Tag Archives | News

Bin Laden Death: Web 1, TV 0

For eons now, I’ve been struggling with a question that some of you have been confronting, too: is the Web a rich enough source of information and entertainment that I can get rid of cable TV service? So far, I haven’t cut the cable, and I keep saying that one big reason why is the usefulness of continuous TV news coverage of really big stories. But stories don’t get much bigger than yesterday’s discovery and killing of Osama Bin Laden. And the TV coverage I saw didn’t make a great case for cable being indispensable.

In the time before President Obama made his address, I mostly watched NBC News and CNN. Nobody who wasn’t involved in the operation knew much about it at this point, so the anchors on these channels mostly tapdanced to fill time. They told us, over and over again, that this was huge news. (Really?) But they didn’t even ask many of the questions I was asking–such as “how about al-Zawahiri?”–let alone attempt to answer them. The screen was full of talking heads, but they were saying very little.

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Search Query Driven News Debuts at Yahoo

With its background in search, it should not be a surprise that Yahoo’s news division plans to use search queries to drive another portion of its business–news. However, what is surprising is that it will basically be the first major news provider to do so.

Yahoo’s search users would in essence become the assignment editor. Whatever topics appear frequently in those queries would then be passed on to the company’s team of editors and bloggers, and stories would be written based on those findings.

The blog will be called The Upshot, and would be launched Tuesday (editors note: the previous link won’t work until then). According to the New York Times, Yahoo hopes this would result in a news blog that would be catered to what their users want to read.

Is it a risky experiment? I’d say yes. Depending on the hot news of the day, you could be seeing news on the oil spill one day, and the latest on Lindsay Lohan’s never dull social life the next. I’m hoping however that those mining the Yahoo search queries will help to smooth out the obvious shifts in our collective mindset to provide a less schizophrenic look at the news.

At the same time, that data could also give Yahoo a leg up on the competition in seeing trends on what potential readers may look for which isn’t being covered in the media. I’m curious to see if it works. If it does, and other news outlets pick up on the idea, are the days of the assignment editor numbered?

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Sony Looks to Playstation 3 for MMOs

Massive multiplayer online games never held my interest for long, but perhaps that’s because I’m a console gamer, and MMOs are mostly relegated to the computer. At E3, Sony Online Entertainment showed a slow crawl towards the console with a few upcoming MMORPGs for Playstation 3.

Only one of these games, DC Universe Online, was actually playable on the PS3. It’s a third-person beat-em-up that lets players build their own super powers and interact with famous DC heroes and villains, and it’ll be out November 2. The Agency, a first-person shooter with an open world for players to interact , also arrives this year, but only the PC version was on the show floor. Free Realms, out now as a free-to-play PC game for kids, is scheduled for next year.

Separately, Square Enix is working on Final Fantasy XIV, a subscription-based MMO under the brand of its most popular role-playing game franchise.

If you want to play MMOs on a game console now, the options are limited. Square released Final Fantasy XI to North America in 2004 for Playstation 2 and 2006 for Xbox 360. Everquest Online Adventures for PS2, a watered-down version of its PC counterpart, launched in 2003. Then there was 2006’s Phantasy Star Universe for PS2 and Xbox 360. And I suppose you grant MMO status to MAG, a large-scale shooter with ever-evolving factions that launched for PS3 this year.

But the games Sony Online Entertainment is working on now break the tired fantasy genre mold, and they should all be up and running in 2011. Console MMOs have their naysayers, but the PS3 may find success by seeking a broader audience than the World of Warcraft crowd.

The big question going forward is pricing. SOE spokeswoman Taina Rodriguez wasn’t ready to give specifics, saying that microtransactions, monthly subscriptions and tie-ins to the Playstation Plus online service are all on the table. But if Sony brought the popular free-to-play model of Free Realms to the Playstation 3? I could become an MMO fan in a hurry.


Noteworthy Newsreader

Pulse, a new RSS reader for the iPad, isn’t perfect. (It supports a maximum of twenty feeds, and I added a bunch of feeds which then mysteriously disappeared.) But I’m still as excited about it as I am about any of the iPad apps that are tied to a specific magazine or newspaper. It’s got a highly visual, touch-driven interface that was born to live on a device like this–and if you’ve got an iPad and consume content, it’s $4 well spent.


Google’s Bloggy New Approach to News

At Google’s unveiling of its new real-time search yesterday, a questioner in the audience asked Marissa Mayer and other Google honchos whether the launch signaled the end of journalism. Um, no. Actually, Google is in multiple ways a force for good when it comes to the news. And here’s one small but interesting example: It’s working with both the New York Times and the Washington Post on something called Living Stories. It’s an experimental new way to organize multiple articles on one news topic–here’s Google’s video explanation.

