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When newspapers, ‘blogging, recycling and wireless access meet…

For those that know me well, they know that I like to follow trends. I love to explore patterns, especially those of a technological slant, and even more especially if there’s a social connection, which there inevitably is.

So futurology is my thing. And exploring socio-technological trends is where I’m to be found most happy prognosticating like a good ‘en.

Recently, a number of developments seemed to come together in my mind. However, the original spark came about when Thomas Power of Ecademy fame asked the question: is ‘blogging a threat to news or a complementary channel?

One specific question in that article prompted my first response, that question being: “So do the New York Times, the Financial Times, News International and their like have anything to fear from this and from ‘blogging generally?”

To which my answer was:

“I can’t see any of them slipping up, not at this stage in the game.

Plus, they’re mostly offering distinctly different services from each other, so there’s not a tremendous amount of competition.

What I will say is, I’d wager that the BBC are the first in there with a leading [’blog-based] implementation…”

Latterly followed up with:

“I think the simple answer to the [original] question [in the article] is: both!

If you look at both mainstream media sources and ‘blogs, there will be a higher proportion of ‘noise’ with regards to ‘blogs, simply because ‘blogging is essentially free.

Whereas mainstream media is less tolerant, or should I say, the paying public are less tolerant of poor quality publications. Therefore those that aren’t any good go out of print.

However, of those ‘blogs that garner the heavy traffic, you’re looking at people who know their stuff, so that’s competition, plain & simple.

But then you have the average ‘blogger who rattles out an article with a simple quoted first paragraph and then a link to the full article, that’s just complimentary.

Personally, I think if we dispense with the idea of competition and simply think in terms of convergence, you have something truly monumental waiting in the wings.

What happens when mainstream media publications go web[-based] full-time and allow people to feedback into their articles?

Or, allow submissions from the readers? Articles that better serve a smaller, more local readership, thus drawing in fringe audiences that wouldn’t normally buy in[?]

In addition, you’ve got a dialogue in progress, people are talking, discussing, sharing ideas .. reading adverts!

I see a business model in the making…”

But that wasn’t an end to it .. oh no! All of this talk of media convergence simply got my juices flowing. And what’s this: “… something truly monumental waiting in the wings”?

The social implications of a technology are the most important, and often the least considered aspect of a technology, in terms of a broader dialogue with regards to any impact away from the marketing segment and demographic any such product is aimed at. Most of any such discussions (rare as they are) are discussed in past tense. This is often a mistake. As I’ve mentioned before, the implications of a technology must take precedence over the marketing value, or we invite not only failure, but possible disaster.

Here, you have a number of factors that usually feature: the precursors of a particular convergence point, external pressures, needs-driven thinking and disrupting technologies.

So when I recently ran a ‘blog article on the rumor that Apple may be debuting a video download offering by mid-September, there were a number of issues raised by the guys who replied that pushed forward and refined my thinking on the subject of media convergence.

Most of my prognostications will begin with a simple: “What if?” And most of the origins of my prognostications are needs-driven; that is to say that I’ve seen a problem whereby technology will not only provide a solution but also further enable people to do more. So with this in mind, the aforementioned ‘blog post got me going:

“Have you ever seen the film: Minority Report?

People routinely sit on a train with a huge sheet of paper in their hands. In the not too distant future, four things will come together and make something very real: proper micro-payments (small ecommerce transactions), pervasive wireless access, extremely flexible fabric screens and finally, the pressures of recycling.

The pressures to recycle will increase, so the amount of paper being used by each person on a daily basis will dwindle. In time, all but the largest newspapers will close shop. The major players will merge or partner with other media producers.

Also, ‘blogging will mature, which itself will be a contributing factor in the demise of smaller newspapers. And local, region-specific news coverage will then be tethered to the remaining major players, with ‘blogging ceasing to exist as a real term, and becoming anachronistic, since all news will be subject to democratic, social commentary.

Actually buying a newspaper will be almost meaningless. You’ll buy one ‘newspaper’, which will be a sheet of fabric with most of the beneficial properties of paper, while having all of the main attributes of a touch screen.

