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Why News Should Adopt the High Tech Business Model

first_cell_phone

The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that NEWS needs to adopt the High-Tech business model to survive.

Part 1: Expensive at first, cheaper later.

Forget starting with micropayments. High tech companies charge the most at the beginning. Next, instead of putting expensive content behind an all-or-nothing paywall, make it first available to subscribers (expensive), then drop it to free sometime after 18-36 hours. Then everyone, even search engines can access it.

That way, information can be both expensive AND free.

High tech never starts the price point at $0, but it always ends up that way. News should be the same.

On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.[1]

High tech has been successful, BECAUSE of the tension between high-prices paid by early adopters, and the cheaper prices paid by mass adopters.

Early adopters who paid $600 for an iPhone got to use it and enjoy it, before the price was lowered to $200. The people who buy early pay the most, but subsidize the cost for the masses. Shouldn’t news work this way too?

Part 2: continuous product improvement

Great high-tech products evolve. Are news sites improving? If their objective is to (presumably) get people to consume and consume and consume their information, how are they doing? Does anyone feel like news sites are LEADING or INNOVATING web UX or content interaction capabilities? Who’s favorite way to interact with articles is on a news site? Not me.

A simple wordpress or mt cms over at huffpost or techcrunch does just about as much as what the NYTimes brings to bear. Lighter weight blogs end up being faster ways to consume information because it’s easier to jump around.

But news sites could be much better. Where are the personalization and recommendation technologies? Why aren’t they keeping track of what I’ve read so it’s easier for me to reference?

Even Google’s Project Management SVP says it: “The experience of consuming news on the web today fails to take full advantage of the power of technology. When I go to a site like the New York Times or the San Jose Mercury, it should know what I am interested in and what has changed since my last visit.

Feed readers do this. At least give me a J-key so we can skip around your news site faster and get to what I want.

innovate

The high tech business model demands that news sites must strive to become the preferred way to consume short bursts or extended volumes of relevant, personalized and interesting information. They must become better than their competition of blogs, better than feed readers.

I understand there are technical challenges to pulling off personalization at scale. There are also management trajectory challenges, but low revenue usually fixes those.

In our own premium content system, we actually built most of these capabilities but didn’t turn them on since our customers didn’t think they were necessary. And they were half-right: sales were just fine, even with an old-school paywall. But now our customer base is expanding, and their customer conversion rates are terrible compared to our past experience. Time to fix it!

So next week we’ll start twisting the nobs and pulling levers with one customer to see what kind of conversion improvement we can bring with flexible ACLs, A/B testing and new-school approaches to monetizing content.

The point is that we’re doing this and news site can too.

Technology dies without continual innovation and news sites will follow that path if they don’t change things dramatically.  The technology doesn’t make itself, but you can go out there and invent what ever you want to. Yes you can.  It’s the high-tech way.

If high tech operated like newspapers?

We’d still be here:

ti

calculator $99.00

Miss, just put it on my Carte Blanche

Calculate price drop ahead!

"Let's face it. The only drawback in thise exciting pocket caclulators is the lack of a tape to check your calculations. " "and light 10 lb weight make it the ideal desk unit." Calculate: price drop

The Golden Rule: Why Fans Trump Ads

Raise your hand if you like free, ad-supported content. Good, just about everyone. Now raise your hand if you would like Kelloggs and Procter and Gamble to control all your media and entertainment choices. Oh, not so much?

helicopter_hair

Every time I read another post about the inexorable march toward 100% ad-supported content, etc., I remember the businessman’s take on the Golden Rule:

He with the gold, rules.

Is it worth “saving” a few cents so that the Corporate World can choose which content is available for our viewing? When it’s free, content is created for the utility of the advertisers.

Indeed, as soon as advertisers pay for the content, advertisers effectively control the content. It’s their money. They control how edgy or how alternative the content is allowed to be. Advertisers decide which plots are allowed, and if the content exists or not.

mustache

A world where content is 100% ad supported is a dangerous monoculture.

Offensive content? Not ad supported. Politically left or right content?  Not ad supported. Your favorite little underground /niche-y content? Not ad supported. Content that is not “on message” with the brand? Not ad supported.

