April 29, 2006

Let's Put the Cat Back in the Bag

First, go read Microsoft Software Will Let Times Readers Download Paper over on The New York Times site.

Then, after wiping your eyes of the tears inspired by laughing at such foolishness, come back here.

That article demonstrates so much of what is wrong with Big Media, and illuminates some idiocy on Microsoft's part as well.

As I mentioned in my last post, big media is quite anxious about what digitization and networked distribution is happening to their industry. Media companies pretty much have three options:

  1. Do nothing
  2. Resist change
  3. Embrace change and see where it takes them

This article demonstrates that, at least in part, The New York Times is resisting change. My jaw first dropped when reading this passage: "The software would allow The Times to replicate its look — fonts, typeface and layout — more closely than its Web site now does."

Apart from a few designers, no one cares about The Times' "look". This is an explicit attempt to reclaim control over what has already been lost. I wager that any attempt to preserve the look online will lead to a loss of value -- however many people utilize a service will not be made up for in the costs of developing it.

Continuing on in the article, you come across this gem: "Mr. Sulzberger said the software combined the portability of the print paper with the immediacy of the Internet. Readers can in effect turn the page electronically. There is also a gauge that tells them how much of the paper they have read and how much more is left."

Mr. Sulzberger, the publisher of The Times, clearly has no idea what the immediacy of the Internet really means. This passage looks at immediacy from strictly a publisher's point of view -- getting stuff out there faster. Immediacy of the internet from a user's point of view means something very different -- quickly getting to the thing I want. And the more the online experience replicates the offline experience, the harder such user-oriented immediacy becomes. Because user-oriented immediacy is about the atomization of a newspaper into its constituent articles, for ease of linking.

In the following paragraph, the design director comments "You can page through the entire paper in a natural and intuitive way." Which is essentially his way of saying, "I, the designer, can control your experience with our content." The readers will fight such attempts at control. They want to read news their way.

"Natural and intuitive" is also code for, "how we did it in the prior technological stage," and if such thinking were valid, you'd be steering your car with reins, and your cell phone wouldn't have storage for phone numbers, because it's more "natural and intuitive" to punch in the number from memory. Hell, your cell phone would probably have a rotary dial.

What Mr. Sulzberger and Mr. Gates don't seem to understand, or, at least, are not acknowledging, is that it's not about "newspapers" on the Internet. It's about news. They're stuck in this mindset that readers want to casually flip through an entire newspaper. In a world mediated by Google and the blogosphere, that is becoming less and less the point. I read so many articles from so many different sources that most of the time I can't remember "where" I read something (apart from, "inside my feed reader"). (A recent example was the article that ripped apart Intel's Viiv initiative; I was talking to a friend about it, and couldn't for the life of me remember where I had read it, apart from "somewhere on the Web". He reminded me that it was at the Washington Post.)

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April 26, 2006

Media - Wide-eyed and Anxious

One of the benefits of working at a services firm such as Adaptive Path is that you really get to have your fingers on the pulse of what is happening in business. For the first few years after starting our company in 2001, many of our projects were marketing-communication sites (i.e., brochureware), because even in a down economy, marketers have money.

That's changed recently. We're getting called by more product managers -- companies in an upmarket seem keen on investing in new product capabilities.

A new trend has really made itself apparent. This morning I had a conversation with a representative from a public broadcasting station. Discussions with people working for media outlets are becoming common occurrences at Adaptive Path. And what's clear is that The Media is made very anxious by the current media landscape.

Over the last month or so, we've received RFPs or other leads from: a national news channel; a national news magazine; a regional newspaper with national aspirations; and this public broadcasting station.

Each of them has had essentially the same question: What do we do? Many have realized all the opportunity they can with business as usual. And they're seeing that users are linking in (through search results, through blogs) to single articles and bouncing out. And that they are increasingly using intermediaries such as blogs and feed readers. And that community and social media sites (like Wikipedia or Youtube) are starting to eat their lunch. Oh, and that Craigslist is taking away a key source of revenue.

I don't have any glib answers. From what I can tell, the smart approaches for each of these companies has been different, depending on that organization. The only thing that does make sense is that these media companies have to be *of the Web*, not on the Web. (Okay, maybe one glib answer.) They have to embrace the principles of the sandbox, of web 2.0, of transparency and openness, of remixability and co-creation. But they are individually going to have to figure out what such principles mean for them.

I think it's an exciting time to be in media. But that's probably because I'm not in media.

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Is the number of movies I've seen on this list.

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