All your emo are belong to Russia

Remember Livejournal? All your angst posts about poignant Vagrant Records band lyrics? Selfies (before we called them that) of your pixie cut? Or crucial fades? Stupid surveys…  It’s safe to say that it played a major role in my social life as young adult years and I have most fond memories of that place.

I’d always known that Livejournal became super popular in Russia sometime after I stopped frequenting the site regularly. I sort of left it at that, assuming it was one of those quirky Russian internet things. Turns out it might be a lot more sinister.

The latest episode of – the excellent podcast – ReplyAll tells an interesting story of what happened with Livejournal and Russia.

Spoiler alert: nearly 10 years after its purchase by a Russian company, Livejournal’s servers finally relocated to Russian soil. It’s not much of a stretch to assume that the FSB and friends have direct access to any of your old content that might still be living there….

On Winnipeg Free Press’ Pay-Per-Article Paywall

Last week, the editor of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote an article making a (rather poor) case for their upcoming “innovative” paywall experience. Harvard’s Neiman Journalism Labs even picked it up and wrote a great article breaking down the nitty gritty. Simply put the Winnipeg Free Press plans to charge every single reader $0.27/article (billed monthly). Nobody in North America is doing this and nobody in the world has tried anything quite like this, so in that regard, it truly is an innovative idea.

However, there is a fine line between an innovative and a bad idea.

As far as I can tell based on the information they’ve released, Freep’s plan falls on the bad side of that line. Whatever committee makes these decisions at The Free Press seem to be misunderstanding some fairly basic principles about how the web works.

User Experience

For starters, any sort of road block that requires a user to create an account before getting to content is a significant barrier to entry. As usability pioneers Neilsen Norman Group put it “Login walls do not belong in the initial experience.” If a user clicks through to a news article from social media and is presented with a login wall, that user will just leave, period. I have a hard time believing that the Free Press’ research would show otherwise. The news market in Winnipeg has a lot of viable free/ad-supported content. Three daily newspapers, a vibrant sub-reddit and blogging scene. If someone wants to find out about something on the internet, they are going to visit the first site that actually displays information without making them jump through hoops.

There is a reason that successful paywalls like the NYT’s show users X number of free articles before ever asking them to sign up or pay. It’s not because these papers don’t need to maximize their online revenues. Precisely the opposite, they understand that presenting a paywall to every; single; drive-by visitor is going to do more harm than good.

Micro Payments

$0.27/article is hardly a “micro” payment.

$0.27/article is outrageous, maybe even just plain greedy!

Anybody who’s dealt with online advertising can come to this conclusion fairly quickly. The revenue earned by a individual webpage (ie. the cost to advertise) is calculated in CPM (cost per thousand views), $0.27/article works out to $270CPM. The going rate for the an ad on a highly popular website with a good audience in a desired demographic $70 – $100CPM, possibly upwards of $150 – $200CPM for a large takeover type ad. When The North Face advertises on wired.com, they’re looking at advertising budgets in that ballpark. On the other hand, an ad on Facebook or Google AdSense will cost an advertiser $0.50 – $5.00.

If I had to guess, the rates for advertising on winnipegfreepress.com are likely in the $50CPM range. So from that perspective the Winnipeg Free Press is attempting to charge their readers 2-5x as much as they charge their advertisers!

When compared to other media/entertainment the Free Press’ pricing model doesn’t make a lot of sense either. In the article, the editor writes “If you are a Winnipeg Jets fan, then you can assemble a month’s worth of game stories and Gary Lawless analysis that will cost you as little as $8.00.”

One month’s worth of hockey analysis costs as just shy of a Netflix or Rdio subscription. The pricing is totally out of whack.

Ad-Support. You’re the Product.

When a business is based on an ad-supported model, the reader is not the customer. The readership is the product, the advertisers are the customers. When you read an ad-supported website, you may not be handing over any money, but not getting the content for free either. Every time you load a page you are handing over valuable demographic information. I think most people understand this by now, but it’s worth reiterating.

Normally, when an industry experiences increased production costs, they pass those costs on to the customer. When the price of fuel goes up, airlines increase the costs of fares, grocery stores increase the cost of produce.

If a business is losing revenue, will try to present their customers with new and innovative products. Charging readers for access is doing nothing to create a more innovative product for the Free Press’ real customers, the advertisers. If anything, it’ll turn potential readers aways, decreasing the Free Press’ ad inventory.