What strikes me about Living Stories isn’t what’s new about the idea, but what’s (relatively) old about it: It takes reverse-chronological display and other presentation concepts from the world of blogs, and applies them to a specific ongoing news story. Here are the Living Stories currently available in Google Labs.

Makes perfect sense to me: Every news story worth paying attention to is an ongoing news story, and putting everything in one place with the newest stuff up top and older items summarized below makes enormous sense.

It’s jarring when you think about it: We’re a decade and a half into the online news era, and most online news sites still feel more like newspapers than unlike them–they’ve got a home page that feels like a front page, and sections that feels like…sections. Projects such as Living Stories (and the NYT’s Skimmer view, which officially debuted last week) are interesting takes on one of the many challenges that faces news organizations: Bringing all the goodness of newspapers online, then remixing it in ways to go far beyond what dead trees could ever do.

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What Would You Pay For News?

NewspaperThe New York Times is reporting on a new survey that says that 48 percent of Americans would be willing to pay something for online news. The Times’ story begins with a tsk-tsking tone: We Yanks are less likely to say we’d pony up than people in other western countries.  But a lover of ambitious news reporting–and, I hasten to add, someone with a selfish desire to see the media business continue to provide paying work–I found the figure sort of encouraging. In a world in which everybody except Wall Street Journal readers get to be happy online freeloaders, I would have guessed that considerably less than half of respondents would have had their head around the concept of paying for news.

The Times says that the survey’s respondents would pay $3 a month for online news, which means they’re tied for Australians for that place. (Italians, by contrast, would for over $7 a month.) It’s not clear just what Americans would expect for their three bucks, or whether we’re talking about a scenario in which there’s still plentiful news available for free, or one in which freebies suddenly go away and your choice is between paying or getting no online news at all.

Anyhow, let’s try a mini-replication of the survey right here. For the sake of the following question, assume that every general-interest news site in the nation suddenly builds a pay wall, and that what you’d be paying for is some sort of pass that would give you access to multiple news sources for one monthly fee.


ZenNews: Global News for the iPhone

ZenNews LogoZensify, makers of a social-network aggregator app for the iPhone, released a free new app today called ZenNews. It uses a similar interface for a whole new purpose: to help you learn what’s going on in the world as reported by a bunch of high-profile news sources.

The app pulls together stories from the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, MSNBC, USA Today, TweetMeme, BBC News, CNN, and Al Jazeera, and displays them in tag clouds that attempt to indicate the relative importance of the news items they link to, both in a general view and individual ones for each news source:


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Google’s Interesting, Useful, Odd, Imperfect Fast Flip

Google Fast Flip LogoDid I just say that one of the differences between Bing and Google is that Bing is splashy and Google revels in its  plain jane interface? I lied. Google had a TechCrunch50 announcement of its own this afternoon, and involves a new Google Labs feature that has a high “wow, lookee there!” quotient: Google Fast Flip.

Fast Flip is based on Google News, and Google says it came up with it to address the fact that browsing through news sites is usually a slow process–not at all like the effortless instant gratification of flipping through a magazine or newspaper. Google has partnered with several dozen news sources–including the BBC, BusinessWeek, the Christian Science Monitor, the Daily Beast, Esquire, the New York Times, Newsweek, Salon, Slate, and TechCrunch–to create previews of their stories that live on Fast Flip but which display the first several paragraphs of the article in a form that looks like the originating site. You rifle through these previews by clicking left and right arrows, and the pages zip on and off-screen in high-speed, fluid animation–hence the “Fast Flip” name.

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Memo to World: Please Aggregate Technologizer

plaindealerThe media business continues to be a place where people keep asking a very good question–“How can we preserve investigative journalism and other pricey, important enterprises?”–and providing truly terrible answers. One current example: Connie Schultz of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, who is advocating for tighter copyright laws that would prevent news aggregation sites from summarizing newspapers’ stories for 24 hours, and mandate that they share advertising revenue with the originating site. She points out a 1918 court case in which the AP sued a competitor that was summarizing AP stories and selling them to newspapers in the western U.S.; the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the AP.

Schultz’s piece speaks of “parasitic aggregators reprint or rewrite newspaper stories, making the originator redundant and drawing ad revenue away from newspapers at rates the publishers can’t match.” If Schultz is concerned about sites republishing copyrighted news stories in their entirety without permission, I agree; that’s theft of intellectual property and should be stopped. But existing laws can do the job.

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