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48 posts from August 2006

The Bivings Report on Ways to Improve Newspaper Websites

Anyone involved with the newspaper industry needs to read this great summary of suggested website improvements from Todd Zeigler. Some of these are no-brainers (e.g., using tags, providing full RSS feeds, etc.) while others are going to require editors and other executives to abandon their not-invented-here mentality (e.g., work with external social websites, partner with local bloggers, etc.).

The Toronto Star Gets It!

Earlier this month I mentioned an idea for a free, customizable, downloadable, mini-issue of The Wall Street Journal (or any newspaper) in PDF format. Thanks to Wiley colleague Lucas Wilk for pointing me to this announcement today from The Toronto Star. Their new “Star P.M.” service is all that and more -- it launches on September 5th.

I don’t live in Canada and I’ve never read The Toronto Star, but I just subscribed to this program – I can’t wait to see how it works. I hope it’s a huge success for them and that other papers will follow their lead.

Blurb’s Blog-to-Book Service

I mentioned Blurb back in this July post. According to this Wired News article, Blurb is apparently going to invite 600 bloggers for a free trial of their blog-to-book conversion service. The blog-to-book service might wind up becoming the ultimate in vanity publishing, but I wonder if there’s another related service they should consider offering: blog-to-PDF.

Despite my best efforts with RSS feeds and other approaches, I have to admit that there are times when I’d like to catch up on a blog or discover a new one but I just don’t have the time. By “time” I mean time in front of a computer with an Internet connection. However, there are plenty of times when I’d welcome a nicely formatted hard copy of a blog that I could read on a plane, for example. Maybe I’ve just been doing too much flying lately... Then again, I often print out news items from the web so I can read them later at home – after working in front of a monitor or two all day I often welcome the chance to read a few printouts instead.

What if Blurb created a little plug-in that could be featured on any blog, you click on it and you’re asked what date range you want a PDF created for (e.g., posts and comments from July 1 through today) and it pulls it all together in a well-formatted file? The first question of course is “how would Blurb make any money off this?” Answer: They could place advertising throughout the PDF. Then it’s like reading a blog that’s formatted like a magazine.

I don’t see myself paying $30-$80 for the hardcover, dust-jacketed blog-book they’re offering, but I’d definitely use the PDF service described above.

SpiralFrog: iTunes Competitor or Illegal Download Killer?

Tired of paying 99 cents for a song? Don’t want to risk getting hit with a nasty RIAA lawsuit for illegal download activities? If you answered “yes” to either one of these, SpiralFrog has a deal for you. Starting in December, they’re going to start offering free music downloads from the archives of Universal Music Group. How can they do this? By forcing you to watch ads on their site. Hmmm…advertising supported music…wait a minute…don’t they call that “the radio?”

I got all excited when I bought my 40-Gig Creative Labs MP3 player and read about the Yahoo Music Unlimited service. I was excited until I learned that Yahoo’s DRM wasn’t supported on my player, that is. Nevertheless, I was ready to pay $5 or $10 per month to load that up with “rental” songs, but I’m not so sure I’m willing to do the same for this service. It’s unclear exactly how much time you’ll have to spend watching one ad after another on the SpiralFrog site. What is clear is that you’ll be forced to watch more ads every month to authenticate all your earlier downloads. Time is money and I’m not sure I’d be willing to spend more than 5 minutes per month taking in the ads for this service.

So what’s the answer to my question in the title? Will this take business away from iTunes or simply be a great way to discourage illegal file sharing? First of all, it looks like this won’t affect iTunes at all. According to this cnet report, SpiralFrog has no plans to support the iPod platform. Is that brilliant or incredibly stupid? After all, doesn’t the iPod represent something like 80% or so of the portable music player market?

Unfortunately, I also don’t see this program having any effect on illegal download activities. Let’s face it: Anyone who is still stealing music today, despite the risk of a nasty lawsuit, isn’t going to change their ways for this program.

Content Overkill

Is it possible to cram too much content onto a web page? Absolutely. Just hop over to or for a couple of great examples. Sports sites aren’t the only ones guilty of this, of course, but they’re a great example of content gone wild.

I was reading a recent post by Steve Klein on the E-Media Tidbits blog before I realized I’m not the only sports fan totally turned off by this content cramming approach. Honestly, take a look at either of those pages and tell me where your eyes go first. You could probably flash the same page in front of me 10 different times and I’m likely to initially look at a different item every time.

So what? They’re getting loads of traffic because of their brand names and the temptation is probably to continue one-upping each other, jamming the next item into the main page until almost nothing is readable.

Then again, at least SI has come to their senses. I dropped my ESPN Magazine subscription long ago but I continue to subscribe to SI. As Steve pointed out, and I saw on the cover wrap for a recent issue, SI is about to launch MySI. Just like another favorite of mine, MyYahoo, I plan to customize MySI to help make sense of the clutter.

Sure, I’ll spend 10-15 minutes checking boxes and moving items around to help make my experience a better one. I just wish they’d come to their senses and clean it up on their own. Apparently and have never read anything on usability and they certainly haven’t paid any attention to Google’s “keep it simple and clean” approach.