For news consumers, news fulfils a number of discrete functions that traditionally happen to be packaged up as a newspaper or broadcast. One is informative: to find out what has happened in the world since e.g. yesterday (which can normally be summarised in a few lines and read in seconds). One is social: to pick up relevant conversation points (a function of news that incidentally becomes decreasingly powerful as fewer people consume news). And one is entertainment (or distraction, perhaps humanity's "primary discretionary need" in an era of abundance): commuter newspapers fill a commute, weekend newspapers help one more pleasantly idle away a Sunday morning.
Reaching out to younger potential news consumers with a slight recut of the traditional news package, when they have already successfully and unilaterally depackaged the functions of news from traditional delivery platforms, unsurprisingly failed. AS Steve Yelvington says, RIP Asap.
With shades of the old Asimov short story A Perfect Fit, MySpace has removed the profiles of 29,000 sex offenders from its social networking site. TechCrunch points out the task took a while to complete because sex offender databases in the US are poorly coordinated. Horizon of Stars suggests that perpetual analytics would be a more efficient solution for the future than a single, massive database. No-one seems to question whether people who have already been punished for a crime by the courts should suffer the additional punishment of exclusion from what is increasingly obviously the primary communications platform of the early C21st, or indeed whether MySpace management is the appropriate judicial authority to levy that punishment. It is obvious that children should be protected from predators. It is less obvious (to me) that this should give News Corp executives carte blanche to withhold a vital public service from potentially rehabilitated offenders.
Reasonably neat idea - Googlereport.org aggregates data from Wikipedia and selected Google results to produce a report on any search term. Now all it needs is a function for users to rate the quality of the selected constituents of each report so as to improve future reports and we'd have a a great peer-rated search summary tool. Also, try typing your own name in - it has some potential as an automated people search tool.
I'm rewatching Twin Peaks at the moment, having discovered that although the second season still hasn't been released on DVD in the UK the Dutch edition contains an option to watch the whole thing in the original English. So. Last night I watched the second episode of season one, and relived that moment at the end of the episode when Cooper visits the Black Lodge and audiences around the world (my 14-year-old self included) realised that David Lynch was changing television forever.
About 22 hours of the best damned television ever made to go.
"The media’s obsession with beauty, wealth and fame blights every issue
it touches, but none more so than green politics. There is an inherent
conflict between the aspirational lifestyle journalism that makes
readers feel better about themselves and sells country kitchens, and
the central demand of environmentalism - that we should consume less."
The thrust of his argument is that ethical/green/carbon offset products have been incremental, not substitutive, and have just added to the piles of needless crap we all buy rather than helped the problem, which in his view is excessive consumption.
This looks at first glance like a problem for which the default economic solution is sadly inapplicable. Some people (Monbiot and followers) would like us all to consume less so as to reduce the risk of future environmental disaster. Some people would like continue enjoying consumption at the current rate and accept the trade-off of an increased risk of environmental calamity. The standard economic fix would be for the first group to pay the second to consume less, if they were able. I think that can't work here because the point of the transfer would be to prevent consumption - and few potential consumers would accept payments that were conditional on their agreement not to spend them.
Monbiot's own prescription, collective action, can't work either says Lloyd Sheppard. Which leaves the dilemma that this seems to be a problem that neither politics nor the market will easily solve. Ideally, though, I'm missing some obvious solution and one of you will be kind enough to point out what it is.
rudeness (note how cross-selling is ahead of rudeness? You can
politely try to sell people things they don't want, but from a customer
satisfaction point of view you'd have been better off just swearing at
poor returns policy
According to AdAge "about three-quarters of the 1,300 people surveyed in
December 2006 said that annoyances have prompted them to walk away
without making a planned purchase of $50 or more". Moreover 70% of customers said they would shop elsewhere "if the competitor does not cause their most troubling service annoyance and the favourite retailer does not eliminate it".
See a familiar pattern here? Retail moves online not just because prices are lower or choice along the long tail is greater - the annoyances of being sold to are absent also. (Hence, perhaps, the particular detestation that is reserved for the bait-and-switch merchants that occasionally crop up on shopping aggregators and in paid search - the horror that despite our concerted efforts the salesmen have followed us here.)
