Techno down-shifting on the Information highway
I had two separate lines of thought collide into each other and rather than trying to crow-bar them apart, I'll deal with them as is. After starting to use twitter a couple of months ago I saw I had again forked the way I acquire and consume information. News information that is, for whatever meaning attaches to that. This only accelerated after I got an iPod Touch recently. I added an assortment of loose-bit assembling apps to it, designed to keep me informed and conversable, and withdrew to the warmth of a wi-fi hotspot to review it all. It wasn't the first time circumstance or technology shifts have changed the way I get the news. I used to read newspapers, weekly and monthly magazines too. I once watched network tv news, long ago. Although a more parochial and isolationist habit I can't imagine. In the Navy I fell away from all that. I can remember buying the Miami Herald and the Washington Post or the Star, but I think this was mostly in the breach. In college I started listening to the new NPR show "Morning Edition" and picked up the habit of reading the Sunday Washington Post with an indulgent deliberateness. Later when I started working for the library I would periodically visit the quarter-acre of magazine and journal shelves, for whatever I could randomly find.
Then came the Internet. I surfed the web, followed links and web rings, and wrote down all urls I came across anywhere. Everything I liked went, endlessly categorized, into the browsers bookmarks file which I've now dragged along from Netscape, to Explorer, Opera, iCab, and on to Firefox (but not yet to Chrome). Outside of web logs about half of this effort went towards replicating previous sources as I could find them, or they became available online. In this period some of my favorite sites were content and comment aggregating sites like Metafilter, Slashdot, Kuro5hin, and Arts & Letters Daily. MetaFilter especially is still, twelve years on, a first rate every day visit.
The other element of this post was coming across a MetaFilter post: Goodbye, RSS button in the location bar of Firefox | MetaFilter. The article under discussion there -- blog RSS Is Dying Being Ignored, and You Should Be Very Worried was about Firefox's decision to take their RSS subscribing icon out of its URL window. The functionality will continue, but elsewhere out of sight. This, a small thing seemingly, goes to the heart of populist content syndication. Viewing RSS is part of the browsers responsibility by most agreements. Auto-detect and visual alerting were a key part of that. The user has other options beyond this, but the key to ease of use and ubiquity of RSS was that obvious 1-click first step.
RSS has its discontents, it was developed in a organic stew stirred by many hands leading to many variations and an outright fork by the slightly more technically adept Atom syndication standard RSS - Wikipedia. A key point to that history is that while some processes can exist with competing standards, others only see their virtue realized with a significant level of mass adoption. Types of RSS readers are in many ways more critical than the type of RSS. Email like, live bookmarks in the browser, Google Reader, and River of News models all exist and offer different experiences. I prefer the "River of News" I like that it spools out recent content from multiple sources in a linear and temporal fashion. What I want out of RSS is the headline, author, date, and a gloss or tease of what the piece is about. So that I can decide whether or not I want to read the entire piece. You can't read everything. Beyond this there are differences in how I want to read various content. This is the shading dichotomy between friends and amateurs -usually free and informal writing, and professional publishing -often as not paid and formal. Any ordinary person who has gone to the time and trouble of setting up a web log, instilled some personal style and design to it. I don't mind going to the web log, a visit to a friend, to see their effort.
The institutional professional media have their outlets. Publications, Radio, TV, all large well staffed content managed web sites, capable of turning out their copy in a number of different forms. They are already deeply intertwined with the leviathan Facebook. The lesser social networks should strive to be a ecology for peer communications and Samizdat publishing. Institutional media should not feel compelled to push their content out through every last possible form the internet takes. Web logs and Twitters should be about the amateur writing and texting (abilities notwithstanding), or the professional looking for greater informality, greater granularity, a particular and discerning peer audience.
RSS rather than dying may be rising Phoenix-like from its ashes. It lends itself to being a quick engine for populating twitter feeds and Facebook updates. News organization Apps for mobile devices replicate the look and feel of an RSS feed for any scrolling headline section they have, that acts as a linker to the mobile formatted article. It is in the mobile device App that the encapsulated linear-scanning head and led-line comes into its own. The way that iOS Safari deals with the RSS feed from this web log is a fine example, it seems to kick it out to something called mac-reader from where it becomes a reasonably well behaved mobile-ready thing: Atomized Jr RSS.
