The NYT’s Unsustainable Paywall

The New York Times has finally released the details of their paywall, and they confirm that the model is not sustainable. I have a short post up at The Atlantic Tech saying as much. Here’s the basic point:

Readers who come to Times articles through links from search, blogs and social media like Facebook and Twitter will be able to read those articles, even if they have reached their monthly reading limit. For some search engines, users will have a daily limit of free links to Times articles.This is tantamount to saying that if you’re a power-user, or even just someone heavily immersed in social media and the blogosphere, then the paywall won’t apply to you. Which is basically admitting that a paywall isn’t sustainable.

Go read the full post. And then go read 20 or more additional articles, since The Atlantic thankfully has no paywall!


Imagine a smart chair

Hearing others’ visions for the future of the Net can be inspiring.  But a lot of the time it’s not.  One thing I’m struck by with the explosion of social media, in particular, is the shallow nature of the industry’s ambition.  For every person writing about how Twitter can enable political change, five others are preparing slidedecks on how social media can offset your firm’s direct mail budget.  There’s a place for that, of course.  But one of the great things about the internet is that it invites us to consider more radical possibilities for change.

The Success of Open Source

As I was thinking about this I was reminded of a quote from the end of Steven Weber’s 2004 book The Success of Open Source, and I decided it was worth sharing.

(He’s just finished describing Wired editor Kevin Kelly’s vision of smart objects, priced in real-time.)  Weber:

Imagine a smart chair, connected to a lot of other smart things, with huge bandwidth between them, bringing transaction costs effectively to zero.  Now ask yourself, With all that processing power and all that connectivity, why would a smart chair (or a smart car or a smart person) choose to exchange information with other smart things through the incredibly small aperture of a “price”? A price is a single, mono-layered piece of data that carries extraordinarily little information in and of itself.  (Of course it is a compressed form of lots of other information, but an awful lot is lost in the process of compression.)  The question for the perfect market that I’ve envisioned above is, Why compress?  My point is that even a perfect market exchange is an incredibly thin kind of interaction, whether it happens between chairs or between people, whether it is an exchange of goods, ideas, or political bargains.  I want to emphasize that communities, regimes, and other public spheres can come in many different shapes and forms.  The “marketized” version is only one, and it is in many ways an extraordinarily narrow one that barely makes use of the technology at hand.

So there you are.  The point of this blog, really, is to take the internet up on its invitation, and to think more creatively about society and its future.


Facebook and face-to-face

I’ve blogged about this before, but I wanted to share a great post from Ed Glaeser at NYT’s Economix on how social networking – in this case Facebook – supplements in-person interaction, rather than replacing it:Facebook-icon

it isn’t clear if Facebook will increase or decrease the demand for face-to-face interactions.When theory is ambiguous, we need to turn to the data, and it seems empirically that Facebook supports, rather than replaces, in-person meetings. For example, surveys of Facebook users have found that the use of “Facebook to meet previously unknown people remained low and stable” and that “students view the primary audience for their profile to be people with whom they share an offline connection.” In other words, Facebook seems to be typically used to connect people who have connected through some other medium, like being in the same class or meeting at a party, which seems to suggest complementarity between meeting face-to-face and connecting on Facebook.

Another paper looks at whether people who are good at face-to-face interactions made greater use of social-networking sites. The study examined a group of 13- to 14-year-olds in 1998-9 and rated their ability to connect well in person with a close friend. In 2006-8, those same people were asked about their involvement with social-networking sites.

The people who were better at interacting face-to-face in adolescence had more friends on social-networking sites as young adults. Again, electronic interactions seem to complement face-to-face connections.


Apple’s music social network, Ping, and a followup on Facebook feeds

After my last post, I had a few conversations with friends about a categorized or sortable Facebook feed.  The point of my post was as much about how Facebook could have better managed the transition from profiles to feeds as it was about categorizing updates, but the latter was, for whatever reason, what I ended up debating.

What I heard from multiple people was, basically, “I don’t use Facebook that way.”  As far as I can tell, my friends mostly use Facebook to post pictures, view pictures, and write on walls.

Perhaps this is the wrong conclusion to draw, but I think this is just more evidence that Facebook is continuing to miss out on an opportunity.  The people I spoke to aren’t thinking about Facebook as a tool for discovering new music, books, interests, etc. because Facebook hasn’t made it easy for them to do so.

If my friends are any indication (and perhaps they’re not?), Facebook users view the platform as a place to see what their friends are up to, and to stay in touch.  They don’t see it as an unprecedented social graph with massive potential to inform and recommend various aspects of their lives.

But that’s what it is.

Perhaps the introduction of a music social network by Apple will spur innovation at Facebook.  After all, is a sortable/categorized news feed really all that much to ask?  Maybe I’m nuts, but I think people would learn to appreciate it quickly.

UPDATE: Apparently, Facebook is testing a feature to “subscribe” to certain friends, to be sure you don’t miss any of their updates.  I have nothing to say about this now, and it’s not directly related to what I’m talking about, but I’ll count it as news feed innovation.


Social media, email and relationship inflation

Umair Haque has a post at Harvard Business Review advancing the following hypothesis which he dubs “relationship inflation”:

Despite all the excitement surrounding social media, the Internet isn’t connecting us as much as we think it is. It’s largely home to weak, artificial connections, what I call thin relationships.

A year ago I was blogging as part of a class on Social Media & Business at American University and I wrote a post that touched on a related issue: how email use affects relationships.  I’ve reposted it below.

In short, I I think Umair may be right about the devaluation of the term “relationship” but I’m not convinced that the addition of thin relationships through social media has any negative impact on thick relationships, though I’d love to take a look at research bearing directly on this topic.

My original post “Online or in person? We can (and do) have it both ways” is reposted after the jump.

Continue reading Social media, email and relationship inflation