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Sterling Riff In New Scientist

By - September 23, 2006

Bruce Sterling, a prolific sci-fi author who I’ve had the honor to know since the birth of Wired, has a great riff on being a teenager in a rather dim future in the current print edition of New Scientist. It’s online, but only for a while, as the magazine seems hell bent on a subscription model. (Memo to New Scientist: Join the Point to Economy). From it:

It’s not that we can’t do it: it’s that all our social relations have been reified with a clunky intensity. They’re digitized! And the networking hardware and software that pervasively surround us are built and owned by evil, old, rich corporate people! Social-networking systems aren’t teenagers! These machines are METHODICALLY KILLING OUR SOULS! If you don’t count wall-graffiti (good old spray paint), we have no means to spontaneously express ourselves. We can’t “find ourselves” – the market’s already found us and filled us with map pins.

At our local mall, events-management sub-engines emit floods of locative data. So if Debbie and me sneak in there, looking for some private place to get horizontal, all the vidcams swivel our way. Then a rent-a-cop shows up. What next?

(thanks, BIll)

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  • http://joeduck.wordpress.com Joe Hunkins

    Bruce has no teenagers? I love the idea of keeping track of my kids (as well as all those nasty vandal teens) 24-7 via ubiquitous webcams. Sign me up.

  • http://www.newscientist.com John MacFarlane

    Thanks for the link to our article, and for the prompt to re-read your ‘Point to Economy’ piece. It’s something that we broadly agree with but let me explain why we prefer to use a more fluid model that lets us experiment and adapt to our users’ needs.

    We constantly play with where our subscription barrier falls and use site analytics to measure the effect of these tests. While deep linking is your preferred model we are also interested in sponsored-access to content, releasing articles based on their age, releasing articles if there is exceptional interest in them, barrier access holidays, one-click free, and so on and so forth. There really is no limit to the tests that you can run and we feel that the best way to balance user experience with our commercial requirements is to keep experimenting.

    We’re also paying special attention to the blogosphere by setting up services which alert bloggers to which articles are free on our site and setting up mechanisms which will let them deep-link into content. We do however feel that it’s important for us to focus this activity on what David Sifry’s calls the Magic Middle (http://www.sifry.com/alerts/archives/000420.html) of the Long Tail. It’s here that we think that we’ll find the most interesting and authoritative bloggers, traffic, and the best return on our effort.

    If anyone would like to take part in this collaborative experiment then get in touch with Matt Sparkes (matt dot sparkes at newscientist dot com) – he’s our Social Media Optimiser. Matt’s not sure about the job title but I don’t think it’s long until every web site has a SMO!

    Finally – around 60% of the content on our site is free so I think that it’s a bit unfair to say that we’re “hell bent on the subscription model.” I hope that I’ve been able to convince you otherwise.

    John MacFarlane
    Online Publisher, New Scientist

    Oh, and because of the high interest in the Bruce Sterling article we decided to extend the free access – enjoy.

  • http://prefpass.com Adam Marsh

    Interesting to see the back and forth on barriers to content here! In our view (PrefPass), a big source of problems in this area is that for a lot of content, the value exchange just isn’t in balance. Regular readers may be happy to register or even pay for content, but folks following a link or just checking things out will be turned off by any significant barrier.

    The whole point of PrefPass is to give sites a way to offer users a very low barrier (one click, anonymous), while still providing the value of registration (or better!) for the site. Check it out! We think that this is a great way to address this persistent conflict, and let sites join the Point to Economy in a financially viable way that preserves the reader relationship.