To a degree newspapers and wire services were never completely happy with RSS. It let people know what they they had, and it did direct some traffic to their sites. But it also allowed others to create prime destinations out of collecting and showcasing those breaking headlines and summaries, siphoning off scarce advertising dollars without hiring a single journalist or paying for the scraped content. With a similar anxiety not everyone is happy about the partitioning of content from the browser and open HTML to potentially proprietary and subscriber based apps Jimmy Wales Declares App Store Models a Threat - Slashdot. The fear is the internet will bifurcate into mobile, a set of stove-piped partnerships by content and signal providers, the old "open internet" of the World wide web a technological backwater ignored and left behind until it can be withdrawn from service. Anything that isn't Big Content will be back to the self-serve machines at Kinkos. Of course for the people there will be Facebook, and Twitter for your thoughts, a penny at a time.
Twitter is as much a texting or RSS conduit as it is a micro-blog. It trends towards self-containment (as a system) even as most tweets by nature reference (by link) back to the wider world web. This is is due to their arbitrary character limitation which pushes you into a trade in shortened URLs. The tiny URL phenomenon is a strange perversity; another layer of databases and look-up tables between you and what you linking or going to. It is one of the the things that pull you in and keep you in a social media site's ecosystem. Twitter's character limit sometimes looks less arbitrary for that. Twitter and Facebook do this well, the twitter api injects a shortened URL into a popup twitter window. Nearly all professional media sites are littered with icon call-out links to the twitter api. And if not there are additions to browser toolbars that will do the same thing.
Twitter seems to be slowly moving towards a full but captive experience, and related captive advertising. Similarly newspapers are hoping to erect a shield wall of payment to their digital content on the back of building useful news consuming experiences into mobile devices. This admits two things. The first is obvious if not always appreciated. Consuming information, especially the ephemeral information of current events through Internet via the perfection of the browser and servers and their associated web of technologies, TCP/IP, Apache, HTML, XML RSS, was and is actually a rich rewarding and very efficient experience. For all the eulogizing of books and paper, the net was adopted quickly and completely. It spawned a brief period of reading wide ranging sources and a wide-ranging discourse of sharing between readers, and readers and writers beyond that . Which in the age of micro-blogging often thins out to a binary survey of opinion. The move to networked digital would've been fine if advertisers had followed suit, but they didn't. For years perhaps they had overvalued advertising, they chose this moment to judge the art had fallen behind and undervalue it. Still as many consumers were content to get their news from the Web, it served some organizations to provide it and so break old patterns of behavior. Others, mostly newspapers, couldn't figure out how to claw their content back from free The NYT's bizarre iPad paywall | Analysis & Opinion.
The second thing that can be read from this is that many in the professional media now believe that the desire for the informational transparency the utter instantaneous ubiquity of mobile will give them back the lost leverage they need to get people to pay for their product The Newsonomics of do-over - Nieman Journalism Lab - Pushing to the Future of Journalism . Writing Apps (or third party apps licensing content) that recast their content in clear usable, and highly tailored forms on mobile devices, they can charge for these apps or apply subscription fees Reflections of a Newsosaur: Build broad app portfolios, publishers told:. With a certain degree of adoption of this form of content in hand by the leading consumers (entertainment content consumption will follow a similar but separate curve) institutional media will be able to slowly close the door on free content and steadily reinforce their advertising rates and pay walls Out of Digital Chaos, a New Stability for Media - Advertising Age - DigitalNext .
I understand they have to do what they have to do and I don't mind paying what I can pay for. I want news organizations to survive for the sake of professional journalism which isn't completely replicated by a thousand busy bee's. From the ranks of the working poor I couldn't afford to get much news that way. I can only hope that the future of digital holds something like a library subscription as information again withdraws to the province of means.
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