accusations of setting fire to a friend’s garage after she was defriended on the social network site, local media reported.

    In Texas, a man was accused of hitting his wife after she failed to “like” a Facebook post he wrote about the anniversary of his mother’s death, according to media reports.

    Advertise | AdChoices
    In the Tennessee case, Reece said a couple of harassment cases had been filed against Jenelle Potter in court over “someone blocking her or taking her off.”

    “Once you’ve crossed her, you’ve crossed her father too,” Reece said, adding that Jenelle Potter, in her late 20s or early 30s, stays home with her parents and was constantly on Facebook.

    Her father, “Buddy” Potter, will return to court next week for a bond hearing after he hires an attorney. Curd, also a second cousin of one of the victims, was appointed an attorney and bond was set at $750,000 for each murder count. His preliminary hearing will be in March.

    No charges have been filed against Jenelle Potter, the sheriff said. She could not reached for comment.

    Curd’s attorney, R.O. Smith, an assistant public defender, said it was “safe to say there’s more to it than the Facebook problem, it appears.”

    “I wish I could provide more of what went on, but there’s needless to say a lot of rumors swirling around and nothing substantiated on the rumors,” Smith said.

    Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

  9. Share
    Just read about a double homicide because someone was defriended on Facebook …….that is taking it to the next level!
  10. Share
    Umm, Facebook is NOT THAT serious… Not serious at all for anybody to commit a crime… Geez…
  11. Share
    Wow! now we can’t defriend people on facebook without having the feeling that someone might kill you..
  12. Share
    This story is damned frightening! And the killers left a crying baby with its dead parents, all because the couple now dead didn’t want the crap of the killers and defriended them. This is definitely a death row crime.
  13. Share
    guess it’s a bad idea to defriend people
  14. Share

Written by kolchak

February 11, 2012 at 6:15 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Saudi Journalist Jailed for Twitter Blasphemy

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Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg once said that there will always be good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things, but for good people to do evil things, it takes religion. The jailing and possible death sentence of Hamza Kashgari is a perfect illustration of this point.

On the birthday of the prophet Mohamed, Kashgari tweeted a poem expressing his feelings that Mohammed was to be admired, but did not have any supernatural powers. He was met with thousands of vitriolic replies, and eventually, arrested.

Saudi Arabia operates under Sharia law, an archaic and disgusting system of governance that allows for beheading, arbitrary stonings, “honor” killings and profuse misogyny. Because Kashgari tweeted his poem, and expressed his most basic human right to speech and thought, he now faces death by stoning.

It’s despicable that such an utterance could still be made in 2012. But it isn’t uncommon. Last year a video emerged of an Afghan woman being stoned to death for trying to evade a forced marriage. This is the type of thing that theocracies bring about: foulness of the highest order.

It’s just one more reason why religion and government should not ever be mixed.

Written by kolchak

February 11, 2012 at 4:57 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Digital first, Future First

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Steve Buttry is getting it right. With traditional newsprint steadily declining, he has taken the initiative and begun a campaign to actively cater to online medium foremost, utilizing various forms of social media.

Not long ago this was considered a radical and dangerous idea. It’s neither. It just makes sense. Buttry outlines a typical workflow for various reporters on his blog. This includes live-blogging, use of Twitter, and the posting of photos and videos (depending on the type of reporter).  This model encourages audience participation by allowing for immediate dialogue with the correspondent. Throughout the day, as the reporting is going on, readers can engage the writers and vice versa. Writers can ask questions of their audience and receive feedback in real time.

It’s not so uncommon anymore. During the trial of Bradley Manning, the soldier accused by the Federal Government of providing classified documents to Wikileaks, several blogs sprung up to write about the trial live. Even more recently, the trial of Casey Anthony- a woman acquitted of murdering her child – was widely live-tweeted and blogged about from inside the court room. It was an incredible thing to watch, and I found myself routinely checking these twitter feeds to keep abreast of the trial, as well as the reporter’s conversations with readers who wouldn’t be there.

Newspapers, too, covered these events…only a day later. By that time, the people who followed online were two, maybe three steps ahead of the newspaper readership. At that point the purchase of the paper was moot.

There is no question that these models are more effective at engaging an audience and drawing people in. The true question is one of finances, and whether this is viable fiscally. That particular question will probably not be resolved for some time. Right now, it doesn’t seem so. But there is no question that fading news organizations have no choice but to adopt or die.  The internet must be embraced.

Traditional newsroms should not have a problem doing this. It simply requires reporters to do things they should already be doing: walk softly and carry a big smartphone.


Written by kolchak

February 10, 2012 at 6:19 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Andrew Keen: rebel without intelligent reasoning.

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Clearly, Andrew Keen enjoys being a contrarian. If he didn’t, the absolute idiocy of his statements would have driven him shamefully from the academic community.

Keen takes a shotgun approach to argumentation, scattering a slough of weak reasoning and logical fallacies in his fruitless quest to return to the days of old; when “experts” were the only people qualified to speak on anything.