I've commented before that some of the biggest commercial success stories online are those where the web helps buyers minimise unpleasant encounters with salespeople: property, recruitment, cars. (An aside: perhaps Amazon makes so little profit because book buyers won't pay a premium to avoid bookshops.) And of course advertising, where the unprecedented success of Google's automated ad booking system owes a little to the measurable effectiveness of the ads but perhaps also a little to the way it lets buyers avoid unpleasant interactions with salespeople. I refer again to David Weinberger's wise words:
"What appears to the business to be its 'added value' turned out to be mere inefficiency in the customer's eyes."
Too many retailers seem to be locked into a strategy of harvesting their dwindling customer base for whatever short-term gains they can wring out, and disregarding the long-term defection of their customers to a medium where - they ardently hope - no-one will try to sell them anything.
In an interesting Wall Street Journal interview today, Google's Chief Economist Hal Varian claims that it's "easy to switch" search engine. I disagree. People don't (often) switch search engine for the same reason they don't (often) switch newspaper or political party - they are paying with their loyalty for the luxury of (rational) ignorance.
From the WSJ interview:
"WSJ: Is Google an example of a "winner take all" market, where "network effects" make it more valuable as it gets more users?
Varian: I don't think [search] is a winner take all market at all,
because it's so easy to switch. You type a different URL into your
browser. For eBay, the buyers want to go where there are the most
sellers are and the sellers want to go where the buyers are. [In
search] the advertisers want to be where the most users are [but] the
users don't want to be where there are the most advertisers."
Although search doesn't enjoy the same market effect as eBay* it isn't at all trivial to type a new search URL into your browser (and not because of the installed search bar or the extensions, which ultimately impose switching costs which are trivial). The switching costs are substantial, just non-obvious.
In theory, it should be very easy for people to switch newspapers or even political parties as switch search engine...but historically they switch search engine onlyonce, as they develop the online confidence/experience to abandon their default ISP/browser engine for Google; they very seldom do switch newspaper; and the last time we saw a significant switch in political allegiance in Britain was the effectively complete abandonment of the Liberal party for Labour after the first world war. (With the possible exception of Wallace in 1968, modern attempts to create a significant political shift in the US have produced only laughable results).
What for the sake of shorthand we call "trust" in media is a rational consumer choice of an apparently reliable source that will do the hard labour of validation for us. People like to appear consistent to both themselves and others (see as ever Cialdini's Influence for the argument) and it isn't rational for them to laboriously check sources themselves every time they want some information. Hence (if you'll forgive some simplification) "trust" in media and especially in a particular newspaper; hence minimal instances of people switching away again from Google; hence this relatively targeted form of rational ignorance that leads people to, quite reasonably, engage as infrequently as possible in the disruptive process of deciding what source of information to trust and then sticking with it.
(Which might lead us to ask the obvious follow-up question - why Google in particular? For which I continue to answer that Google has pulled a brilliant PR trick in making us think of a probabilistic system, at which our minds should naturally recoil, as a source of definitive authority. More on this argument here, or in its original framing by Chris Anderson here.)
*Except insofar as paid search results are content - which, since they really do provide a valuable set of additional links for users, they must be, making it possible that searchers will concentrate where the most (relevant) advertisers are
Recent announcements by Ask, Microsoft and Google aimed to assuage searchers' fears for their privacy seem to me to miss the point. I don't want new industry standards where some search engines (or governments) get together and decide how long they'll store my data for and what they'll do with it. I want ToS that encourage user-side solutions to search engine users' legitimate privacy concerns - like, for example, extension TrackMeNot that runs interference on search tracking by generating multiple generic searches so the real ones get lost in the noise.
Also...the claim by Ask that "too much" privacy would be bad because it would create a haven for child predators smacks of bullshit - child predators are the witches or the communists of the Internet age and arguments that resort to blaming them should be automatically suspect. (Do we have a version of Godwin's Law to describe the phenomenon of trying to justify any web policy by blaming a need to track/obstruct online paedophiles? We sure need one.)