Obviously I realize that newspapers and magazines have always cost money for as long as they’ve existed. But I had always thought that those costs were covering the cost of printing and distribution. In the past, newspaper ads paid the larger fixes costs of producing news, running a large company and lining the pockets of their investors. At least until Craig’s List came along and killed classifieds.
I understand that quality news-gathering costs money. If the Winnipeg Free Press’ cost are anywhere near as high as the exorbitant per-article rates they are rolling out, then they really are in trouble. And that’s too bad.
I wish them luck.

Newsworthy Turns One

NewsWorthy.ca

One year ago this week, the Newsworthy.ca bot started ingesting Canada’s local news. In celebration of the site’s one year anniversary, I added two new features: continuous scroll – you can keep reading the news forever; default edition – you can now set your default city.

Out of curiosity pulled some stats from the database.

  • Since September 2012, Canadian online media have posted over 140,000 news items.
  • The busiest news day was July 21, 2013 which was the second day of mandatory evacuation during the Calgary Flood.
  • The second busiest day was May 2, 2013 Toronto posted over 860 stories that day, most important story was the Ontario 2013 provincial budget.

If you’ve never been to the site and you love news, check it out: Newsworthy.ca. Follow the site on Twitter @newsworthyca..

Google Reader is Dead. NewsWorthy.ca to the rescue!

NewsWorthy.ca NewsWorthy.ca is a project I’ve been working on for the past few months. In a nutshell, it’s a better way to get all the latest local news in one place. Sites like Reddit and Google News are a good way to get the “best” or “most important” stories of the day. But they sometimes fail at surfacing up to date, breaking news. If you’re a news hound like me, I think you’ll find NewsWorthy quite useful.

With Google announcing their intentions to shut down Google Reader, today seemed like the perfect day to pull off the “alpha” wrapper and release it to the wild!

At the moment, NewsWorthy only supports Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal. I’m looking for the best1 news source in every Canadian city. If you’d like to recommend sources in your city, feel free to email me..

  1. “best” means, updated frequently and intensely focused on local news []

Seth Godin Teaches a Good Lesson About Design

[A guest post by Karam Debly]

Through a friend, I learned that Seth Godin put out a call on his blog for developers to apply to build a mobile app.

I wrote the following in my application.

“I’m writing to tell you that I don’t think your blog, which i love, warrants an app.

We believe strongly in responsive design and your site should be designed to look good on any platform.

I have a hunch that if people are asking you for an app they are either responding to trends or telling you your site doesn’t look good on mobile devices and/or tablets.

A solid designer should be trying to solve a problem, not building you shit you don’t need.”

I wrote that quickly. Besides grammar, I would change the last sentence. Solid is vague, I mean responsible.

I have since looked at his site and blog (I should’ve looked before I hit send, I can be impulsive). Both sites don’t work on common mobile and tablet screen resolutions.

There’s a great lesson here.

What do you tell a potential client who is asking for a proposal for something that you think is missing the problem in the first place? Even if that potential client is Seth Godin.

I would ask the client to back up and describe the problem in more detail.

Is the problem really that Seth Godin doesn’t have a mobile app? Or is that a symptom of the problem?

The problem, in my humble opinion, is that his site doesn’t work on smaller screens. It’s very difficult to read. Mobile users aren’t tolerating pinch to zoom anymore. And they shouldn’t. Designers have built a better way to interact with a site on smaller screens.

I think Mobile apps can be useful. It’s just that none of the other details he wrote warrant an app either. He’s not interested in monetization (Let’s be honest, that’s a big reason for mobile app development). The main feature for the app is that it displays articles from his RSS feed and links to sell his books. Oh, and share buttons for social media. These are all features that could be easily incorporated in a responsive site. There’s one vague requirement that I’m just going to interpret as “anything else you think would be cool” and leave it out of this.

Seth doesn’t need a mobile app. He needs a new site. And a responsible design company would tell him that. I’m surprised he missed something this obvious. I’m also surprised that no one around him pointed out his mistake. However, I won’t be surprised that mobile app developers won’t mention that. They are responding to his call after all.

Seth messed up, it happens. Don’t let your clients make the same mistake. They might end up blaming you. They should. You’re supposed to be the expert.

P.S. I put TBD in the Budget field of my application..