An analysis of some of the web's limitations
January 8, 2002 4:52 PM   Subscribe

An analysis of some of the web's limitations as a medium for publishing newspapers' content. It focuses on NewsStand, the service offering the NYTimes, the International Herald Tribune and others in PDF format, and says some interesting things about the respective formats' ease of use and ability to guide readers to what they're looking for. (It has me thinking, is HTML/CSS just too limited to do certain things well?)
posted by mattpfeff (13 comments total)
(NewsStand's version of the NY Times was also discussed here, a few months ago.)
posted by mattpfeff at 4:54 PM on January 8, 2002

It seems to me that if the same level of time, effort, and money were put into every online issue of the NYT that goes into every print issue, HTML/CSS would be able to go a very long way.

However, at the same time, their primary point stands: computer screens suck for doing just about anything. Their only saving grace is that they are instantly and interactively updated, and that they offer better resolution than TVs. But then again, newsprint isn't exactly the creme da la creme of print media, either.

How much longer until we have portable organic LED webpads, again?
posted by Ptrin at 5:02 PM on January 8, 2002

What I like about this idea is that Acrobat allows you to do advanced searches as well.
Flash, Quicktime, VR can also be added, so it can be like an interactive newscast and newspaper in one.
It's a newspaper, only better (not on newsprint, no ink stains on your fingers) and you only need to print out what you want.
posted by heyzeus at 5:10 PM on January 8, 2002

Oh wow. How much did that commentator get paid to state the obvious fact that HTML is not print and print is not HTML and attempting to convert print genres to HTML is probably not going to work?

But then again, perhaps this is not as obvious. After all, the age of cowboy coding that transformed HTML from a good implementation of SGML into a complete piece of trash was driven by script kiddies and "designers" who wanted pixel by pixel control of their web pages.

Granted, dead tree publication beats electronic publication for scanability. As a result, electronic publishers should focus on what HTML (and its successor XML) does best: The ability to search large quantities of text for specific keywords, multimodal viewing by having your computer read the text to you, customization for individual preferences and disabilities, hypertext linking between related articles, and sorting articles by user preferences.

And in regards to e-books, the demise of dead tree publication has been predicted repeatedly over the last 100 years and has failed to come about.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:18 PM on January 8, 2002

There is a good reason we all keep stacks of magazines and newspapers

I do too but, no, there isn't. Who has proper filing systems? And how can they compare to the archival depth and searchability of the Web?

A great post, mattpfeff, and a hell of an important question.

I tend to think that useful technologies accumulate rather than replace each other. Print and the Web are mutually reinforcing. I've always been a print junkie but since the Internet I've come to appreciate newspapers, magazines and books much more.

And realize the limitations of print. I have a formidable reference library(books - I hate "hard copy"!)but I've learnt that it's a question of time before it's all online. The E.B. and the O.E.D. already are.

It's just a question of deciding what you want - how fast, how cross-referenced - your information.

While recently in New York, where I bought the NYT at four in the morning, two steps away from the Hudson Hotel, I'd already checked the online version. But, what a difference! Having breakfast in front of it, the page-turning, the folding, the heft, the smell, the way it sort of makes you go through it all(whereas you pick and chose on the online version, even the "facsimile" one, I'd imagine)...

I guess what I mean, mattpfeff, is that life just keeps getting more and more wonderful for us!

Andreas Pfeiffer is neither a book person or a webbie. Each medium's "limitations" are immediately fulfillable by the other!

Like you want your computer to replace everything. That's stupid! Why not enjoy the abundance?
posted by MiguelCardoso at 5:22 PM on January 8, 2002

The Web works via HTTP and HTML.

I can read Shake-fucking(sorry)-Speare that way.

If I can't read your "Po-Mo-Blo-thoughttheboomwasgoingtocontinuebutitdidntandIlostmyjobwitha startup"-prose that way then, I'm sorry,
but I'm not going to download Flash/Adobe/YourFavouriteProprietaryArtistic BollocksProgram to read your whiney nonsense.

The song remains the same as before you discovered the Web in 1999: write plain text, or write HTML, Or F.U.C.K. O.F.F. back to making coffee for the execs.

I thank you.
posted by godidog at 5:37 PM on January 8, 2002

Let there be no doubt that godidog says it a lot better!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 7:02 PM on January 8, 2002

I guess when you're writing tripe for the masses at a fifth-grade level or below design becomes more and more important. Frankly, I'll read the messiest of websites as long as it is clearly legible and interesting. What an odd concept that is...
posted by RevGreg at 7:19 PM on January 8, 2002

it lets you examine reading efficiency of printed material displayed on a computer screen; we can learn a lot about why print ads work, and online ads don't.

Print ads work? Really? Hell, I've always treated them to the same amount of my attention as web ads - virtually none.

