Tag Archives: online version

Newspapers’ Challenge

Newspapers have been scrambling to keep up with the world of blogs. In the process they’re actually destroying what sets them apart.

Take this piece from the International Herald Tribune. It’s in this morning’s revamped paper, under the byline of John Doyle—without further affiliation. It’s a good piece, except for a lame ending, but it contains at least four grammatical or spelling errors:

  • “the Scotland” twice (“Darren Fletcher was the Scotland’s best player”)
  • “England, under am Italian manager”
  • “There is a poetry of national longing and a poetic justice being behind the success of the Celtic countries.” Good luck making sense of that.

Now I just put this down to poor subbing. But the problem isn’t that.

The problem is that this piece is actually a blog post. Written by someone who doesn’t work for the NYT/IHT, as far as I can work out. At the bottom of the online version is this:

John Doyle is the TV Columnist for the Globe and Mail in Canada, writes regularly about soccer and his book about soccer, All The Rambling Boys of Pleasure, will be published in 2010.

So, first problem is: does a blog post count as a news article that can be published in a paper as such? And should the reader not be informed that

  • it’s a blog post, not a news piece (or analysis)
  • and that the author isn’t actually a NYT scribe?

The editing is not good, but it’s actually OK if it were a blog post, because it can be updated. Indeed, the online version has been: It’s longer, it makes sense, and the grammatical and spelling errors have gone. Indeed there’s a correction there that signifies the evolving nature of online writing.

My point is this: I paid for this newspaper. I thought I was paying for something that reflected the best of the IHT/NYT’s stable of writers. I didn’t expect to see the space filled with half-finished blog posts by people who may or may not actually be on the payroll. But I certainly didn’t expect to see the stuff pasted in without any further editing on the part of the IHT staff.

Don’t get me wrong. I still love the paper. And cuts mean that subs don’t have half the time they used to to edit this stuff.

But nevertheless, if newspapers are going to stand any chance at all, they really need to make sure that their material is so, so much better in terms of polish than their online counterparts, otherwise us readers will start to wonder why we’re paying for stuff offline that’s worse than the stuff we read online.

Encarta’s Passing: Harbinger of Redmond Doom?

Microsoft has announced that Encarta, its digital encyclopedia, will be dead by year’s end. First off, hands up who thought it had died long ago?

Secondly, and before we get on to the whole Wikipedia thing, I’d like to make a more general comment about Microsoft: its online stuff is awful, and Encarta is no different. There are already plenty of people musing on why Encarta died, but I’d say one good reason is that it’s hard to access and get your mind around as pretty much every Microsoft online property.

What worries me is that this isn’t a small problem anymore. It seems indicative of Microsoft’s’s online strategy, or lack of it, and seems to suggest they’re having bigger problems than we thought.

First, you visit its webpage. Well you don’t actually. The highest result in Google is the online version, parked at MSN.com: encarta.msn.com. Before we go there, you may notice that lower down the search results, past an MSN dictionary—which may or may not be Encarta—and the Wikipedia entry on Encarta (already updated to include Encarta’s announcement) lies another Microsoft site: Encarta the product. (Interestingly, its immediately followed by articles discussing its demise, giving you a pretty good idea of how little Encarta has been discussed or linked to up until now. That such articles could rise so quickly on Google is a surprise.)

The latter website is for the downloadable software. Interestingly, no mention there that it’s a product that is dead. (By contrast, there’s mention of “web encyclopedias”, which it contrasts itself to:

Editorially approved content you can trust. In contrast to many web encyclopedias, the authors of the 60,000 plus detailed articles in Microsoft Encarta Premium 2008 are experts in their field. Your kids get relevant age-appropriate information from reliable sources.

(Many? How many web encyclopedias are there?)

Maybe it’s a glitch but try clicking on any of the links to buy said software and you get an error from DigitalRiver, the online store:

image

Another example, for me, of how Microsoft online is a shambles.

Indeed, visit the first Encarta-branded link you see a different kind of logo:

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versus

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and a page that hums with mediocrity: a slice of Flash that cycles between several nothing teasers about nothing articles, tabs above that, confusingly, have one for encyclopedia—so is online Encarta not just an encyclopedia?—and some more pretty lame teasers “Beware dihydrogen monoxide! Relax, it’s just water. What other scientific pranks have people pulled?” better suited to some magazine website.

Clicking on the encyclopedia tab takes you a page that is a travesty of design and revealing about the state of the problem Microsoft faces:

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Two big MSN ads tell you they’re not pushing much ad inventory.The blank middle bit, filled only by the less than heplful instruction “Select a type of article to see a list of categories.” suggests someone there hasn’t done Design 101.

Click on the first link, to Encyclopedia Articles and you’re still hunting: “Select a category to see a list of subcategories.” By then I’m guessing you’ve probably lost interest, both in Encarta and this blog post, so I’ll leave it there. But I suspect that this poor branding, presentation, navigation and lack of non-inhouse ads has as much to do with Encarta’s demise as anything else.

My point: Is this just Microsoft scrambling around to find its way online (still) or is it a symptom of a deeper malaise at Redmond that is going to usher in a slew of announcements like Encarta’s? If so, what is next for the chop?

I’d submit a couple of candidates off the top of my head:  played with Microsoft Office’s Live plugin the other day, that supposedly lets me save and collaborate on documents online. Boy did that one suck! Then there’s FolderShare, which used to be a great product—sharing folders and files online between users and computers—which is now called Windows Live Sync, and which doesn’t seem to work. At all. (I’ve tried it on a few computers, and despite installing the software, you’re still prompted to install it even when it’s running.)

So disappointing. I’d imagined Microsoft eventually embracing and extending online but all I see is a congealed mess of half-products that can’t decide what they’re called, and where they belong. Critical though though I’ve been of Microsoft in the past, I hate to see this.

Bot, Go Out and Do My Bidding

This week’s WSJ.com column (behind a subscription wall, I’m afraid) is on how we need to get ready for the day when chatbots go out and do our bidding for us. Literally, possibly, but if nothing else to go out and do the pre-flirting bit of online dating. 
clipped from online.wsj.com

Expect a future where we don’t interact with other people. Instead, we’ll send our “cyber double” out to interact with other people’s “cyber doubles” until things get interesting. Then, and only then, will real people take over.

This is the vision of Liesl Capper, whose Sydney-based RelevanceNow! last week launched an early version of MyCyberTwin (mycybertwin.com), a service that allows you to create and hone an online version of yourself. Your cyber twin will then chat on your behalf on instant messaging, your blog or your MySpace page. Eventually much of what you do online will be left to your cyber double, indistinguishable from the real thing (you). As Ms. Capper puts it: “You can be you, even when you’re not you.”