Archive for the ‘Web 3.0’ Category

People Will Pay for Content Online


Publishers fail to give readers good experiences

Publishers fail to give readers good experiences

Publishers fear that people will not pay for content online. People are so used to reading newspapers online for free, for example, that the expectation is that they will never pay for anything that is published online. The Wall Street Journal is a major exception to the rule.

But, listening to Ben Edwards from at the ‘ePublishing Innovation Forum 2009‘ in London this week, he thinks that is not the case. His view is that people will pay for content content online and that “publishers have failed to build experiences which people willing to pay for”. Fair point.

The New York Times has recently launched a desktop version of its online newspaper which is accessed through a free download. You get the front page news for free. Any news you want to see beyond the front page have to be paid for through a weekly subscription. Their revenues from digital business has grown every year as a percentage of their business from 4% in 2004 to 12% in 2008.

Julian Shambles of The Telegraph Group, recently explained at the ePublishing Innovation Forum in London, that simply transferring headlines that work on a printed newspaper simply don’t work for online versions. The infamous anti-Europe headline from ‘The Sun’ “Up Yours, Delors!” has no meaning on the web. 

Why is that? It’s because people find news on the web differently. They use  a search engine to find news and when they look for ‘euro-sceptic’ related news, they probably use that phrase in their search, and not the headline which grabs people’s attention to the newspaper on a stand. 

Shambles went on to say their recent success in growing their audience and viewers online was part of a whole mix of digital re-thinking which included ensuring that their journalists were trained and familiarised with ‘search engine optimisation’ so that they wrote their articles with the thought on how to make them as friendly and searchable to Google as possible. Furthermore, news has started to be published online first rather than how it used to be with their web version being an after thought.

The emerging model in the world of digital publishing which appears to be gaining some success takes advantage of the fact that an online or digital version of a publication costs very little to produce compared to the paper version of it. So, publishers can afford to give away a lot of access for free with a small minority paying for richer versions of the publication upon which the publisher can make a profit. This is called ‘freemium‘. (I did hear one comment at the Forum say “..there is a bit too much ‘free’ in my experience, and not enough ‘mium’ in it“.

So, the fact is that people will pay for content online as long as they feel as though it is a good experience. We are overloaded with information from every imaginable source now, but there is precious little knowledge available. We are not prepared to pay for magazines or publications which are little more than advertising hoardings for recruitment companies with a few pages of poorly written articles. We will pay for knowledge, experience and insight. But has that not always been the case?


Meaningful Web 3.0

web 3.0

Web 3.0 is about meaning

Who would be Gordon Brown after the last few days in British politics? He might be thinking about how he would like to be making decisions which will have a dramatic and positive impact upon the electorate’s lives rather than worrying about the less than spotless behaviour of some of his MP’s and their expenses.

It would be interesting to have dinner with him this weekend. You would doubt that he would be in a position to be very cheerful. Except that he has invited Tim Berners-Lee to dinner this weekend at Chequers, where it is likely that he is going to be talking about the future of the world wide web.

What is the future of the web? Many people may know about what is called ‘web 2.0’ which has seen the web moving from a one-way conversation in its early days to a two-way conversation which enabled us to contribute to the web. Web 2.0 has seen the massive growth of services like Facebook and Twitter where we can self-publish.

Despite the amazing ability for everyone to publish their thoughts, to find information through Google or to publish their videos for the world to see, we are starting to stretch the current web structure to its limits. For instance, searching on Google limits your query to the search engine finding words which you typed into the search box which will bring up relevant web sites which have those words in them.

But the words (or keywords) which Google found in the web site might not actually bring up a web page which is useful to you. The words in it might not be related to your query and, therefore, your search results are meaningless because the search engine looks for words and not for the meaning of the words. e.g. If you type in the sentence “The sky has the colour blue” Google will look for web sites with those words in them but it may not connect the words together to seek the meaning of that sentence.

This is one the most important aspects of where the web will go in the next few months and years. Web 3.0 is about meaning. When you type a question into a search engine such as “Why is my left foot larger than my right foot?” search engines will be able to understand the question and not just search for the words in a web page. The search results will bring up web sites which answer the question and which also make suggestions on what you can do about it if it is a problem, rather than bringing up a load of web pages just about feet. 

This is called the ‘semantic web’. And this is what Tim Berners-Lee, Dame Wendy Hall and their colleagues have been developing for a long time. The UK Government will soon require that all of their published information to be described with something called ‘RDF’ (Resource Description Framework) so that all their data and information will be linked and so we will be able to find meaningful information more easily than we can today. 

So, cheer up, Gordon Brown. The freedom of information which has opened up a few weeks of trouble for you will seem insignificant to what you and Tim will be discussing this weekend. You will be making the first steps to making the web that we know now, which is about masses of information, into a connected world of knowledge and meaning.