Free* Will

*Conditions Apply

The first documented appearance of the subject on the blog is in 2011, and I seem to have posted on the subject every alternate year, the last being in 2015. But it’s sheer coincidence and not really pattern following that led me to think, and write, about free will now.

Across my life, I have moved from having a faith and believing in predestination (will of God), to being agnostic and believing in karma, to being an atheist and believing in the influence of luck (random chance) in all the plans I make. In the last version, the view is that my free will is dominant – I make my own choices which dictate my future and nothing is predetermined. The luck explains the good and bad out-of-ordinary things that change my future, but it is random. Karma stories are a forced narrative based on hindsight. More

Building Slack

(no, not the product!)

Towards the end of Life Menus, I had mentioned how I have quite a ‘scarcity mindset’ when it comes to money and time. I don’t think there will be enough, and many of my thoughts and actions are influenced by this. As explained very well in Scarcity, (highly recommended book, and thanks @shefaly) this is related to tunnelling, and my ‘inability’ at a certain point in time to see the larger picture and the broader consequences of my immediate actions.

One of the ways I have tried to beat it (and the book also has a term for it) is to create what’s called slack. [Remember the space between stimulus and response quote I keep using?] The reason I’m very interested in slack is because it can not just help me maintain equilibrium within myself, but also enable some sort of control in my relationship with others.  More

Flipping news models

Google’s Fast Flip has been receiving quite a lot of attention these days. Based on the Google News model of aggregation and categorisation, Google has partnered with quite  few sources including BBC, BusinessWeek, Washington Post, New York time, to name a few, which shows previews of their pages on Fast Flip, but looks exactly like they would on the source site, almost. We’ll come to that in a bit. The stories can be accessed basis sources, sections and the other parameters we are used to – recent, most viewed, recommended etc. Oh, yes, much of it is the user interface, that lets you ‘flip’ through the content, ‘like’ stories, and you can click through to the source site, if you want to read the full story. It has its rough edges, and is far from being any sort of killer to anyone, but its a damn good start, much better than any interface that any publication has brought out so far. On the revenue front, there are contextual ads on Fast Flip itself, and Google will be sharing revenue with newspapers. It is interesting to note that the previews of the source sites do not include ads. So if I am able to read a story completely in the preview, (which in many cases I am), I wouldn’t go to the source site, nor would I see/click the ads there. This is potentially an area of conflict, since the (shared) revenue from the one ad that’s displayed on Fast Flip cannot compare with the revenue from the source site. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to a time when perhaps, Google Reader will have a similar interface. 😉

In the last few weeks, this is the second instance of Google engaging with publications and ‘helping’ them create a revenue stream. The first instance was Google sending a proposal for micropayments, in response to a request for paid content proposals from the Newspaper Association of America. As per an NYTimes blog, this would be an extension of Google Checkout. Google is only one of the companies that have sent a proposal, and the list includes Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft. The system is of course in its early planning stages, and the business model has a 30-70 split (Google-publisher). Though Google still doesn’t believe that paying for content will be the remedy for newspapers’ woes, it  still has a vision of a premium content ecosystem, which includes five key features that combine the Google’s e-commerce, search, and advertising platforms.

While Google is described by many as the single largest threat to newspapers, its definitely not the only one. From new hyperlocal community sites (eg. Patch) to remnants of old giants (AOL’s Digital City, Yahoo Local) and from new age media entities like Huffington Post to new and varied kinds of aggregators (, OurSignal, MeeHive, Thoora) different services are catering to the different needs that newspapers used to satisfy. The important aspect is that the new entities are well versed in leveraging the latest tools and collaborating with those who can add to their utility value. A good example would be the tie up between Huffington Post and Facebook for HuffPost Social News. Social sharing, real time are changing the way news is being consumed. I recently read about The Twitter Times, which creates a customised ‘newspaper’ by checking the links from people you follow, and the popularity of those links. Even while massive changes are happening online, and affecting the lifestyle of individuals and society at large, newspapers are still grappling with how to evolve new business models. (a good, albeit dated read on battle plans)

There was a short but interesting discussion on Twitter a few days back, where Surekha brought up the example of PressDisplay’s business model (aggregation of various newspapers and consumers pay for access) to ask whether a DTH kind of model would work for newspapers. I didn’t think it would. The only other distribution network for television content is the local cable guy (ignoring the web for now). But ‘news’ and even the ‘features’ content can find its way to the consumer through multiple sources and media – TV, web, mobile, and multiple sources within that.  The entry barriers have fallen drastically. Scarcity model vs Abundance model. Keeping in mind the cost that newspapers incur in creating the content and the incremental value that they give the consumer, how much would a consumer pay a newspaper aggregator, and how much would the newspapers get out of that. Yes, Press Display will make money, but ask newspapers to survive only on that revenue or even that plus web advertising, and it would be a tough task. This is why newspapers are finding it hard to negotiate this transition stage (discussed earlier) because its not one answer and its definitely not a common answer. Again, as I’ve discussed here earlier, there are inherent differences between news gathering processes in the print and online space – batch processing vs real time processing. It calls for a (albeit cliched) leaner meaner structure, not just for operations’ sake, but also perhaps from a profitability perspective.

The more I think about it, the more I realise that its not just processes, there is a cultural angle to this. As Terry Heaton points out in “The Web’s widening stream“, the knack of creating and facing disruptive innovations. We’ve discussed David and Goliath before, David becomes version 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 faster and faster, each version better than the other (because he fixes the bugs in 1.1, 2.5 etc) while Goliath reels because it can’t even figure out the answer to 1.0.  His strength has become his weakness – scale, and he doesn’t have a culture that encourages moving fast, learning from mistakes, being open to changes amongst other things. In fact, newspapers have been lazy and guilty of doing the exact thing that Seth Godin warns about in “Flipping abundance and scarcity” – putting free on top of a business model, and now rapidly trying to change it.

I don’t think India is impervious to these changes, the time frame will vary because of several factors – technology adoption delays, vernacular content to name a couple, but as I keep repeating, its no time to be complacent. From Rediff and Instablogs which have evolved their own news collection systems to hyperlocal players of different kinds – governance based like Praja, Citizen Matters, local businesses review based like Burrp, and several other niches, the different domains of newspapers are being challenged. More importantly we’re increasingly getting used to ‘streams’ – FB, Twitter etc. The principal revenue model of newspapers has been advertising (as opposed to circulation), they have been the medium to reach audiences, with the most basic of audience filtering. The radical change (as Heaton points out) is that advertisers can be part of the stream themselves, with such filtration techniques that they can target an individual if necessary. So, for newspapers, if the advertiser won’t pay, the reader has to. The reader , meanwhile has figured out that on the web, he has an abundance of choices.

until next time, stop press?