The Times is about to miss out on The Third Disruptive Wave

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If social, mobile and the new wave of ecommerce are the Disruptive Third Wave, then, bluntly, The Times newspaper appears not to want any of that. Those were my first thoughts when I saw the new paywall sites of The Times and The Sunday Times. Personally I am bemused by people lauding the design. To me, design is nice but less of an issue. The design of the site looks like any clean looking blog. Crisp text, not many ads, if at all. But what actually matters is the function, and a large part of that function resides in the Link. If I can capture a link I can share then that is of huge value to me as a reader. On the Internet brand is function, not design. If you don’t have any functionality you can’t be a brand. And the new functionality is social or mobile or commerce, or a combination of any or all of those.

Soon I’m only going to be able to share Times’ links with other Times subscribers. But who of my friends on social networks will also be Times subscribers? Do you realise how annoying it is when people share links you can’t read? It’s like pointing people towards a Silverlight-powered site. Or a Flash site when you’re on an iPad. Or a subscription only site…

And there is the API. I don’t know The Time’s development roadmap, but if they do not have an API for their content (I presume they won’t since the whole of the new sites will be paywalled and invisible to search engines) then there will be no opportunity to catch the Third Wave of social or indeed of mobile or commerce. The Times cannot possibly come up with all the ideas which will happen in the Third Wave, which is why third party developers will be so important.

Twitter’s API turned it into a powerhouse. The fact it is locking that down now is more testament to their success than anything else. Out of all the newspapers I’m only aware of The Guardian having a fully baked API.

Then there’s social. I just went ann commented on a couple of articles. The site knows who I am, knows my actual home address. I am an authenticated user. But what use is that? But it’s like tumbleweeds in there. There are no gravatars of real people. I can’t create a social profile within their AOL-1996 world. I won’t be ale to see if any of my Facebook friends “Liked” an article. Yes, The Times never got paid for that, but the lack of social features this is a sort of affront to me as a reader. It makes me think less of The Times, when I’d like to think more.

Perhaps The Times has missed an opportunity to insert a paywall virus into Facebook?

It’s nice to have infographics and video enhance the telling of the BP oil spill story, but with its use of Flash and old fashoned paywall approach The Times will cut itself off from the HTML5 future and the innovation to come.

Although The Times has surveyed “over 200” readers about the changes I can’t help but think these 200 people are not the readers of the future, the readers who share and link, which is now something baked into the DNA of young people now.

  • http://www.thetimes.co.uk/ Tom Whitwell

    Mike, we just launched our site today. I’m pleased with the reaction to the way it looks, but we’re not about to stop here.

    You say you don’t know our development roadmap, but you are very close…

    Of course we want to get our video and graphics working in HTML5, and we’re well on the way.

    We are planning to do much more with social: personal profiles, connections to FB/Twitter/LinkedIn. We want to make commenting easier, richer, more addictive, more visible.

    We’re not ideologically opposed to sharing, we just need to make it work with our model.

    We’re working on personalisation: a lot of things become possible when we have a real 1-2-1 relationship with our readers.

    Hopefully, we haven’t “missed an opportunity”. We’re just about to arrive at one.

    Tom (Assistant Ed, The Times)

    • http://twitter.com/mikebutcher Mike Butcher

      I’d be happy to be proved wrong, but I can only comment on what I see right now. Good luck.

    • Terry Purvis

      Tom, the HTML in the new site is an awful mess, simply appalling – just as bad as in the old one.

      It is such an easy thing to get right, yet again you have got it very very wrong. Can I ask what the developers you employ say about the quality of their work?

      I think it amusing and yet sad at the same time, you spend so much money on a new look to the site but the people who make it for you are rank amateurs when it comes to constructing a page in what is a very simple and easy mark-up language.

      Before you talk about HTML5 you ought to get the stuff you have corrected.

      And please don’t use the old chestnut, that standards aren’t that important, they are.

      That view is a stupid idea fed by the lazy incompetents who extract huge sums of money from organisations like yourself to get away with making crap.

      I dread to think what the “back-end” is like.

      By the way, I build website for a living, so I can talk with authority on the subject.

  • http://www.kirstenwinkler.com Kirsten Winkler

    I think we need something like a media flatrate. Monthly payment and access to all media sites. All comes into a big pot and then the publishers get paid their share based on site impressions.

    Difficult to collect the money though. Has to be part of the tax or an extra fee like we pay in Germany for TV.

    • http://www.gigpay.com Joe Charakupa

      Kirsten, you mean like Proportional Representation for the internet? One big pie and anyone who ‘contributes’ content gets a slice? Nah, wouldn’t work.

