iPad Empties/Fills Pockets

With its new application-laden reading/gaming/writing platform, Apple has once again stuck it to the powers that be, or that were. For in addition to thumbing its digital nose at Flash-maker Adobe, the iPad will speed the destruction of the traditional news aggregators’ all-or-nothing pricing model.

It’s not going to do wonders for the sales of already established e-readers like Amazon’s Kindle or Barnes & Noble’s Nook, either. That’s capitalism, baby.

There had actually been some talk (or hope) that the iPad would be the “savior” of newspapers by reinvigorating the presentation of these traditionally assembled editorial packages (and publishers like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have their apps at the ready). But just as the sleek iPod (and its iTunes library) chewed up the already-in-progress disintegration of the record labels’ monopolistic pricing power, the iPad is also more than just a pretty face. It’s savagely opportunistic.

The Internet and its related technologies have disrupted many aspects of information gathering, selling, and sharing. Display is just one of these changes. The very business model for newspapers has been obliterated – now the competition is unlimited for information and its associated revenue. With its easy navigation and multitude of apps, the iPad accelerates this process.

Apple recognized that many music consumers only wanted one or two songs on a CD, and its under-a-buck-per-tune price made messing with pirated MP3 files not worth the effort. Similarly, newspapers might charge per section or per article, as Michael Arrington of TechCrunch, and others, have written.

Unlike cable companies that have successfully fought unbundling (for now…) newspapers are no longer local monopolies. But while consumers may be less and less willing to pay for the “news,” they might pay for a good filtering service – that is, a brand that guarantees consistent quality (vetted sources, professional objectivity, intelligent insight, smooth writing).

Rather than be threatened by the iPad and its ilk, publishers should be opportunistic themselves: how has Apple provided them with a new way to monetize their product? How will the advent of iPad-accelerated unbundling affect not just subscriptions, but the real media moneymaker — advertising?

Caveat App-Developer

More than 70,000 applications make it possible to post photos, shorten URLs, and do other useful things on Twitter. They are a primary reason why the micro-blogging service now boasts 50 million Tweets a day — up from 5,000 in 2007.

Twitter doesn’t pay the developers who created all this utility and, by extension, the company’s unassailable position. Instead, these folks monetize their work by charging users for the app and/or by selling advertising. But they’re starting to wonder where their next paycheck will come from, for there’s a new competitor on the scene – Twitter itself.

Now that it has achieved ubiquity, Twitter is looking for revenue, and spent part of its venture capital hoard last week to buy Atebits, which makes Tweetie for the iPhone and Mac. It also said it is creating BlackBerry’s official Twitter app.

“The time for filling the holes in the Twitter service has come and gone,” wrote Twitter investor and board member Fred Wilson in a blog post cited in the New York Times (4/11/10). “Twitter really should have had all of that when it launched or it should have built those services right into the Twitter experience.”

In other words, you take a great risk when you’re an outsider “filling the holes” in someone else’s product — that is, writing code for a corporate-owned platform. Once you’ve helped build the service into preeminence, the corporation may try to buy you (not bad) or bury you (bad). It may also leave you alone, but the likely choices have narrowed. Happens all the time. As cited in the Times report, outside developers helped make Microsoft ubiquitous by creating tools to enhance its operating system. Then the company re-created these tools and built them into Windows, and the outsiders were shut out.

Twitter, a free service, plans to introduce paid accounts for businesses, including a tool for managing corporate tweets with multiple authors – inspired by a similar program developed by an outside firm called CoTweet, which will now have to compete with Twitter for sales.

How should developers orient themselves on this changing landscape? Wilson recommended that they focus on such add-on services as business tools, analytics, or gaming. The new terrain will be further explained and explored at the first-ever Chirp conference for Twitter developers, which starts today in San Francisco.

See: http://chirp.twitter.com/index.html

More Than 140 Characters

Knowing how to use Twitter effectively to advance media and promotion goals has become a crucial skill. Naturally, there are a host of business and publications that seek to help you out, some charging up to $150 for the privilege. Now you can visit Twitter itself for its own best-practices blog. And it’s free. Called “Twitter Media,” the new blog has entries so far on choosing the right API (application programming interface), how to fight off Twitter cybersquatters and a look at tweeting from Haiti. Don’t worry, though, the entries are more informative and substantive than the 140 character-maximum of Twitter’s signature “Tweets.”


Unmasking Anonymity

Posting comments online is an addictive, and contagious, activity – where would the Internet’s viral vibrancy and interconnectivity be without it? But should site operators allow visitors to post anonymously?

Journalists especially wonder what good purpose it serves for anonymity to be offered to those who add comments to the end of online reportage. Some papers, like the Washington Post and the New York Times, require the posters register, but that information is not publicly available.

Anonymity is no guarantee, however, merely a courtesy or a custom. Case in point, The Cleveland Plain Dealer recently outed a judge for anonymously posting on its website disparaging comments about a local lawyer with cases before her court. Her Honor is suing for violation of privacy.

Bear in mind that not much if any whistle-blowing deserving of anonymity is occurring in these comment streams. Instead they tend to be postings from people who don’t want the boss to know what they’re really doing during work hours — or they’re excretions from the petty, the obscene, and the venomous. “A lot of comment boards turn into the equivalent of a barroom brawl,” William Grueskin of Columbia University’s J-School said in the New York Times (4/12/10), “with most of the participants having blood-alcohol levels of 0.10 or higher.”

So news organizations are pondering and tweaking (… it doesn’t help the cause of anonymity that advertisers don’t care to see their ads pop up next to some unexpectedly nasty comment). The Washington Post, for instance, is planning a system of “user tiers” based on the credibility a user has garnered from other users, much as Amazon.com displays more prominently the product reviews voted “helpful” by other readers/reviewers. The new Post system might give more prominence to commentators using their real names.

On the matter of message board policing, many sites already provide this function but usually lack the resources to keep up with the volume — or check to make sure that divulged identities and email addresses are legitimate. But there is hope for the future of honesty, integrity, and courage (or perhaps just for imprudence): Younger generations tend to be more comfortable attaching their names and faces to their beliefs and preferences (even though it’s often TMI – too much information – another problem altogether).

Calling it an “education process,” Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington told the Times, “As the rules of the road are changing and the Internet is growing up, the trend is away from anonymity.”

To Print or Not

Changing office printers’ default font can save a large business, school, or institution thousands of dollars a year, according to a Dutch study.

Because of their different “weights” (thickness of stroke) fonts require different amounts of ink to print. Less ink usage means fewer cartridges needed. Century Gothic, for instance, uses about 30 percent less ink than Arial, according to Printer.com (as reported by AP). Because color printers draw on expensive color cartridges even when printing in black, you can save even more money by deliberately selecting black only when printing a one color (black) document from a color printer.

Logically enough, fonts with the word narrow or light in their names use less ink to print than those named bold or black. Forts with serifs (little lines at the ends of characters) also tend to be of lighter weight overall and thus less ink those without serifs (sans serif).

Here’s the thing, though: those fonts that use less ink are sometimes wider, meaning less type goes on the page and more paper has to be used, potentially, to print a document. So: good for ink usage and office budgets, bad for forests.

If you really want to save on ink – and paper – just don’t print at all.