Phillip Smith

MoJo asks: How can the open Web help to fund & sustain news?

Starting points for today's post:

  • The final post in this series asks "How can the open Web help to fund & sustain news?"
  • If you're joining late, you should probably start here.
  • We want your help: How would you prioritize these? What would you add? What would you want to work on?

So, just how exactly can the open Web help to fund & sustain news?

That's a big question, and not one with any easy answers. New experiments are being introduced to address the "paying for news" challenge almost daily now -- from big players like Google, all the way down to start-ups like Readability. News organizations around the globe are exploring how to move from entirely ad-supported models, to a model that encourages the news user to contribute to the production of quality journalism, and these experiments are, overall, a positive development.

But what lessons does the open Web bring to bear on this critical challenge? What can news organizations learn from the open-source software movement that underpins so much of the innovation that is happening in newsrooms today?

As new technologies of identity and federation -- like Web finger, Salmon, and OStatus -- are further developed, and as experiments like Diaspora grow and mature, it will be possible to start asking new questions about how to remove toll booths on the open Web, how to put control of personal information back into the users' hands, and how to build privacy-first social networks.

These upcoming changes will introduce new possibilities for news organizations -- possibilities that will potentially put the news organizations back in the driver's seat of the funding & sustaining news question, should they want to take the lead collectively.

Here are just a few possible challenges in this area:

Funding & Sustaining news

  • Open Web App Stores: More players are getting into the "Web App Store" ecosystem, from Google to Apple, and Mozilla has recently launched its own Web Applications push. Each of these initiatives aims to bring app-like experiences to devices using the technologies of the open Web, like HTML5 & JavaScript. How can this proliferation of Web-application markets work to the advantage of news users, and news makers? Does the opportunity to build Web application markets, bypassing toll booths along the way, introduce new revenue opportunities? If so, what are they?

  • Open standards for metered models As a growing number of news organizations start to explore metered models for access to content, a growing number of site-specific payment scenarios are facing news users. How many articles can a user read this month? Did they come from a social network, or did they navigate directly? Are they on their desktop, laptop, or mobile device? This is a dizzying array of factors to consider. These factors are multiplied by vendor-specific technologies, like Google's "first-click free" initiative, or Readability's new focus on "paying publishers" -- with more to come no doubt from vendors like Amazon, Paypal, and Facebook. Can this be made better, easier, and simpler for news users and news organizations? Could an open standard for metering and paying for news content help to simplify the landscape for all news organizations? If so, what would it look like?

  • Intelligent advertising: Start-ups like Groupon have shown that the idea that "no one likes advertising" is outdated in an environment where so much personalization is possible. Innovative new experiments in creating relevant and socially-integrated advertising are underway, but they are the exception, not the norm. With so much information at hand -- from geo-location in the browser, the imminent introduction of near-field communication, and users' own indication of preference -- it is surprising that online display advertising is still the norm. What new opportunities do the technologies of the open Web present for doing advertising differently?

No doubt you have your own ideas for how, where, and in what ways the open Web creates opportunities in the "Funding & Sustaining news" category. Please feel free to add them to the list. Also, let me know: What grabs you from the list above, based on your experiences? How would you prioritize these? Which challenge would you want to solve?

Feel free to comment here, or on the MoJo community mailing list (or via whatever medium suits your fancy).

This post wraps up the series. Thanks for marching along with me. There will be more, no doubt, so join the MoJo list to stay updated.


Hi, I'm Phillip Smith, a veteran digital publishing consultant, online advocacy specialist, and strategic convener. If you enjoyed reading this, find me on Twitter and I'll keep you updated.


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