Look at YouTube’s monetization compared to Hulu. Hulu can sell ads across 100% of its safe inventory, while Youtube can only sell ads on 3% of its inventory. In other words, YouTube’s highly anticipated ad-revenue sharing program never meant jack.  Advertisers only support the safe stuff they believe helps them sell more product.

When Michael Phelps smokes a bong, he looses his Kellogg’s contract.  Even though plenty of mainstream press support him, advertising money talks and behavior that is not consistent with the image of Kellogg walks.

Be careful what you ask for, because when advertisers will only pay for content that is consistent with their brand.

Fans > Ads

When an artist is fan supported, the same golden rule holds true:  The fans bring the money, so the fans get the content they want.  Fans are simultaneously the financiers AND the consumers. The fans and the artists set the rules. There need be no advertiser or publisher or studio who [sets | influences | steers] the agenda.

Don’t get me wrong:  Free content plays a very important role in attracting new fans.  And ad-supported content–that is, content paid for by a 3rd party company who wags their product under our noses –works ok for the safe mainstream.

But I’m definitely against a monoculture of free, 100% ad supported content.  Its dangerous when advertisers are the only ones ultimately funding, and therefore deciding, which content gets made.

Artists should be able to earn a living by making content that is not consistent with the image of Kellogg’s, or any other corporation.  Fans should be a bigger voice than triple protection tide or aquafresh, or whatever.

Premium Content for Webcomics

We’re really happy about the growing community of webcomic artists who are discovering Assetbar. We’re doing this project for the artists and for the fans of all shapes and sizes, so please let us know how we can help you more!

Here’s a quick roundup of some recent thoughts:

fleen

So Maybe The Future Is Free-Plus?

Once upon a time, it was pretty common for well-known webcomics to have a premium content tier — exclusive comics, higher resolutions, downloadables and suchlike were available for a subscription fee. Over the past several years, such schemes have fallen by the wayside

Only Achewood has had a robust program that I’ve noticed of late, featuring strip previews, blog & ‘zine content, and famously, a live-updating account of Beef & Molly’s wedding. The toolset that Onstad uses (AssetBar by name) is pretty interesting

I bring all this up because yesterday, a pair of heavy-hitters (namely, Starslip and PvP) added that selfsame AssetBar tech to their sites.

Neither seems to be using AssetBar exactly as Achewood does, or entirely like the other. We’ll have to see where this trend goes; in the future, AssetBar may be another of those vendors supplying a much-needed service to webcomics at large. (Thanks to Tony Piro, who noticed the launches before I did and emailed me.)

ds

Micro-transactions Hit Webcomics ~SOOOO…~ Is Assetbar Here To Stay?
Digital comics: The cure for recession woes?

One of the biggest stories of this week in webcomics, and one that Brigid has already briefly touched on, is the more widespread exposure of the pay-for-play service, Assetbar. Before this week, the only notable webcomic to take advantage of this pseudo-subscription-based, fanbase barometer was Achewood. Now, both Scott Kurtz and Kris Straub have linked up their respective strips to this fan club of sorts and the floodgates are sure to follow, being opened by the sheer force of webcomics creators eager to share more of their already public lives with their readers.

Gary Tyrell at FLEEN continues:
fleen

Man, the stories just keep piling up

No sooner had I mentioned the PvP and Starslip adoption of AssetBar last week than:

1. The guys behind the technology emailed me with some information about their product
2. Scott Kurtz contacted me to talk about his adoption of the premium-content management software
3. Meredith Gran started her own premium niche for Octopus Pie

Since I’ll see both Scott and Mer at New York Comic Con starting Friday, I’m going to do an update on fanflows next week — but expect to see more webcomics flirting with premium content this year. Ironically, the economy being so bad is going to lead to a lot of experimentations out of webcomics, perhaps leading us to a consensus as to workable approaches faster than we would have in a more stable environment. We’ve got an evolutionary testbed here with the fast-forward control stuck in the on position (pretty sure I cribbed that line from William Gibson, but hell if I can find a reference right now).

comicsTom Spurgeon’s Comics Reporter
The US economy and comics

* with so much material on-line, expect a lot of attention to be paid to premium services, one way that creators/publishers can derive income from fans devoted to one strip or another. Gary Tyrrell writes about something called AssetBar here; it seems to count among its clients PvP and Achewood, among others.

