Some thoughts on the Web and print

There’s been plenty written about the news that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is up for sale, and that owner Hearst Corp. says if it doesn’t sell in 60 days the paper will become Web-only, or will be shut down completely. Some have argued that as the perennial second paper in a relatively small market, the PI has been doomed for some time now (it hasn’t turned a profit in almost a decade, apparently) and that the news about the Post-Intelligencer may actually be part of a strategic move by the Hearst family to acquire the newspaper’s main competitor in town, the Seattle Times.

I don’t have any strong opinions on any of that really, although I agree with Alan Mutter that being the second newspaper in a fairly small metropolitan market doesn’t look like a great value proposition at the moment (if it ever was). What really struck me was the story that the Post-Intelligencer wrote on its own demise — and in particular a photo that ran with the story, which I’ve included here (click through if you’re reading this through a feed reader). There’s not much remarkable about it, at first glance, but for some reason I kept coming back to it and thinking about it as I was reading.

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Get your own CNN Magic Wall touch TV

You tell I’m a gadget geek at heart, because I know I have no real use for this device, and yet I still want one: the iTable can apparently give you a Microsoft Surface-style, CNN Magic Wall-ish multi-touch television experience for as little as $2,400. As CrunchGear describes it, that will give you an overlay for a 32-inch LCD TV. For a little more — as much as $10,000 for the ultra-sophisticated version — you get a giant table-style TV with touch sensors built in and a computer that runs Windows XP.

More than a decade ago now, I remember seeing an IBM research labs demo in which they had a desk that was a touch surface (although single-touch only), where you could drag your documents around and pop up windows with photos in them or even videos. I thought it was a fantastic idea then, and I still do now. And having used the iPhone, the multi-touch interface just makes such a huge difference when working with photos or things like maps. Google Earth on a giant multi-touch table would be incredible.

Tweetdeck rules — that is all

Mike Arrington has a post up at TechCrunch about a Twitter client called Tweetvisor, which he says is “a contender for best alternate Twitter interface” (next the to the Web interface, presumably). I had a look, but like my friend Mark Evans — who wrote a post on his Twitterrati blog — I was underwhelmed by Tweetvisor’s interface. It might be handy to be able to manage multiple Twitter accounts, I suppose (although who needs to do that? people with multiple personalities? marketing people, I assume), but I couldn’t see much else that was all that compelling.

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iTunes concessions a double-edged sword

Apple’s announcements at Macworld may have lacked some of the flair and sizzle that CEO Steve Jobs usually brought to his keynote, but there was one announcement that, arguably, will wind up changing the playing field considerably. That announcement is the news of DRM-free sales from all of the major music labels through iTunes, and the addition of variable pricing. As rumored during the run up to Macworld, the world’s largest online music store will soon start selling songs for 69 cents, 99 cents or $1.29 each. The only question now, as Peter Kafka notes in a post at MediaMemo, is whether anyone will care or not — and whether it will help to fix any of the music industry’s systemic problems.

(read the rest of this post at GigaOm)

Newspapers: Evolution or catastrophe?

There have been — and will no doubt continue to be — plenty of blog posts, magazine articles and even (irony of ironies) the occasional newspaper story written about the death of the newspaper. It’s become almost a cottage industry, poring over the imminent failure of giants such as the New York Times, the Tribune Co. empire and even the Wall Street Journal. Some pieces (mostly by journalists) bemoan the changes the media industry is going through, like one I wrote about recently, in which a columnist wrote about how bloggers were killing the industry. Others (thankfully) are a little more optimistic about the evolution of online media.

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China cracks down on Twitter

For a brief moment 10 years ago, a lone figure blocked the path of a giant tank in Tiananmen Square, and it seemed as though Chinese dissidents might be able to shake the pillars of power in that vast country and bring some semblance of democracy to China. In the wake of the pro-democracy protests, however, the Chinese government redoubled its crackdown on dissidents and crushed any hint of dissent. As the 20th anniversary of the Tiananment Square demonstration approaches, Chinese authorities seem more determined than ever not to allow even a hint of unrest to appear anywhere — including the Internet.

Early this week, journalists and bloggers in China started noticing that Twitter, the chat-style social networking application, was no longer available — and that users were also having difficulty accessing other popular websites and services such as Google-owned YouTube and the Yahoo-owned photo-sharing website Flickr. Blogging platforms such as WordPress and Blogger (also owned by Google) were said to be unavailable as well. According to several reports, the Chinese authorities had also shut down message boards on thousands of websites used by college students.

Blocking and/or filtering services is nothing new for the Chinese government. Even widely-used and official services such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft’s MSN Search are filtered by the authorities to exclude any reference to the events in Tiananment Square in 1989, and all of the major search engines have in the past supplied names of specific users to the Chinese government. As more and more official services have been blocked or filtered, the popularity of social-networking sites such as Twitter has increased. As a number of observers have noted, Twitter takes on even more significance in a country like China, not just because it allows people to exchange messages easily, but because the use of Chinese characters allows Twitter posts to include far more information than a similar English message.

As the Committee to Protect Journalists details in a recent piece, the Chinese government has been cracking down on virtually every form of media: newspapers published in Hong Kong that might mention the anniversary are blocked from delivery to mainland China, and radio broadcasts are interrupted by commercials if the topic comes up; even a former Communist Party leader’s memoirs are no longer available through official channels (according to the New York Times), presumably because they mention the events of June 3 and 4, 1989. Several prominent Chinese citizens associated with the demonstration were either detained or warned to leave the capital before the anniversary.

Despite the official crackdowns, however, Twitter users seemed determined to find a way around what Chinese dissidents and other critics refer to as the “Great Firewall of China.” As the blockage moved into its second day, users were exchanging tips on using so-called “anonymous proxy” software such as Hotspot Shield (which hides the IP address of a user who runs the software) and other similar technological workarounds.

Apple still has a credibility problem

For some time now, there has been speculation that Steve Jobs was sicker than either he or Apple wanted to admit. At first, the company said that he simply had “a bug,” and then when the company announced that he would not be doing his usual keynote speech at Macworld — a speech so associated with him that it has come to be known as a “Stevenote” — the company denied it had anything to do with his health. Now, we know that this was untrue. Steve himself has confirmed that he is unwell as a result of a “hormone imbalance,” and that he is working on getting better (although as Wired notes, the letter is somewhat opaque when it comes to the specifics of this problem).

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JPG magazine: Great idea, bad business?

Like many others, I was saddened to hear about the closure of JPG, the “crowd-sourced” photography mag that started in 2004 and became a real Web 2.0 success story. I confess that I never actually saw a physical issue of the magazine, but I thought the concept had a lot of merit: a collection of the best photos submitted by a community of passionate photographers, voted on by the community and then printed and published. Printing and distributing a high-quality magazine costs a lot of money, however, and it seems JPG couldn’t quite find the business model that would make that part of the organization work.

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Twply: Instant business — just add Twitter

Everyone knows that the Web speeds up the metabolic rate of many businesses (not to mention lowering the barriers to entry for competitors, of course) but the story of has to be a new record: going from hot startup to scapegoat to selling the business in less than 24 hours. It’s as though someone recorded a business developing and then played it back using time-lapse photography, like they do in nature documentaries, when they show plants growing, blooming and then dying in a matter of seconds.

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