by Dana Blankenhorn
  Volume VI, No. XXVIII

This Week's Clue: Newspapers vs. the Web

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This Week's Clue: Newspapers vs. the Web
SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)
SP (Shameless Promotion)
The Promise of New Growth
Desktop Linux Is Coming
A Quiet Revolution
Clued-in, Clueless
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For the Week of July 15, 2002

The "big news" last week was a Danish court agreeing that "deep linking" without permission was illegal. It was a stupid case, a ridiculous decision, that will have no impact (especially since it only applies to Denmark). You can't ban hyperlinks without declaring the Web itself illegal.

But there is something more involved. We all know how broadband content owners, threatened by the Web, have taken legal action against file traders, and even linkers (like "2600," which gave up its fight to link to DeCSS recently). The news here is that narrow band content owners are now joining them.

Newspapers in particular are fighting the Web in court for the same reasons that music companies and other media companies are doing it. They're losing money hand-over-fist on their online efforts, and they're afraid someone else is making money off their content.

Eric Ward is an example. Eric has run a linking service since 1994 at his EricWard.Com Web site. (He's also known for his URLwire press release offering . "My client list is a who's who of online brands," he writes. "I have many large and small clients who actively seek deep links, and pay me to go out and seek deep links for them," like the National Library of Medicine and PBS.

Note that "deep links" is a false term, created by opponents of linking in order to give the whole thing a nefarious or obscene gloss. There's no technical difference between a link to a site name and a link to a page three levels down in the site's directory, just as there's little difference between c:// and c://clue/cluv6i28.htm. Both are addresses accessible by computer, and in fact only the second is useful. It's specific, therefore (to its enemies) "deep."

Eric isn't the only person making a living in this way. INTM's "Newslinx" is one of many specialized "links pages" that make it simple for you to find a particular type of news - in this case technology news. Drudgereport is basically a links page.

Newsbooster has taken all this a step further. It advertises itself as a "media monitoring" company. Its entire business model is to monitor Web news sites, apply keywords to them, and sell access to those links.

The fact is that finding information, rather than reading it, is the most popular online activity today. This has become the Age of Google, and any site with a Clue has great big Google-ee eyes on collecting and profiting from links.

But there's a problem here. The people who are profiting from content aren't the people making it. This has the people making content, even narrow-band news content, furious. Perhaps nowhere is the fury greater than among newspapers. They've lost their biggest cash cow, classified ads, to online rivals. Now their content is being mined and distributed profitably by others, while the Web ad collapse has them losing money with every page view.

So this "deep linking" brouhaha has nothing to do with technology, or the law. It has everything to do with money and greed. Newspapers figure that if they can't make money from their content neither should anyone else.

The "anti-Web" cabal (how's that, creators of "deep linking?") have also taken action on a technical front. Some redirect all incoming links to their home pages (as FoxNews tried a few years ago), which if they have links to the outside from their pages is blatantly unfair. More often they are trying the Euro-trick of "forced registration."

This starts by putting older stories behind firewalls, charging users either a per-page fee to view old stories or making stories from a few days or weeks ago part of a "value added" subscriber tier. Many newspapers demand verifiable e-mail addresses as part of the online subscription process.. (Here's a trick. If you control a domain, use a unique e-mail address that defaults to the main domain box for each of these subscribes, then see who they're selling your name to.)

Re-directs and forced subscribes have the effect of restricting link sites and eliminating the past of news. It's then a simple thing to move that time-stamp up further-and-further, killing those links faster-and-faster. Newslinx has responded, for the most part, by halting outgoing links to most newspapers, or by linking instead to third-party sites that are licensed to hold the content and which hold it open longer . (But it's important in this case to notice who is holding the door open - the McClatchy newspaper chain..)

My guess is the 22 Danish newspapers who sued Newsbooster would drop their case in a heartbeat if Newsbooster paid them enough money for the "privilege" of linking to them. In any case, the loss to history by having old stories behind firewalls has already been done.

What's the cost? To the newspaper industry, it will be pretty high. Bloggers, newsletters (like this one) and links sites are now avoiding newspaper stories. We will soon find the best source of old (over one week) newspaper stories is Usenet, where they're routinely cut-and-pasted into individual notes (and where they're still easily searched via Google). Most people are simply going around the greed. Newspapers, in their search for a short-term fix to their Web profit problem, have marginalized themselves further.