We’re hoping folks are loving www.nycomiccon.com this weekend.

Cheers!

Enjoying the carrefour reds now.
2005 Medoc (Chateau Hauterive). Tastes like $20. Costs like $7. Still makes me wish for a tap solution.

The Obama Constant

obama

(in b4 inauguration)

We had a stupid problem with migrating from ugly urls to pretty ones.

e.g. from

http://s.assetbar.com/ti?b=S~cfd4f5a32442ff25864a8357965235a41&a=S~1 to http://www.assetbar.com/fanflow/achewood

It was easy to fix in production, but all the dev environments we’d taken for granted would now be broken.

Every proposed solution had drawbacks, which ranged from tedious to complicated. And then, we arrived at one solution filled with hope and promise. This constant promised to

fix multiple problems now, and everything in the future.

As such, it was given the only fitting name: The Obama Constant

Date: Monday January 12, 2009 @ 13:31
Author: chris

Update of /usr/local/cvsroot/web
In directory /tmp/cvs-serv887

Modified Files:
Tag: DEV-SCALE abar_pg_template
Log Message:


The Obama constant: fixes multiple problems now, and everything in the future.

One liner in the page-opening section to establish a js constant: ab_url_localpath, which gets its val from AB_URL_LOCALPATH.

Lets us build ajax URLs explicitly w/o running into trouble in dev trees and anywhere else we might have fake "readable" URLs. Everybody wins.

Indeed, everybody wins.

Our Innate Interest in NEW

I see what you did there
 
Catching up on an old Economist (yes, I still love magazines and happily subscribe to many) I came across a great article on counting.  

How do humans develop our sense of numbers? What faculties do babies start with, and how does it develop?  I learned that Babylonians used base 60 math, and that in the 1940′s a  German animal behaviorist named Otto Köhler trained ravens to open boxes with the same number of dots on the lid as a card held by the scientist. Animals dig numbers too.

But what  caught my attention was this beautiful nugget:

Babies are born with many ways of making sense of what they see and hear.  When shown the same things repeatedly, babies eyes wander; when the scene changes, their gaze return.

I already knew this was how they tested babies for measuring other responses.  I already knew this is how babies behave.  But this time it finally hit me:  NEW.  It’s all about NEW.

We are born with an innate interest in NEW.  Babies have it.  Adults have it.  We love the new.  NEW is a strong force.  

Even as infants, our eyes literally wander if we see something repeated too often.  That explains so many behaviors, and yet there’s still more we could do to scratch this itch.

Addicted to twitter?  You love the new. Deep into your feedreader? You love the new.  Can’t get enough of friendfeed or blogs or news sites?  Don’t worry, you’re normal.  You love the new.  

This week we rolled out some personalization features on our niche fanflows project. (Fanflows are premium, subscription-based assets: artists post stuff, fans subscribe. Fans get content, artist buys baby a new pair of shoes. )  Among the sorting features (newest, most comments, most views, etc), was a simple checkbox where you can click [x] New to Me.  We keep track of everything you’ve already read, so when you say New to Me, we show you just the new stuff.

freezepop_premium
 

I’ve always liked our New to Me feature.  Actually, I get over-excited every time I use it. Of course there’s no mystery to me in how it works, and we’ve had it in different incarnations for quite some time.  But I still get all giddy every time I use it.  

I thought I was reasonably up to date on Achewood Premium Updates, and Freezepop Premium, but when I clicked that little New to Me box and saw 30 “new” posts I hadn’t seen yet, something inside me bubbled up.  The system found the new for me, and I loved it.  

Now I know I’m not strange or crazy.  I just love NEW.  And being attracted to NEW is innate.   I feel better now, how about you?

P.S.  We’ve made some good progress on a free tool for blogs that will help give your readers that same, awesome feeling of NEW when they get to your site.  I think they should be able to click New and get New.  Since craving NEW is normal, we’re looking to help do this for more people in more places.

Building Signal vs. Filtering Noise

Marshall Kirkpatrick over at Read Write Web is on to something again.

“In a world more swamped with content options every day, recommendation technology is poised to make a huge difference in our experience online.”

