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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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Posted by peterme at April 29, 2006 10:31 PM

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