The content of which is constantly updated as and when more recent news emerges. A continual cycle of news, sport, finance, politics et cetera .. including your favourite cross words & puzzles!

But only the stuff that you’re interested in. Remember, this is your newspaper, so it would also be your choice what you want to see. Thus, the micro-payments are built around a pay-as-you-go model. Live footage and media coverage playing right there in your hands, all fed to you wirelessly.

How’s that sound?

From a technological point of view, we’re about 5 years away…”

That last line might not be entirely accurate, but I said it non-the-less, and it stays. So I mulled over this post for a while, and then run the concept by my dad. You see, my dad is of the old school. If I can propose an idea to him that he both understands and sees the benefits of, I’m on a winner.

Imagine your future newspaper, bought in a one-off payment. You leave the thing laying about the house, as you do. You hear a buzzing sound. Is it your mobile? No. It’s your newspaper. There’s some new content coming in.

You pick up the paper and you see that your favourite football club has inked a new contract with their most successful striker, keeping him as the main goal scorer for the next 3 seasons. Also, you receive a news article on the recent terrorist strikes in India.

All of this content is your content. The stuff you want to know about. Not the stuff you don’t want to know about. Maybe the wife likes to read the horoscopes and the kids like entertainment news. Well that’s great, ‘coz you’ve got it!

Maybe the wife also likes current affairs? She’s a keen thinker and has a good, even morally-balanced head on her shoulders and she likes to reply to various current affairs’ articles. We used to call this “’blogging”, but that’s a word you don’t hear much of these days.

You’re paying for what you want and not for what you receive. That might not sound intuitive at first glance, but do give it some thought.

During the course of the day, new content is delivered right to your personalized newspaper. You even have the option to disable advertising for an additional fee. This would remove the in-line, contextual advertising from the likes of Google, MSN, Yahoo! et al, and also remove the adverts from the various sources of video which make up the bulk of the news coverage.

Conversely, you can opt for a heavily subsidized edition which would embed adverts of all kinds in all places. In this instance, you pay a much smaller fee than your neighbour who has disabled advertising, but you end up having to chew your way through much more advertising.

So where the hell does recycling feature in any of this? Good question!

Very prominently, as a matter of fact. The environment is the big issue, right now. We’re under pressure to reduce our Carbon Footprint by any means possible (within reason, of course), and the most immediate way of affecting such change is to recycle:

“Over a million tonnes of newspapers are thrown away every year in the UK. Around three quarters of the newspapers we use are wasted. If every UK newspaper was printed on recycled paper, about 8 million trees a year could be saved. The newspaper we buy is made from approximately 40% waste paper. If newspapers were made from 80% recycled paper, this could generate nearly 10,000 new jobs in the UK.”

So the pressure is on to recycle. And what better pressure to apply than that of the problems associated with newspaper waste. That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. As I’ve said before, technology applied judiciously enables people in intriguing ways.

How apt, then, that all of this content is brought to your electronic newspaper (itself very much recyclable, but also quite long-lasting) wirelessly of course, via an all-pervasive wireless grid network. From when you leave home to you arriving at work, you’re within reach of this silent network feeding content to you wherever you happen to be. But we can expand this idea even further:

“Let’s work through a concrete example: It’s 7 p.m., it’s raining, and you’re walking in San Francisco (you’re from out of town) .. Imagine this: [an advert arrives on your newspaper], ‘Aqua restaurant (a leading San Francisco seafood restaurant) is two blocks away and has a special on salmon-in-parchment for $20.’ Now, I’m a very rational person, but I also have a weakness for the pink fish, and when I’m tired and wet and I see that, it really doesn’t matter what the other options are. That is an example of a proactive service, which if executed right, should be a boon to both consumers and advertisers.”

If you’ve read the full article from which I’ve both included verbatim and paraphrased for the purposes of this discourse, you’ll see this contextual agenda can (and will) expand & extend to other devices, not just your electronic newspaper.

