Newpapers, Information & The Future

The storm the newspaper industry is trying to cook up early this week has been in my mind the past couple of days.

Here’s the situation: The print newspapers in the U.S. is really feeling the economic crunch and one by one, print newspapers are shutting down. The thing is, it’s not solely the economic recession’s fault that newspaper publishers are losing money– more and more people are getting their news online for free. What the newspapers are doing now is taking an offensive against aggregators of their content (*cough*Google*cough*) and get what they deserve.

To the papers, it seems obvious: between the economy and the internet, they believe they have some semblance of control on the latter. But Google CEO Eric Schmidt snapped back at the papers and said that the whole industry should adapt to the changing market.

I may sound biased but I’m siding with Google on this one– the whole information & media industry has dramatically transformed that it took one global recession to magnify the sea change. It’s not just newspapers, but it also includes movies, television and radio. What the traditional media needs is a sound business model to be sustainable in a world with an abundance of information.

I still believe that information that we get on the internet is not free– we have to spend on the broadband connection to get the news and we have to pay for the electricity and the computer with which we consume the information. What’s happening is that the papers have found themselves cut-off from the value chain, that is, they are not getting a share of our wallets. Newspapers have gotten their a piece of the action primarily from advertisers. But since the economy took a nosedive, ad revenues have followed suit.

In an ideal world, the newspapers can have a business model similar to cable television or movies– they can charge with either a subscription-based or “pay-per-view” business model. But here’s the rub: what the newspapers are offering are available elsewhere without cost. Quality may not be up to par, but information can be obtained in foreign newspapers, blogs, and even social networks. My theory is that average folks these days are happy with “good enough” quality of information and that the value that the New York Times of the world is bringing or adding to information is no longer that high.

The decline of traditional print media has been followed by a lot of pundits and bloggers alike and the U.S. newspaper industry is now in survival mode. (Time has a great article on how to make newspapers viable again.) They want to convince the consumers that they should pay up. But it may be too late for them to reverse the habit of people who are used to “free” information. So now what?

I think the problem of the papers is the scale of their operations. Simply put, they’re too costly and trying to cover too much. Maybe what we’re going to see in the future is the “specialization” of information sources– papers will cover less and focus on more specific topics, like opinion or business inights, and “outsource” the rest to other newspapers with the domain expertise.

“Information Outsourcing?” Yeah, it sounds crazy. But who knows? It might save the print newspaper business.

Reviewing Standard Web Standards’ Focus

I’ve been maintaining Standard Web Standards for almost four years now (well, it’s not that long, but in the blogosphere, I would probably qualify as an early adopter) and I’ve seen some changes in the awareness of Web Standards (ie, standards-compliant code, XHTML, CSS, etc.) in the last few years.

I was spurred to create this blog because back then I was doing a lof of web design projects (and designing sites myself) and I was frustrated with the fact that some browsers (*cough*IE*cough*) were misbehaving. But on the bigger picture, I saw Web Standards as a great and practical way for us web designers to elevate the the craft and, arguably, the industry. In 2005, “Web Standards” was a very narrow and geeky space.

Now is a different story. The stranglehold of Internet Explorer on the browser market share is loosening and more websites (especially the new ones) now are written “the standards way.” On a personal level, I’ve changed as well– I’ve been doing less of the design & production side and doing more of the management & marketing side of the web. (That’s why you’ve been seeing a lot of blog posts those topics lately).

That’s why I took some time to review the direction of Standard Web Standards. And my ruminations have brought me to the conclusion to go back to basics. That is, to have this blog go back to its Web Standards roots. (I’ve also decided to put the internet marketing-related matters in my internet marketing blog.).

To be honest, I think my strategy for this blog will result in less updates as the Web Standards scene isn’t as hot as it used to be. Case in point: The number of Web Standards-related articles have been going down, according to Google. Here’s what my research found:

  • 2000 – 1,770 articles
  • 2001 – 1,770 articles
  • 2002 – 1,840 articles
  • 2003 – 2,090 articles
  • 2004 – 2,220 articles
  • 2005 – 2,460 articles
  • 2006 – 2,130 articles
  • 2007 – 1,730 articles
  • 2008 – 1,700 articles

But nonetheless, I hope the direction I’m taking will give me more focus in writing blog posts about web standards.

Facebook’s New Design

Facebook's new design

I opened Facebook this morning and I was greeted by a new user interface. The site owners did send a notice a few days back about an impending change on the layout and interaction design of the social networking site. But for some reason, the design has left me scratchign my head.

On Facebook’s redesign last year, I thought it was a more gradual change and a better transition. When I saw the new interface last year, there more tooltips and helpers that guided users on the new layouts.

As for the user interface itself, it marked the return of the three-column layout in the user’s home page. (3-column layouts are utilized in other sections of the site). This move could have been a response to an insight that user’s monitor resolutions are getting bigger (or it might have been a response to the whole “Facebook copied Multiply’s design” issue that have festered since last year).

Either way, Facebook’s new design could disorient a great deal of users. For one, the site now mashes together the status updates, link sharing, note writing, and photo & video posting into one “Share” box. This could help power users, but the hidden labels could cause some user frustration.

Another is the combination of application events, photo comments, event announcements on the right column and calling it “Highlights.” Again this is another form of a generalizing strategy where Facebook thinks that the main column is better used with more status updates and less “noise” by default.

In my opinion, the most useful feature of the new interaction is the use of the right column to filter the stream appearing on the main column. It takes some getting used to, but it’s powerful, in terms of making the main news stream more relevant.

Over-all, Facebook could have made the transition a little smoother. The generalization philosophy and filtering mechanisms are great, but could be frustrating without the proper introduction.