The micropayment debate continues

Is it possible to be fascinated by an issue and yet tired of it at the same time? If so, then micropayments for online news pretty much fits that bill for me. I know that it’s a crucial time for the newspaper business (which pays my salary), and I know that many thoughtful and intelligent people believe that micropayments are the answer to the industry’s woes — including former news executive Alan Mutter, who blogs at Reflections of a Newsosaur, and whose recent argument about paying for things I took on in this post. But there has been an awful lot of talk about the issue over the past few weeks and months, including some excellent pieces by Clay Shirky and others (I’ve collected a list of the major ones at my personal blog if you’re interested).

And still the debate continues. The Freakonomics blog at the New York Times is the latest to throw its rhetorical hat into this particular ring, which seems fitting given the authors’ focus on the conjunction of economics and society. Both Alan Mutter and Clay Shirky show up in this forum as well, making similar arguments — the former in favour of micropayments, which he says will overcome the “Original Sin” of giving content away for free online, adding that readers wouldn’t mind being nickel-and-dimed “if the content were sufficiently unique and compelling.”

Shirky, meanwhile, argues that:

Online, small payments only work when the collector of those payments has end-to-end control of delivery, generally by controlling the hardware or software the user has access to. (This is true of all metered billing, in fact.)

and adds:

The fantasy that small payments will save publishers as they move online is really a fantasy that monopoly pricing power can be re-established over we users. Invoking the magic word “micropayments” is thus grabbing the wrong end of the stick; if online publishers had that kind of pricing power, micropayments wouldn’t be necessary. And since they don’t have that pricing power, micropayments won’t provide it.

(read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab)

For social networks, uptime doesn’t matter

Users of social networks choose where to spend their time based on factors entirely outside of those such as uptime and reliability, according to report issued Tuesday (PDF link) by Pingdom, a service that tracks web site uptime and optimization for companies. Not that such things aren’t important — after all, a social network isn’t going to be of much use if people can’t log in or use the features. But the Pingdom report shows that when it comes right down to it, those things don’t matter nearly as much as one might think. Take a look at the chart below, which sorts social networks according to their total downtime in 2008.

(read the rest of this post at GigaOm)

Alan Mutter’s question backfires

Alan Mutter is a former journalist-turned-entrepreneur who writes an excellent blog called Reflections of a Newsosaur, where he takes on various aspects of the newspaper industry from time to time. One of his recent posts, however, tries to make a point about the validity — or necessity — of charging for content online by using author and journalist/blogger Jeff Jarvis as an example. Not only does his post fail to make this case, but it actually winds up making the exact opposite point.

Mutter’s argument, in a nutshell, is that while Jeff Jarvis is telling everyone that they should be giving their content away for nothing, and that “free is a business model,” he himself is selling an old-fashioned book the old-fashioned way — for cash, in other words — as well as a version for the Kindle e-book reader and a video of himself making some of the central points from the book. As Mutter puts it:

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Social atoms and the Twitter ecosystem

When Twitter first hit my radar screen in 2007 sometime, I (like many others) immediately dismissed it as a gimmicky little time-waster with no real value. I mean, a message limit of 140 characters? Lame. And what was it for? Nothing, apparently. It was like the Facebook status message, but all by itself, with no other services or features around it. What could possibly be the point? As we’ve seen since, of course, there are any number of points to Twitter, a service that “is what you make of it,” as a New York Times piece put it recently.

I also wondered why the Twitter team didn’t include more features, and why they left it up to external services to do things like search (which they eventually acquired by buying Summize). But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the smallness and lack of features is actually a positive, not a negative. What Twitter did was strip all the clutter of many social networks away and pare things down to their essence.

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Twitter: The personal becomes public

By now, many people — even those who aren’t on Twitter — have probably heard about an incident earlier this week involving a reporter at the National Post (a daily newspaper in Toronto) and a “Twitter meltdown” that he had, in which he posted half a dozen obscenity-laced messages directed at a marketing person he had tried to interview. In fact, if you Google the term “Twitter meltdown,” it’s the fourth result. I’d rather not go into too much detail about it, since I know both of the individuals involved personally, but if you need to know the specifics there is an overview here. In any case, I know that it has been a difficult week for them both (although in very different ways).

Obviously, the reporter went way beyond the norms of civilized conduct — not just the norms on Twitter, but pretty much anywhere other than the federal prison system. What started as a simple frustration with another person quickly escalated into abuse. But that’s not why it got so much publicity on Twitter and elsewhere, getting mentioned in Valleywag, the Telegraph in London, ZDNet, and even getting re-tweeted by the Stephen Colbert Show (the barometer of all that is newsworthy in our society). It got passed around so quickly because it was a reporter who had a meltdown — a professional who let his emotions get the better of him.

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