But Keen’s world is one wrought with questions. Who nominates these experts? What qualifies them?  Should only those who graduate from ivy leagues be considered experts in their given fields? After all, they are, seemingly, better suited.

In a world where information is free and widely available, anyone can become an expert in any number of subjects. The internet has given birth to a variety of “mini-experts,” who are center their knowledge in a few different areas as opposed to just one. These people are sometimes self-taught. What is wrong with that? After all, the likes of Abraham Lincoln and Abigail Adams were self-taught.

There do exist valid points to be made about the negative aspects of the world wide web. Every medium has its downsides. But the case that the web has somehow decayed global morals is extremely weak.  Pornography, hate and bigotry have been around since mankind has, and have showed up in every medium they’ve created.

Have the dissemination of information and the low barriers of entry done damage to the public? In some ways, they have. Any technological advance comes with this sort of push back. The invention of the printing press came with the ability of ideologues and charlatans to print spew their ideas. They can use the Internet in the same way. But unlike the days of the printing press, the low barrier to entry on the internet allows a more fluid and immediate communication.

But it’s undoubtedly done more good then harm. This medium has allowed for the rise of citizen journalists, a term Mr. Keen undoubtedly sneers at.  But the fact is that one doesn’t need to be an “expert” in journalism to report. In fact, anyone with a cell phone can now record momentous events with poignancy and terseness.

It has also enabled unprecedented change in the political spectrum. Egypt and Syria have demonstrated this in the fullest. They have allowed for activists to network and greased the wheels of revolution, getting information out when large media outlets were stilted by the state.

More and more, these citizen journalists are breaking stories. They’re also playing an important role in the arena of editorials, increasingly growing in their prominence as pundits. Regular people have talked politics in smoky coffee houses for centuries, and now they are able to do so on a grandiose scale.

Citizen journalists have a greater possibility of breaking through to people who balk at talking to traditional journalists. There has, after all, been a rise in distrust of major media outlets in the past few years.

Citizen journalism is a nebulous mass, writhing in the ether, unrestrained by the red tape of corporate news. It is everywhere and nowhere. This is its advantage. And as bloggers churn out more content, they gain reputation. It is these reputations that discern credible newsmen from ideologues. The differences are typically easy to point out.

The web is fraught with sites that preach to the choir, disseminating misinformation. There remain countless sites dedicated to the “birther movement”- a delusional, ragtag group who believe Barack Obama is not a citizen of the United States. But these sites lack credibility, and are nearly universally dismissed.

Essentially, the audience sorts itself out. People understand what they are reading, and the so-called experts can be corrupted just as easily as non-experts can. Experts, like bloggers and citizen journalists, are people. They’ve just been given a layer of credibility from some organization. That doesn’t mean anything. After all, Stephen Glass was one of those supposed experts, hired at one of the most prestigious publications of all. He was a fraud.

The web has allowed for tremendous innovation. The way journalism is conducted has evolved, giving the readership an increased editorial role. It has allowed for easier cultivation of sources.

The world Andrew Keen would like us to live is a scary one, dominated by oligarchies who control the ebb and flow of information.  He would cripple the flow of information and curtail the smooth flow of information. Mr. Keen would make it harder for both journalists to do their jobs and for citizens to enjoy their work. He is a man blissfully unaware of the amazing things going on around him in the world, and he’d like to remain that way (except he uses every social networking site- a true hypocrite). Good riddance to bad rubbish.

If Andrew Keen wants to stay off the internet, let him. It would be one less screechy, misguided voice to read.

Written by kolchak

February 10, 2012 at 11:44 am

Posted in Uncategorized

REPORT: Smart Phones overtake PCs

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For the first time ever, smart phones have become more ubiquitous than personal computers, according to a report by analyst firm Canalsys. Global phone sales nearly reached 488 million, while PCs only managed 415 million. Mashable reports:

The real story here is the inexorable rise of the smartphone. Total shipments of the devices grew by a whopping 63% over 2011. Again, this was partly driven by the success of Apple; thanks to the iPhone 3GS, 4 and 4S, the Cupertino company not only smashed the record for the most smart phones shipped globally by any single vendor in one quarter, it also displaced Nokia as the world’s leading smartphone vendor.

This is not a surprising development, nor is it inexplicable. As smart phones become smaller, cheaper and more capable, it makes sense that greater numbers of people would opt for them. They have especially seen a surge in low income brackets- the type of people who just don’t need a full-fledged desktop and can supplement that with a phone.

Phones also have a shorter shelf life than PCs. One wouldn’t be expected to upgrade a PC every year or two, but that’s routine for cell phones. The smart phone market is built upon the gotta-have-it mentality of the newest and best thing, while the PC market is based upon buying a capable and decked out machine, and being able to take care of that machine for years until it becomes obsolete.
I fully expect smart phones to continue crowding out PCs. Tablets may have a similar effect. It’s yet to be seen.


Written by kolchak

February 7, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Posted in Uncategorized