We all know how fast we can flip through a newspaper to pick up the essential stories of the day, something which is virtually impossible on a Web-site, however well conceived. The Web, as paradoxical as it may seem, is a very bad medium for browsing.

Paragraphs like this lead me to ask some questions. Who is this guy trying to fool? How much did he get paid for his comments? Does he have stock in the company mentioned? I can find info much faster on the web. How about news from a year ago? Oh yeah, since the info will be tied up in some ridiculous proprietory format, I won't be able to search for it. Thanks.

It is interesting to note that print ads work--even on a digital page.

Uhm, what the hell does this mean? This man claims that online ads don't work but print ads do. I'd like to see some data please. GOOD online ads are MUCH more effective with me - mainly because a GOOD web ad relates to the information or site I am accessing and therefor is automatically geared to things I am interested in. That's good for me and for the advertiser. Print ads, especially in newspapers, have never been very effective with me because I have no incentive to even look at them.

There is a good reason we all keep stacks of magazines and newspapers

Yup. Generally because the info is not available on the web. Have you ever tried to find an article you read and you couldn't remember what magazine or when? Yeah dude, that's so much easier than searching the web and being able to find it.

In other words, it is time for us to admit that we need to dive much more deeply into the analysis of information acquisition and management to deliver truly compelling online content. We still have a lot to learn…

Yeah. Firstly, we need to stop equating print with web publishing. They have little to nothing in common. Second, stop trying to bullshit me with articles like this one. The web is VASTLY superior to print in all but one area: display size. You can't assualt me with as much crap at the same time on a webpage as you can on a newsprint page. When eInks become ubiquitous I'll be the first to buy an ePaper - but don't try to convince me that newsprint design on the web is the future. Your inability to fathom a new paradigm is not my fault...
posted by RevGreg at 7:42 PM on January 8, 2002

The web is VASTLY superior to print in all but one area: display size

To read something on the web I need a properly configured computer or other networked electronic device, a subscription to an internet service provider, and the experience and know-how for using both.

To read a newspaper I need, um, well, barring some physical disability: nothing.

The last time I heard someone say the web was "vastly superior" to print was at an Industry Standard presentation. There's more to any medium than just the presentation of information. Superiority of a medium is entirely dependent upon context of use, and there are many, many contexts where smelly smudgy newsprint is vastly superior to anything else (like when commuting to work on the subway), just as there are contexts where a web browser and html are best (like at your desk at work or dorm room at school).
posted by dchase at 8:25 PM on January 8, 2002

I have to say the IHT looks kind of purty but it sure is hard to read(the articles that is), and the first time I tried to read an article, I had a heck of a time just finding how to scroll over...And yes, I'm not a newbie at surfing, not by any stretch, I had just never encountered a news website that scrolled the articles horizontally, not to mention it didn't work well with my scroll wheel mouse, which is the only thing that makes reading long web pages bearable.
posted by insomnyuk at 10:14 PM on January 8, 2002

To read something on the web I need a properly configured computer or other networked electronic device, a subscription to an internet service provider, and the experience and know-how for using both.

To read a newspaper I need, um, well, barring some physical disability: nothing.

Yes you do. You need a newspaper - which requires some number of steps in acquiring a newspaper. Since I don't subscribe to any, the only place I read them is at work - which requires me walking to the other end of the plant and searching two separate break rooms (smoking and non) to locate all the sections and then reading them in a chair much less comfortable than the one in my office. Or I could just browse any one of hundreds of papers from all over the world without moving. It's a no brainer.

Besides, his point was that newspapers were a better way to store information - that it was easier to find and easier to store info with newsprint. Does anyone actually believe that?

Superiority of a medium is entirely dependent upon context of use

I believe my statements concerning ePaper were directed at that. If I go out to eat it is much easier to take a magazine, paper or book than laptop. Technology will take care of that issue in time...
posted by RevGreg at 1:49 PM on January 9, 2002

You need a newspaper - which requires some number of steps in acquiring a newspaper.

Right, RevGreg. And the newspaper must perform some number of steps to help you acquire it -- including six to eight hours just to print, collate, transport and distribute the bloody thing.

This is far worse than simply inefficient; it's antithetical to the whole concept of "news," which is inseparable from currency. The world keeps turning during the whole newspaper distribution process, meaning that much of the content is simply obsolete by the time it reaches the consumer. If newspapers were delivered electronically rather than via wood pulp, you could enjoy your "morning" paper, in many communities, by 10 or 11 the previous night.

My industry friends say the technology for a flat, durable, wireless, portable, waterproof, readable-in-any-light electronic document reader is only a few years away. Maybe that's optimistic. But I think the barriers to such a device, while large, are hardly insurmountable.
posted by nathanstack at 3:29 PM on January 9, 2002

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