 
The part which caught my attention is that recommending is very different than the filtering. And I happen to think it’s much better.

Turn it up, it’s loud in here

Lots of folks people think that there are too many silos each containing little bits of information.  The first impulse is to build an aggregator to collect and then spew out all those updates from one central domain.  (We tried too, with our erstwhile feed reader.)

Whoops. Suddenly, there are too many updates, there is too much noise and people start clamoring for a filter. What happened?  Clay has the snappy title of “It’s not Information overload, it’s Filter Failure” which seems to prove itself, with 40,000 references already. 

More data doesn’t always win

I think of recommending as subtly different than filtering.

Recommendation done well makes me think about selecting and building up salient data components to arrive at a useful conclusion.  Filtering makes me think of starting with too much crap and trying to figure out what to throw away.  

I’m going to posit that attempting to filter feeds or streams will have limited widespread success, because in the act of aggregation, the filter loses the original context which contained so much signal. Parked domains can look like perfect matches to search engines, too.

On the other hand, technology that does a good job recommending will feel like it’s building signal instead of taking away noise. It will retain the context.

What might this magic recommendation technology look like? 

Consider Amiad Solomon’s keynote suggesting web 3.0 will offer “detailed data exchange to every point on the internet, a ‘machine in the middle’ with

1) Smart internetworking:  to analyze collective online behavior

2) Communication via api to a single point of reference

3) Distributed databases to search millions of nodes and scan billions of records at once.

Marshall simply says: “Bring on a smart future augmented by powerful recommendation technology!”

I couldn’t agree more.

In fact, I think these gentlemen just may be mind readers. We’ll see.

onmousedown handler: chrome vs. firefox

Huh. Google’s Chrome browser uses a different onmousedown handler for tracking GOOG’s search result clicks:

Firefox handler:

window.clk = function(b,c,d,e,f,g){
   if(document.images){
       var a=encodeURIComponent||escape;(new
Image).src="/url?sa=T\x26source\x3dweb" +
           (c?   "&oi="+a(c):"") +
           (d?"&cad="+a(d):"") +
           "&ct="+a(e) + "&cd=" + a(f) +
           (b?"&url="+a(b.replace(/#.*/,"")).replace(/\+/g,"%2B"):"") +
           "&ei=dVvtSLTSFYnOsAOipLX-Aw"+g;
   }
   return true;
};

Chrome Handler:

window.asq = function(d,a,e,f,h,i,j) {
   if(window.XMLHttpRequest){
       if(a.handledFirstTime){
           a.handledFirstTime=false;
           return false;
       }
       a.handledFirstTime = true;
       var b = encodeURIComponent || escape,
       c=new XMLHttpRequest,
       g=d.altKey||d.metaKey;
       c.open("GET","/url?sa=T\x26source\x3dweb" +
              (e?"&oi="+b(e):"") +
              (f?"&cad="+b(f):"") +
              "&ct=" + b(h) + "&cd=" + b(i) + "&url=" +
              b(a.href.replace(/#.*/,"")).replace(/\+/g,"%2B") +
              "&ei=OlvtSLOELKGksQObytH8Aw"+j,true);
       if(!g){
           c.onreadystatechange = function(){
               if(c.readyState==4){
                   clearTimeout(k);
                   a.dispatchEvent(d);
               }
           };
           var k = setTimeout(function(){
               c.abort();
               a.dispatchEvent(d);
           },2000);
       }
       c.send(null);
       return g;
   }
   return true
};

Why not use XMLHttpRequest in the Firefox version? Are some Gears
back-door shenanigans afoot? Anyone know? -Ben

Why the Sheep Thowers Need Money

Ha. OReilly hates sheep.

Now, as Tim finally sighs and realizes that the “platform” is really about cheap thrills rather than serious thinking, as he realizes that the next wave of intelligent apps isn’t coming to facebook or the web, he throws his spawn 2.0 under the bus.

Your revolution is over, Mr. Lebowski

And yet, how different would Tim’s message have been if the Sheep Thrower bums were piling in $20B a year? It’s not like adsense is exactly honorable, and yet they’re not getting chastised. iphones aren’t really saving the planet, either. But Google and Apple are both popular, AND they’re making piles of money. Most of the web 2.0 success stories have forgotten the second profit part.

