Dave Winer is a visiting scholar at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. He also blogs on his site, Scripting News.
I’ve always said that the Times likes to talk about a paywall, and they’ve been doing that for a long time, but when it comes time to put it up they’ll realize it cuts them off from the world, and they won’t do it. It’s like a baseball player refusing to get on a baseball field. Once you do that you stop being a baseball player.
But then corporations are capable of doing things you never thought they could possibly ever really do, when it came down to actually doing it.
1. Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) insisting that all netbooks had to run Windows 7. I figured they wouldn’t mess with a good thing and would let the OS fade into the background. Here was a chance to create some new software because netbooks could be used in places no other computer could have been used before — because of price, battery life and built-in communications. But they did manage to remove all the excitement out of the netbook product, just in time for one of the most exciting products ever, the iPad — to swamp it.
2. Twitter and the coral reef. I think they really didn’t see all the consequences as they drifted toward the model they now find themselves in. One where, in order to get revenue they had to shut down almost all the developers. The decision they announced on Friday was both impossible and inevitable. It was impossible to believe they could actuallly do it, and inevitable because they had no choice. I wonder if the founders of the company don’t now wish they had gone a different way, one where Twitter could become an indispensible new layer to the Internet, instead of a bigger and bigger obstacle to that layer, to be routed around. I don’t think in the end the founders will make much more money this way. The difference is that they bring along some very greedy people, who don’t mind foreclosing on huge amounts of creativity to make a relatively small amount of money.
Meanwhile the Times app on the iPad is slow and crashy and incomprehensible. You can’t get a quick sense of what’s going on in the world. Using the news in this environment is a lot like it was in the 70s and 80s. Sit down at the kitchen table, spread out the newspaper, and spend an hour reading. As with the News Corp (NSDQ: NWS). product, they seem to be saying “If we put a lot of effort into this we can convince people to use written news the way they used to.” They could skip it, because things like that don’t happen.
But they could do it anyway. If they really think people are going to pay a premium for a lugubrious daily news product, they’re going to be as surprised as Microsoft and Twitter. There are too many choices. The Guardian is doing great work and there’s no talk of a paywall there. They’re not as broad as the Times, yet — and they cover the world from a British perspective, and I look at things as an American. And there’s Al Jazeera, which is aggressive and competent, and probably would move quickly to fill any void left by an entity the size of the Times.
I link to the Times in my feed probably more than any other publication. I might soon have to give that up. Oh well. I stopped using my netbook too.
This article originally appeared in Scripting News.