      Who decides what consitutes contribution? Original articles and media only? We all know how the internet is full of rehashed and recycled stuff. Some of it original, plenty of it not. Some adding value and some of it not.

      Add to all that the fact that even unpalatable media (like hate stuff) does get consumed (albeit by a minority); how do we stop them getting a piece of the pie?

      • http://www.kirstenwinkler.com Kirsten Winkler

        Yes, that’s the problem. As you say it had to be everyone pays for everything and hence everyone would get a piece of the pie. Liberal 2.0.

        Of course you would need to apply to be listed and get your piece but then: who decides which content is “worth” getting paid and which not?

    • http://www.gigpay.com Joe Charakupa

      Personally I’m waiting for the day that the News of The World also dissappears behind a paywall. I can’t be the only one who’s tired of their unethical attempts at ‘getting’ news and creating content. i.e. The blatant attempts to catch people out by dangling huge amounts of unsolicited money in front of simple fools.

      Getting Fergie or some footballer’s ex to do stupid stuff in front of hidden cameras is not in the public interest and neither is it news. The sooner its behind a paywall the better.

  • http://www.johnconnell.co.uk/blog/?p=2475 Waving Goodbye to the Times Online? : John Connell: The Blog

    […] TechCrunch Europe on the imminent paywalls for the Times and Sunday Times websites. Some have complimented the sites’ designs, but the TechCrunch piece makes an interesting, and correct, distinction between ‘brand’ in the online and offline worlds: On the Internet brand is function, not design. If you don’t have any functionality you can’t be a brand. And the new functionality is social or mobile or commerce, or a combination of any or all of those. […]

  • http://sdj-pragmatist.com Pragmatist

    Thanks, Mike.

    The old media have learned nothing from the explosion of social media. They still want us inside their proprietary bubbles. They rarely link to content that isn’t their own, and I note Tom Whitwell wants to make commenting on Times content ‘addictive’, like it’s the only content people are interested in.

    I won’t link to anything inside a ‘paywall’. I will only link to paid-for content when payment is invisible or seamless. To achieve that, old media need to cluster around the existing convenient payment points in our day, rather than add friction by creating their own. They need to think ‘paywells’ not ‘paywalls’:

    http://sdj-pragmatist.blogspot.com/2010/04/social-currency-think-paywells-not.html

  • http://thealarmclock.com/euro Hanif O'Neil

    Mike:

    Although the Times has limited its options for sharing, they have enhanced the site quite a bit. This is good for retaining customers they already have. However, this model does little in expanding future customer acquisition. As you’ve noted, the lack of interactive features that increase social-ability beyond the Times paywall is definitely a point of contention. If the goal is personalization as Tom suggests I am intrigued to see what their next elevation will be.

  • http://www.collaboratemarketing.com/modernmarketing/ James Cherkoff

    I think it’s all about using micropayments for news to get hold of people’s credit card details and then flog them other goodies. Goodbye news, hello wine club.

  • http://www.cornfieldconsulting.com Chris Turner

    Hi Mike, I have not yet seen the ‘new’ Times, so I cannot comment on that but to say ‘on the internet, brand is function’ is like saying ‘on a Tuesday, trout is tennis’ its meaningless. Brands exist in people’s heads, influencing their behaviour (positively or negatively) and functionality is obviously one of the influences on that brain turf but that is as true in the offline world as online. To say that ‘brand is not design’ on the internet is just claptrap. Our brand perceptions are influenced by emotional and rational impressions we gather as we go about our lives and design is clearly influential.

  • http://blogs.journalism.co.uk/editors/2010/05/25/comment-reaction-to-the-new-times-and-sunday-times-websites/ Comment: Reaction to the new Times and Sunday Times websites | Journalism.co.uk Editors' Blog

    […] those reviewing the sites today, TechCrunch Europe expands on concerns raised that the papers’ journalists will miss out on social media […]

  • http://david-black.org/2010/05/26/links-for-2010-05-26/ links for 2010-05-26 « David Black

    […] The Times is about to miss out on The Third Disruptive Wave – TechCrunch Europe "what actually matters is the function, and a large part of that function resides in the Link. If I can capture a link I can share then that is of huge value to me as a reader. On the Internet brand is function, not design. If you don’t have any functionality you can’t be a brand. And the new functionality is social or mobile or commerce, or a combination of any or all of those." (tags: internet newspapers newspapersites newscorp thetimes socialmedia paywalls links) […]

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  • http://www.ukstevieb.com/2010/05/26/steviebs-shared-items-may-26-2010/ StevieB’s Shared Items – May 26, 2010

    […] The Times is about to miss out on The Third Disruptive WaveMay 25, 2010 […]

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