Furthermore, not only is the advert very much representative of your tastes in food, which by the way is a learned response of the various advertising and content you’ve responded to over time, but the advert is geographically specific.

However, there some hurdles to overcome:

“The technical challenges with making this work well are arbitrarily deep, and many of them do not fall within traditional HCI. They span a large fraction of the scope of Web 2.0 business: rich user history; highly personalized, coupled services; carefully targeted marketing; and social and individual services. It’s also absolutely essential to build these systems on a deep understanding of users’ behavior, their needs and wants, and the contexts where those services are used, which is where HCI methods come in. It also taps deeply into AI (for user and social modeling and prediction); systems engineering (building and deploying the services); psychology, economics, and other social sciences (for understanding rational and nonrational user behavior); and a very broad notion of security (attacks include ‘bleeding’ advertiser revenue using robots).”

Also, there’s the issue of power and the provision thereof. Right now, there aren’t that many viable solutions to the ultra-slim battery. But that isn’t to say that people aren’t working on this problem.

While these issues are very interconnected and multifaceted, they’re not insurmountable. A solution is actually inevitable. Why? Because there’s a need, and a big enough need drives innovation and innovators to meet that need.

Right. Three down, nine letters.

The clue reads: “Childhood joke: what’s black & white and red all over?”

First letter: ‘n’, fourth letter: ‘s’, last three letters: ‘per’ .. hmm…

By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

4 replies on “When newspapers, ‘blogging, recycling and wireless access meet…”

I can’t believe you don’t have more people commenting here. This was a pleasure to read and I’d love to see more writings of this caliber related to future predictions.

The technology would really have to be RIGHT for newspapers to go away- it couldn’t hurt the eyes, must be easy to use – in fact, it must be EASIER to use (i.e. more convenient, no waiting) than paper…

And if it all came together just right maybe it would happen like you said.

5 years is pretty quick, but… even if you’re 5 years off this is a fascinating prediction. Personally I’ve love to have something like this myself!

Hi Jacob and thanks for posting and your kind words, too!

“I can’t believe you don’t have more people commenting here.”

Hopefully things will change.

I’m certainly getting more people coming to my ‘blog reccently, just need to get them to speak up!

“5 years is pretty quick, but… even if you’re 5 years off this is a fascinating prediction.”

I’m just following the two driving forces of all technology — the need and the money!

Hi Wayne, great article!

I really like the thought of moving towards this type of solution but the problem I see is this:

I say this after working in one of the biggest Australian Newspapers Media divisions.

There are such restrictive contracts and agreements about content and it’s reproduction on the web. Content from the news agencies (Reuters etc) that the major national papers carry are so restricted in terms of what can be displayed and where. All the arrangements are still based on the premise of a daily newspaper carrying content. These agreements haven’t properly addressed the implications of the online world yet. Where the internet is the major news source for the younger generations — hopefully myself included 😉

The big agencies like reuters etc are all petrified of their content being freely available on the internet to be copied and stolen without any royalties or gratuities being forwarded to the originating agency.

I would love to get to the point where my customised newspaper gets uploaded to my epaper on an hourly basis – like a simple RSS reader but from the New York times / Sydney Morning Herald etc.

Until we get over the issues surrounding these restrictive contracts though, it won’t happen.

Sorry for the rant!

keep up the good articles!


Hi Cameron, great points!

The legalities of copyright was (and still is) something I don’t like to touch on, for two reasons; 1. it’s a huge downer on the topic, because it kills the idea dead, and 2. I don’t know enough to be able to talk with confidence.

So it’s great to have you comment here and fill that stuff out for everyone.

Right now, major blogs are competing with existing media sources, so whether Routers et al are happy or not, they’re going to have to open their content up and find better, more innovative business models.

As we’ve seen from successful news stories in recent times, we appear to be happy allowing quality to run second to the immediacy of news coverage; here I’m referring to poor quality video taken on mobile phones at the scene of an incident.

What happens when the quality increases?

In time, the major news agency will have no choice but to open up, innovate or become yesterdays news themselves…

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