Category Archives: Web/Tech

News and Record’s Weak Pricing Logic

The Greensboro News & Record announced a new digital subscription model that its editor explained in a front page piece of today’s paper. After explaining that all 7-day print subscribers will get digital access for free he described the digital subscription model:

After a special introductory period with rates as low as $9.99 per month, a digital-only subscription will cost slightly more than a seven-day print subscription.

The reason for that variance? A print subscription permits us to subsidize the cost of content by providing access to your home or business for preprinted advertising circulars. A digital-only subscription lacks that advertising subsidy.

Readers who have no subscription may view up to 20 articles or photo galleries every 30 days at no charge. There is no limit on viewing selected content, such as many wire service stories and classified ads.

Here’s the thing: consumers don’t give a sh** why you’re pricing your digital subscription at whatever level it’s priced, they only care that the product is worth the price. What matters to them is whether or not they are getting bang for their buck. Is the content that the N&R is producing worth the price of admission? If so then people will gladly pay it, if not then they’ll find what they need elsewhere or just go without.

I’m willing to bet that part of the thinking is that people will just decide to get the print subscription, and thus opt in to the advertising subsidy, if they price the digital-only higher than the print+ option. That’s logical in a way, but ignores the reality that they have to produce content that’s compelling enough for people to pay for it whether it’s print or digital. They might think they’ve lost a ton of subscribers because those subscribers believe they can get the N&R’s content at the N&R website, but it’s more likely that they lost subscribers because much of the content readers used to get exclusively from the paper – stuff like syndicated columns, wire reports, classified ads, national news, etc. – is now available from a variety of sources. That means the N&R’s only unique product offering is local news/data/information and the last time I looked they hadn’t expanded their local coverage or deepened their editorial bench, which makes it hard to imagine the product being perceived as worthy of the price they’re asking.

Bitcoin 101

Here’s a nice primer on Bitcoin from BoingBoing:

Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer network, a set of protocols (standards for interoperability), client interfaces (called wallets) and a currency that operates on top of all of those technologies. The bitcoin system allows any person to send or receive a fraction of a bitcoin (the currency unit) to another person, anywhere in the world. The bitcoin system operates on the Internet without the need for banks or bank accounts and allows people to send money like they send email.

To start using bitcoin, you need a bitcoin client, or “wallet” application. The bitcoin client allows you to use the bitcoin network, just like a web browser allows you to use the web. There are many different types and makers of bitcoin wallets, for desktop and mobile operating systems and also available as web applications. To receive bitcoin, you need a bitcoin “address”, which is a bit like an email address or bank account number. If someone knows your bitcoin address, they can send you money, but cannot do anything more, not even identify who you are or where you are. Therefore, you can freely share your bitcoin addresses with anyone without fear or security risk. Once you have a “wallet,” it can create any number of bitcoin addresses for you, even one per transaction. Give those addresses to anyone you want to send you bitcoin. Tip: bitcoin addresses are created by your wallet and do not need to be registered with anyone, or linked to your identity or email address. They can be used immediately to receive money from anyone and become part of the network once they have some bitcoin sent to them. Bitcoin addresses always start with the number “1” and they look like a long string of number. One of my bitcoin addresses is “1andreas3batLhQa2FawWjeyjCqyBzypd”. This is known as a vanity address, because it has my name in the beginning, but it works just the same as if it was a long string of random letters and numbers. I use it to receive tips and donations from people all around the world.

The remainder of the article explains the entire process, including how to pay for things using bitcoins, tips on securing your bitcoin keys, how to find vendors that accept bitcoins, etc.

Dad, Have You Heard of Bitcoin?

My wife and I were driving our son to school on the way to work and in the middle of the trip he asked, “Dad, have you heard of Bitcoin?” I think he was surprised and maybe even a little impressed that I had. I know for a fact that I was VERY impressed that he had. What ensued for the remaining few minutes of the ride was a discussion of bitcoin and a fumbling attempt by both me and my son to describe to my wife what it was. That’s when I realized I only vaguely understood how it might work. How fortuitous, then, that I found this article in today’s Wall Street Journal about Dish Network accepting Bitcoins for payment:

Bitcoin took another step toward mainstream recognition as satellite-TV provider Dish Network Corp. DISH -1.38% will become the largest company yet known to accept payments in the digital currency.