This lack of profits will not stand

What IF web 2.0 companies were making money? Tim would be off their back, the VCs would be off their back, and the best and brightest would be figuring out new important things to do.

But first, these developers need to make some money. Let’s not forget that Google.org was paid for out of advertisers pockets. After it went through the google margin extraction process.

Despite the cheerleaders for a Inevitably All-Free Internet, we know that [free + ads] can only occupy a percentage of the total buisness online. Just as [free + ads] account for an important, but limited percentage of real-life business, in the end, they can only account for a percentage of the online space, too. After all, the advertisers need hugely more revenue than they’re paying for ads.

And that huge revenue will grow faster in the digital space than in the physical. Duh. Mobile phone carriers have managed to make money off of transmitting bits. Other folks will figure out how to make more money from bits than clicks.

Buy an App, Save my Rug

Which means that the best and biggest products and the glorious new revenue streams are yet to come. We’re starting to realize that paying for iphone apps is not the worst thing, at least if they’re cheap enough. Maybe it’s even GOOD if the developers make a buck or two.

It won’t be long before Facebook/Myspace apps can have payment system, and we’re likely to see more and better apps as that space earns more than canabalistic ad money.

Definitely more phone, mac and pc software will be sold as soon as apps are delivered in an open iTunes Appstore version, and that won’t be long either. As these things start to come together, we may see the beginnings of open digital marketplace. And finally, at some point, online digital products will eventually eclipse ads in total revenue.

As as this happens, all the money coming IN to developers and companies might end up being used for good purposes. Lots of these new companies may inject fresh, helpful, useful, and thoughtful thinking into the business world and the planet. But they’ll need the cashto back it up.

So if we think about paying for digitalia as an enabler for a better future, instead of always focusing on free, then the best and brightest hippies may even win in the end. And I wouldn’t be surprised if they made their first $10M selling virtual sheep throwing before they embarked on curing world hunger. Lots the good stuff can start after you make the money.

(Disclaimer: We’re working on some new payment products, and we’d like to help.)

Security Alert: GMAIL Session ID Design

I’ve never really bothered to look into GMAIL security because I figured, hey, it’s Google. They generally know what they’re doing. But after reading this, and living though my own experiences with my gmail account getting hacked, it made me question Google’s decision-making process.

“Here’s the exploit: All it takes to steal someone’s Gmail login account is to intercept any transaction since every single one, even images, pass a cookie which contains the session information.

Spoof the session [plug that sessionID into your request], and you get free reign to the account — including the ability to change your password. Every non-SSL session is in plain text.”


If Google really knew about this gaping vulnerability, but ruled out fixing them due to expense (!) or performance, that is pretty gross. But then, they HAD to know that the session ID was a glaring security hole. Right? And if they knew about that vulnerability, but didn’t do anything, doesn’t that show they’re making bad decisions for their users? Is there another way to look at this?

The article points out that now, finally, you can enable SSL on Gmail. But, that’s a bandaid and doesn’t help the millions of people who won’t use SSL. Security needs to be in the app logic, not the transport.

It’s bad security design to let anyone have free reign with a session ID. Ubiquitous WiFi makes it silly easy for bad guys to sniff traffic and grab session IDs at ariports, starbucks, heck, even at home.

Makes you feel a little vulnerable knowing all your public information was so nakedly exposed over the past few years, huh? Did Google know about this?

It turns out they were well aware of it. The reason Google didn’t grant users the SSL feature before, according to Perry, was because SSL is expensive. It takes a lot of bandwidth and time on both the receiver and transmitter sides to generate keys and encrypt data. Slower data connections would experience a lagging Gmail experience.

Is THAT’s why they still wrap the beta flag around gmail? “We have a glaring security hole that we’re not mentioning”?

Google should apologize and quickly patch GMAIL now so the client is forced to present other auth components before being allowed to perform restricted functions. Or, or, or. There are lots of well-known ways to make it secure. In the meantime, DEFAULT gmail to SSL, and don’t complain that buying extra NS/Citrix boxes is expensive. :)

http://www.webmonkey.com/blog/Why_You_Should_Turn_Gmail_s_SSL_Feature_On_Now

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