Browsed by
Tag: content

Are news paywalls still relevant in 2022?

Are news paywalls still relevant in 2022?

Or perhaps the question should be “were they ever relevant at any point of time?”

Recently I was checking for news about the ongoing political and economic crisis in Sri Lanka and came across a couple of articles that were behind paywalls. Needlessly to say I simply went on to click other links. In this day and age, I just don’t understand how this technique will generate revenue. If I don’t get the news from one source, I just click another link. The explosion of alternative media has ensured that there are a wide range of choices to get news and opinions from. It’s long past the era when one got the latest news from traditional newspapers like The Hindu or Times of India. Today you have these traditional media houses begging for subscriptions to keep them alive, appealing to support “free and fearless journalism.” Well, unless you offer really unique or specialized knowledge that is not available elsewhere, such tactics will fall flat.

While I don’t have any stats, I am sure that paywalling isn’t a successful business model. In an era of dwindling attention spans, getting people to read long-form text content is hard enough, while it’s just trivial to get the same news from some other free source. Also opinion pieces aren’t really worth subscribing to, even if they do come up with click-bait titles and clever previews.

I am divided about this: while I don’t necessarily trust traditional media to indulge in ethical journalism, I don’t want a world where Google, Facebook and Twitter have a stranglehold on delivery of digital content, including news, and monopoly on revenue generated from such content. At the same time, traditional media houses cannot simply use emotive tactics to get people to give them money. We’ve seen how this larger conflict between traditional media and tech giants has played out, with some countries such as Australia legislating that tech giants pay for news content and Canada also proposing a law for revenue sharing between tech giants and traditional news houses, with other countries likely to consider such legislation. It seems fair that when tech giants such as Google and Facebook make money from advertising off content they didn’t create, they must be asked to share the revenue generated from such advertising with the content creator. How effective such legislation will be in the long term remains to be seen of course.

I can well understand that online alternate media has made it difficult for traditional print media to survive and subscription is a tempting revenue source, but even so, charging for access to digital news content from end users does not seem the way forward.

Static vs dynamic personal blogs and interacting with readers

Static vs dynamic personal blogs and interacting with readers

In this day and age when the average internet user’s online presence is mostly restricted to social media sites where the main form of interaction is clicking/tapping on “like” and “fave” buttons on a mobile screen, having an online identity like your own website seems like an extravagance, particularly when you choose to own a domain name and pay for hosting. But there are still many of us who remember a time before social media took over the online landscape and personal sites/blogs were still in vogue. There are a surprising number of people who still blog regularly, though the visibility of the blogging landscape has shrunk, mainly due to the focus on big-brand social platforms.

One of the fundamental decisions when you decide to create a website is whether to make it a static content site[1] or a dynamic site[2]. My brother has written a good article on this subject, in which he explains the pros and cons of each approach. He himself chose to create a static website which is generated offline through a website generation tool.

For this website, I chose to use WordPress, a popular dynamic blogging platform rather than create or generate a site with static pages. Why? Because I think interacting with readers is a big deal and having the ability to receive and record comments on-site is a better way to engage with readers than through social media. I understand that the modern approach to user interactivity is to outsource comments and likes to social media and going with the flow, but I feel that there is some value in having comments and interaction on the site itself. Not only is it easier to follow the discussion which is on the same page as the content, but it also preserves and focuses the discussion in a way that social media cannot. And this way, the website or blog owner has full editorial and moderation control which is lost when the discussion is moved off-site.

I know it’s hard to get readers to engage in this way these days and it does feel like an uphill battle having to maintain a commenting system, especially when it comes to fighting spam. But still, for whatever it is worth, I choose to keep that option open and encourage readers to comment on this blog. Good, thoughtful comments add immense value to content and I would prefer such feedback to a hundred likes on FaceBook any day.

  1. pure static content, no server side scripting or interaction with the user[]
  2. pages are dynamically generated and served on request, and allows user interactivity[]
The non-content of the Internet

The non-content of the Internet

Beware, this is a bit of a rant.

Today I clicked on “Pocket”, Mozilla’s built-in content aggregator and offline reader which is sneakily advertised in Firefox. Then found this apparently “Pocket-worthy” article among others. From its very title, I knew that it was one of those empty “non-content” articles — where a bunch of inane, rehashed, impracticable, theoretical, unoriginal, insipid and clichéd ideas written in an impersonal, often corporatey style are presented as fresh, thought-provoking, intelligent and original.

This is not about Mozilla Pocket. It’s not even about that particular article that I linked to which seems to be a bit more intelligently written than your average click-bait spam. It’s about that kind of article with that kind of title. Here are a couple of paragraphs from the linked article I’ll leave you with, to illustrate my point:

Everyone is different: not better, not worse, just different. Appreciate the differences instead of the shortcomings and you’ll see people—and yourself—in a better light.

Don’t let your fears hold you back. Whatever you’ve been planning, whatever you’ve imagined, whatever you’ve dreamed of, get started on it today.

Source: https://getpocket.com/explore/item/10-things-incredibly-likable-people-never-ever-do-and-why-you-love-them-for-it

So deep, original, thought-provoking and inspirational! 😮 Sarcasm aside, those vacuous sentences tell you nothing about the author’s personal experience, has no unique perspective or viewpoint, nothing that shows that the author cared much about the topic except to make up yet another top ten list. Typical of the kind of non-content I’m talking about.

Don’t get me wrong: I have no problem with low quality content however badly presented provided at least a bit of the author’s personality and originally comes through. I don’t even have a problem with bland generic stuff like the content linked above.

Seriously, what’s annoying is that this kind of rich-on-keyword non-content is still quite popular with search engines and often takes precedence over real worthwhile, quality material. Let’s say for example that I really wanted to research how successful and likeable people behave. Instead of getting linked to actual, objective research on the subject, an expert opinion or even a more thoughtful and original take on the subject, I am forced to wade through several such spammy click-bait links before coming across something of value.

FaceBook and other social media sites are already full of non-content pages, memes, images and videos. But far too often, web pages with click-baity titles looking to generate ad-revenue, sell you an e-book and/or make you subscribe for premium content appear too high on search results.

It’s not a coincidence that such (non-)content is usually created or copied by persons or entities in the business of “making money online” for as long as I can remember. I can well understand why: it is cheap, easy, low effort investment — a website with basic SEO, the right keywords for search engines to pick up and index, click-bait titles and you’ve got a steady stream of traffic and potential ad revenue. If it didn’t work, obviously the Internet wouldn’t be full of them, hogging precious search engine visibility.