The move shows the resilience of the currency after a string of scandals and regulatory actions raised doubts about bitcoin’s future. The collapse of a major trading exchange helped lead bitcoin to lose two-thirds of its value in four months, but its price has rallied 27% over the past week. Coindesk’s Bitcoin Price Index was quoted at $565.55 at late afternoon in New York…

Dish said it will use Coinbase, a San Francisco-based bitcoin-payment processor, to process the payments, using that firm’s Instant Exchange feature. That means that although its customers will transfer bitcoins through an online facility, Coinbase will absorb the digital currency and remit dollars to Dish.

The Dark Side of the Trust Economy

While we’re all celebrating the coolness of the “trust economy” – you know, those services like airbnb and Uber – someone asks a pretty good question:

“It all sounds great, at least according to the fawning sycophants who provide all of us out here in the provinces with such worshipful coverage of the amazing achievements of the Techno-Demigods. And it is great as long as you don’t bother to ask (or care) whypeople are suddenly employing themselves as improvised innkeepers and taxi drivers. After all, does anyone really want to let some strangers stay in their home for a few bucks? To drive some trust fund asshole to the airport on Saturday after a 45 hour week? I doubt it. People turn to the “Trust Economy” because they’re somewhere between financially stressed and desperate. They don’t make enough or they’re without any steady source of income at all. They do it for the same reason that people go to work at a temp agency or loiter in a Home Depot parking lot to do day labor: because they have no better options…

It’s remarkable how many of the recent Big Developments from the omniscient men of the Valley have managed to make the lives of the well-off easier without actually creating any jobs that pay a livable salary or have benefits. Oh, and they convince the media to cover these breakthroughs in a way that makes it sound like they’re doing you a favor. You’re free at last, free at last. Say goodbye to the chains of full time employment and hello to the boundless freedom of working piecemeal, making phone calls on Mechanical Turk for a quarter and driving Damon the Junior Content Developer to the airport so he can spend the weekend in Cozumel with his frat bros.”

How’s that for some cold water on yet another new-economy-shiny-thing?

Thanks to Lex for the pointer to what promises to be another time-sucker of a blog to follow.

Well Duh

Sometimes you just have to be slapped upside the head to have some sense driven into you. I was catching up on some reading and came across this piece from Sasha Dichter and these words struck a chord with me:

In today’s world we all are continually experimenting with the lines between connection / productivity / responsiveness and distraction / rudeness.  Two colleagues of mine suggested the following four rules for managing incoming email and handheld devices, which I liked:

  1. Turn off desktop alerts of new emails coming in (the little box that pops up)  (in Outlook: File > Options > Mail > Message Arrival > Uncheck “Display a Desktop Alert”)
  2. No reading email before breakfast
  3. No reading email while in transit
  4. No phone or email in the bedroom

My own scorecard is as follows:

  1. I turned of desktop alerts for new emails about a month ago and I love it.
  2. I almost never read email before breakfast and when I do it’s a sign that I’m under a crazy deadline or stressed for some other reason.
  3. Hmmm.  I made a rule a couple of years ago not to look at my phone while in elevators, and I’ve stuck to that (it had become a reflex), but I spend enough time in transit that I don’t know that I can commit to this one.
  4. I do have my phone in the bedroom but I can honestly say it’s 95% as a time-piece and alarm

In reality these four rules are a really low bar.  Increasingly I think we will all be playing with the limits and rules that work for us, and everyone’s line will be different.  What makes me nervous is when I get reflexive about checking.  That sort of unconscious behavior feels unproductive. (Emphasis mine)

My wife has flat out told me it annoys her how much I check my phone. At the table, when we go to bed, etc. and today when I was checking out at a store I realized I was checking my phone even before the clerk was saying thank you. In other words I'm being exceptionally rude to the people around me, and what bothers me most is I'm certain I'm missing signifcant chunks of conversation with my family. My kids are only a few years from flying the coop permanently – two of them are already in college – so this is just crazy behavior. Do I seriously want to waste the limited days they're still under my roof with my nose stuck in my phone? Obviously not.

For some reason it took reading a stranger's blog to bring me to that "Well, duh" conclusion. I plan on using some of his rules augmented with some of my own to do better.

 

The Bikeshed Effect

Over at the Atlantic Wire they ask the question, "Why do we care about things that don't really matter?" Here's one reason:

The Bikeshed Effect, more formally known as Parkinson's Law of Triviality derived from the humor book Parkinson's Law, is "the principle that the amount of discussion is inversely proportional to the complexity of the topic," as explained in Producing Open Source Software: How to Run a Successful Free Software Project. The most classic and titular example is that people care more about the color of a bike shed than the decision to build a nuclear plant because they know about colors and don't know about nuclear power.