Oh, and one more time. I've told the Clueless newspaper industry the answer to their problem many times. It's simply to license local white-and-yellow page listings from, say, infoUSA, then link their own database of news to it. Make that directory the place where people go for value-added information on restaurants (including reviews), politicians (including news stories), and their neighborhood. Add legal databases (like real estate transactions) to the mix, charge people for subscriptions or one-time "dossiers," and you win. This is a huge business - Qwest wants $8 billion just for the directory business in 14 states! By adding real data to listings, you can make it worth a lot more.

Of course implementing such a plan would take vision and investment and a Clue! That's something the newspaper industry has lacked, on the whole, for 100 years, so I don't expect them to get one now. But they can't say they weren't told. (E-mail this to your favorite publisher so you're sure they get the message.)

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SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)

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I still write for Boardwatch, Boardroomand BtoB. You can find my old ClickZ columns here (write and ask that they hire me back.)

Remember: it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...

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Shameless Promotion

People are always asking me, what's the fastest route to Internet success? I tell them it's following Rob Frankel. Rob understands branding, and he understands the Internet. Just browse his store and see.

I know, I know. You've got to have money to make money. But if you have a user base, you can turn that into the money you need quickly with Rob's latest service, I-Legions . So what are you waiting for?

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Takes on the News

The Promise of New Growth

It could be that smart people have finally found a bottom in the tech wreck of the last two years. That would mean dead wood can now be cleared and new growth can begin in the tech garden.

The story everyone focused on was the $1.5 billion buy-out of Paypal by eBay. It was an obvious deal, the only question being whether eBay overpaid. Paypal was never able to move far from its eBay roots, and there was a growing dissatisfaction with its service among the eBay hordes. Rather than risk its goodwill, eBay chose a deal.

But the deal which the Clued-in found most interesting was Warren Buffett's investment in Level 3. Now, a close reading of the story shows that Buffett wasn't really putting $500 million into a telecom company, let alone a fiber network some have compared to Global Crossing. In fact, he was putting in his good name, on the hope that his partners, particularly Southeastern Asset Management's Stacey Cates, could extract real value from acquisitions of failing competitors. He was also betting that Level 3 chairman Walter Scott, who sits on the Berkshire Hathaway board, would run the results well and fairly. (Buffett has recently gotten some burnishing on his halo by calling for stock options to be treated as expenses on the income statement, which I agree with.)

Still, whatever the excuse, Buffett put his name out there on a telecom deal, there's a pot of gold waiting for the bankrupt, and maybe we can finally start moving forward.

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Desktop Linux Is Coming

Everyone has given up on it, but it is going to happen, and sooner than most think. Why? Three letters - IBM

IBM has a bigger stake in Linux' future than anyone else. It has a lot of manufacturing capability (some of which is now fallow) and it hates Microsoft. Rumors were swirling around PC Expo recently that IBM is about to make the move.

But the IBM Linux box won't be like your typical PC. It will come equipped, not just with a Windowing operating system but with a host of applications. It will do everything you need done right out of the box, with a full office suite and Internet access built-in.

What will make it compelling? Try extras like 802.11 hardware and software, bookmarks to all the leading Linux software sites (all neatly organized) and a super-low price. Since IBM won't be paying Microsoft's software bounty, it can release profitable desktops at under $500, and laptops at under $1,000, all with the IBM name on them.

My guess is these boxes will be test-marketed first among some of IBM's better customers (mainly in other countries, so as to avoid the press) but you could see something in stores early next year.

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A Quiet Revolution

The latest Internet Society conference showed that a quiet revolution is beginning among the Internet's elite against government and corporate control of the resource. Too bad the Washington Post was the only outfit covering it and that their coverage was so bland.

There were a lot of fears on the table. Vint Cerf warned of asynchronous protocols (like ADSL) that let users receive video but keep them from sending it. Eric Schmidt of Google warned against the balkanization of Instant Messaging. Dave Farber of the University of Pennsylvania complained of new ISP pricing schemes that charge for bits rather than per-month. Former FCC chairman Reed Hundt warned of a ban against retail sales of 802.11 gear, and Larry Lessig is still on his copyright high horse.

Here's a summary of what they were all saying. What makes the Internet unique is that it's a level playing field. Governments and corporations are now tilting that field, for their own purposes, and threatening to destroy what makes the Internet important in the process.

The most important point, however, is that these people aren't being listened to anymore, by those who decide the legal terms and economic conditions of this industry. In other words, the Internet Society is going to have to take its concerns out of the salon, and into the arena, if it wants to protect its creation. A manifesto would be a nice start.

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Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is a decision from the New York Court of Appeals setting a one-year statute of limitations on Web defamation.

Clueless is China's latest attempt to control its Internet users, through ISPs. Freedom will not be denied. The Web will bury you. Relax with some Falun Dafa.

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