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25 May

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Guardian: We need to become a platform!

May 25, 2010 | By |

Now here’s a bold move by a major newspaper: The Guardian is becoming a platform.

And boy, is that a smart move compared to many other newspapers that try to lock up their content and try charging readers directly, be it by subscription model or pay-per-view.

Quoting GigaOM:

While some newspapers like the Times of London and the New York Times have either implemented or are expected to launch paywalls for their content, The Guardian in Britain has taken the exact opposite approach: Not only does it give its content away for free to readers, but through its “open platform” and API, it allows developers and companies to take its content as well, and do whatever they want with it — including building it into commercial applications.

It’s interesting to see so much movement in the newspaper market. Just earlier today I’ve discussed with a friend how it comes that so many people don’t read newspapers anymore in paper. (Including myself: The days when I had a newspaper subscription are long gone. These days I occasionally buy a newspaper for certain articles – usually when journalist friends recommend it – or read all my stuff online, usually for free. I do buy print magazines and subscribe, for example, to Wired UK. Of course, that’s a purchase more as a fetish than for its actual use, plus I want to support some magazines because they rock. Not sure how a tablet device might change my behavior there. I also subscribe to a wearable magazine.) Long story short, a theory bubbled up: That maybe we (our group of freelancers in the discussion) don’t read newspapers anymore since we stopped commuting. Asking Twitter about this theory, the response was clear: Some pointed out that there are more reasons than just the commute. One was even harsher. One mentioned that other media like podcasts suffered the same problem. But no one defended newspapers. Ouch.

German newspaper taz announced to experiment with donations through Flattr. Traditionally left-leaning, taz had been ad-free online until 2006, for both better or worse: of course there’s not much money to be had without ads in a strong ad market, but there’s much less to lose in a bad ad market like we’ve seen recently. For taz with their strongly committed reader base, donations might turn out well – the rational certainly makes sense. The question will be: Is Flattr the right platform? It’s still tough to provide readers an easy, hassle-free way to send money your way on a non-subscription basis, particularly in Germany where credit cards just aren’t ubiquitous.

But back to the Guardian. Where German publishers have been complaining about Google News “stealing” their content and making money off of it (both parts of this statement not necessarily true as Google only quotes teasers and doesn’t run ads on Google News), the Guardian not only gives away their content, but encourages commercial use:

“We not only say that you can use the content in a commercial application, we encourage it,” Thorpe said. “It gets our content to places where it wouldn’t be otherwise, and then we can build relationships with content partners around that.” The platform, which is still in the experimental stage, has attracted about 2,000 developers who have signed up for the API and created over 200 apps and web services. Platform developer Matt McAlister has called it an attempt to “weave The Guardian into the fabric of the Internet.”

The Guardian’s “developer advocate” Chris Thorpe summarizes the move:

Update (31 May 2010): On a related note, the BBC plans to increase the number of outbound clicks from its site by 2013. That right: They aim to double the number of readers they send away. Someone got it right!

11 Sep

By

Next-generation content management for newspapers (is in the making)

September 11, 2008 | By |

Image: Howard Beatty by Flickr User Ann Althouse, CC licensed (by-nc)Steve Yelvington helps newspapers get the web. Newspapers have a hard time adapting the new ways of the web, what with all this user-generated content, changing consumer habits and dropping sales. It’s a huge cultural problem – traditional vs new vs social media – too. (And it’s not that newspapers, their editors or their management are stupid. Of course they aren’t. Still, they struggling.)

Working with Morris DigitalWorks, Steve is working on a next-generation news site management system. Quite a claim to fame, but both his track record and the few details he already shares back it up. So what’s different here?

We’re integrating a lot more social-networking functionality, which we think is an important tool for addressing the “low frequency” problem that most news sites face. We’re going to be aggressive aggregators, pulling in RSS feeds from every community resource we can find, and giving our users the ability to vote the results up/down. We’ll link heavily to all the sources, including “competitors.” Ranking/rating, commenting, and RSS feeds will be ubiquitous. Users of Twitter, Pownce and Friendfeed will be able to follow topics of interest. We’re also experimenting with collaborative filtering, something I’ve been interested in since I met the developers of GroupLens in the mid-1990s. It’s how Amazon offers you books and products that interest you: People whose behavior is the most like yours have looked at/bought/recommended this other thing.

That’s music in my ears. The whole thing is based on Drupal, which has always been strong on community features. Here, it seems, the whole platform will be aimed at creating mashups, drawing in RSS feeds, pushing them around and spitting them out. In the end, you should end up with a pretty lively site full of both professionally produced and user-generated content and commentary. Of course, by providing both input and output channels for RSS feeds, the data isn’t restricted to just the website, it lives on beyond, way in the cloud.

And the best thing: Usability-wise it’ll be aimed not at techies, but at editors. No major coding necessary:

Open tools and open platforms are great for developers, but what we really want to do is place this kind of power directly in the hands of content producers. They won’t have to know a programming language, or how databases work, or even HTML to create special presentations based on database queries. Need a new XML feed? Point and click.

That’s great news, and certainly a project to watch closely. Can’t wait to see the launch. October it is.

(via Strange Attractor)

Note: So far, the CMS code hasn’t been released under a GPL, but they’ve pledged to do so. All in good time.

Image: Howard Beatty by Flickr User Ann Althouse, released under Creative Commons (by-nc)