As they go on to point out the effect influences what we talk about and thus what generates "discussion" in our modern world:

Since everyone needs to say something — especially on the Internet — these mundane things get talked about often and with vigor. Meanwhile, the more complex questions — like "How Will Yahoo Increase CPM's Given Current Trends in Digital Advertising?" — get much less attention because most people can't comment with any intelligence, as The Guardian's Oliver Burkman explained in his column "Why trivia is so important" back in 2010. "Each wants to demonstrate, to the boss or to themselves, that they are taking part, paying attention, making a difference, 'adding value,'" he wrote. "But with complex subjects about which they're ignorant, they can't: they risk humiliation."

The dumbest topics — the tilt of an exclamation point, for example — therefore, get the most attention. A related phenomenon happens a lot in the work-life balance debate, which relies a lot on personal anecdotes to talk about an important societal question. Without much knowledge or data on women in the workforce, writers and thinkers revert to their personal experiences to fuel the debate. Since these people are women and have worked and have also had children, they can speak to the issue with some intelligence. That leaves harder questions, like how most women can improve working while raising families, on the sidelines. 

People have always been trivial, ill-informed bloviators but now thanks to the online extensions of our society the effect is amplified. Rather than only being exposed only to the nimrods in your circle of friends, family, coworkers and neighbors your exposed to the hundreds of millions of nimrods you can find online. What a truly depressing thought.

On Publishing

Dana Blankenhorn has an excellent post on the demise of newspapers as we've known them and the future of publishing in general. Here's the money quote:

Your job, as a publisher, remains what it was in the 19th century. Define a market, aggregate both the buyers and sellers, and stimulate financial transactions between them. Publishing is a market-making proposition, and those who create the best marketplaces win. Every time.

These are still the early innings of the online publishing game. The collapse of newspapers is a gift from above, not a plague. It opens up vast new opportunities for people who have learned their business, publishers and editors both.

 

Google (Re)Discovers the 19th Century

An article over at the Chronicle of Higher Education looks at an interesting effect of Google's book digitization program:

Google Books is a kind of Victorian portal that takes me into a mare magnum of out-of-print authors, many of whom helped launch disciplines. Or who wrote essays, novels, and histories that did not transcend their time. Or who anonymously produced the paperwork of emerging bureaucracies, organizations, and businesses that, because printed, has been scanned and, because scanned, is now available.

I am not a scholar of the 19th century but have found its digitization to be one of the most fascinating new resource for understanding the centuries that precede it.

It is not by chance that the 19th century gave birth to projects such as the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED is the tip of an iceberg of genteel scholars, male and female, who had the time and resources to dig through vast mounds of material and make something of it. Those researchers lived in closer chronological proximity to their subjects than we do; they often worked amid the dimly lit bookshelves and attics of private homes. As a result, their experience of a historical subject captures a sense of intimacy that might otherwise be lost.

 

Playing Foursquare

Finally I'm seeing a payoff for the ridicule I've endured for continuing to use Foursquare.  I'm not really a hardcore user because I probably forget to check into places I visit about 50% of the time, but when I do check in I get one of two reactions if I'm with someone: if they're an "online" person they say "Are you still using that goofy service?" and if they're a Luddite they say "Is that another one of those stupid social media things you're into?" My reply is usually a shrug or I'll say, "Well sometimes I can get a discount." But all this time what I've really been hoping for is a way to track where I go and the kinds of places I prefer and finally Foursquare has come through with Time Machine.

FourSquareMap
This screenshot below is a map that shows my 1200+ checkins over the last few years and some graphs that show the kind of places I like visit. It won't surprise anyone who knows me that I really like coffee shops.

Here's what's really smart about it though: the time machine then asks if I want to see the future and then takes the opportunity to recommend places to visit based on my history. What I like about this is it highlights parts of Foursquare that I haven't used, didn't really realize I could use, and will now probably utilize. Basically they've helped me understand that this could be much more than just a gimicky, fun, service as Fred Wilson pointed out in his post about Time Machine:

I've been using Foursquare for about four years and have checked in almost 5,000 times. That's an average of 3.4x a day. No wonder Foursquare is so good at making recommendations for me when I am in places I don't know much about.

I plan on testing Foursquare's recommendations on my next trip. As I use the recommendations I'll probably realize that if I were to check in more often I would get even better recommendations, which will lead to more check ins, which will lead to better recommendations, etc.