Newspapers are Dead. Expect a Very Long Funeral.

Writing on, Getty Storch asserts that “Papers must charge for websites to survive“. There is a lively debate in the comments that follow, most of them are in disagreement with Storch’s analysis.

This includes mine, which I reproduce here.

Anyone who thinks newspapers can survive on local content needs to spend a few weeks on Twitter. Here is a medium where news arrives in near real time, is reliable (since misinformation is rapidly corrected by others), and relevant. This applies just as well in a global environment. I have seen real reports from people on the scene of demonstrations in Thailand and Athens, and learnt about the supply of gas from Russia to Slovakia from people in cold buildings. Twitter and similar channels tell me about traffic jams on my route downtown, about power outages and emergencies in ways that no newspaper or even television station can ever dream of achieving.

Twitter has merely brought something that has been happening for a very long time into the mainstream. As a case in point, I learnt about the death of Princess Diana via an international online chat almost three hours before the local media picked it up. This is a decade ago. Times have changed.

Information is now free and it will remain so. Any attempt to charge for access to it is absolutely doomed. The only hope that news media, particularly “print” media have for survival is by adding value. This means aggregating sources, adding perspective, and performing astute analysis. Even so, most of the revenue from these activities will be derived from online advertising, and those revenues will be orders of magnitude below what the industry currently sees as normal.

The newspaper as we know it is dead. There is no model that will resuscitate it, period. Rigor mortis has set in, the patient just doesn’t fully realize it yet.

Quick Rant: Animated Favicons

For those who don’t know, a favicon is the graphic that shows up in the location bar and bookmarks of modern browsers. They’re great visual clues that help you remember what’s on a page.

It is possible to have this icon animated, at least for some browsers. DON’T DO IT.

Animated graphics are designed to catch your eye. Once your attention is caught, you’re supposed to understand a message and respond. That response takes you to a web site. If a favicon is up, then you are already on the site, so animation just catches your eye and distracts you from the site. Anyone who thinks distracting viewers from paying attention to their site should get out of the business and consider a career as a utility pole.

The other possible thought behind an animated icon is that in a sea of tabs and bookmarks, the animation calls attention to your site. That might work, but if every icon is animated, then the result is a sea of irritation, so it’s not a strategy that will work for long. As far as tabs are concerned… I just visited these sites, I can recognize your icon without having it wave at me. In fact, the second time it interferes with my attention, your tab will get closed.

Summary: Animated favicons have lots of drawbacks and little upside. Just say no.grotty animated icon

Is the “Astronautics/astrospace” Definition of Professional in Wiktionary?

Possibly the Internet’s most valuable contribution to society is it’s ability to foster dialogue. Unfortunately that dialogue is frequently not constructive. Among the least constructive techniques is the “attack and run” method, because there really is no way to control another person’s ability to communicate. The attacked person merely opens another channel. This is a case in point.

Earlier today, the nameless writer behind a seemingly useful site,, known as “Astronautics” (formerly “astrospace”) on Twitter, decided to communicate information about a mail server security problem. He or she posted several tweets on the subject (many now absent). This is the remaining one:

Astronautics: JSC mail server may have been hacked. If you get an HSFNEWS email from NASA check that the urls in the email are not Chinese

Then some time later, this tweet:

Astronautics: I lost many followers making that public service announcement – it’s strange how so many people have no sense of duty.

I thought I’d offer an explanation. Honestly I thought I was polite:

alan_langford: @Astronautics You assume all your followers are affected and/or can’t recognize spam. You flooded twitter with what amounts to noise. Not good

Just in case, I added (fixed a typo):

alan_langford: @Astronautics I happen to think your “regular” feed is interesting enough to tolerate the odd lapse, but obviously not everyone else does.

The public response was:

Astronautics: I do my duty and make public service announcements. I make a difference. I will not bend to court popularity.

Which is all well and good, but it seemed to me that the author was trying to understand why many followers left, which is unrelated to one’s sense of duty. Maybe it was my sense of duty to try to offer an explanation in the first place. Then I got this rather shocking direct message:

DM from Astronautics: It is not a ‘lapse’ and I do not care what some loser like you thinks. I am a professional journalist with a sense of DUTY. Go to hell.

The individual subsequently blocked me, removing the opportunity to respond as well as depriving me of his “journalistic” feed and forcing me to respond in a public way. I suppose in hindsight that’s not much of a loss.

So here’s my response: this person is clearly using a definition of “professional” with which I am not familiar. Maybe I’m out of touch. If anyone has a link to a credible reference that lists name calling, not identifying yourself, and telling people to “go to Hell” as professional, please send it to me. Considering the increasing meaninglessness of “professional” when attached to “journalist”, I am now questioning the credibility of anything on this site. That’s too bad, because credible news on space and astronomy would have been a good thing.


Social Media: Stripping Meaning from Connections

I’ve been hanging out in Twitter for a couple of weeks now. It’s generally amusing, and in some ways I can see it as useful. In a way, it’s simply the most interesting part of Facebook (status updates) without the lame and cloying attempts at “fun”. But one thing that’s irritating about it is the “social media experts” and the “u 2 cn get rich” crowd. I would go on about this, but Michael Pinto has done a great job already in his post Social Media “Experts” are the Cancer of Twitter (and Must Be Stopped).

Instead I want to focus on a subset of Twitter users, the “Friend Troll”. These people post multiple tweets, encouraging everyone to connect with them on other social media sites, usually LinkedIn. Now the premise of LinkedIn is that people use it to build connections between people that they know and trust. Obviously someone who gets the bulk of his or her connections from random Twitter followers is not adhering to this principle, which debases the entire concept.

I’m pretty sure that LinkedIn introduced the “Recommendations” feature as a way to combat this, but there’s nothing to stop a savvy user from trolling for those, so it’s of limited usefulness.

So what’s required is some way to measure the level of respect that someone has for the sites that they inhabit. I have decided that, at least for sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, that the friend count / number of connections is a good metric. Unfortunately, LinkedIn generalizes the connection count, so “500+” is the best we have to work with. Let’s run with that for a moment. Assume the person is 40 years old, and has been working for 20 years. That’s just over two friends per month, for every single month. Roughly two weeks per person.

Maybe I’m a poor judge of character, but two weeks of accumulated interaction with a person is, in my experience, not enough time to build a stable trust relationship. By contrast if I take as an example a very personable fellow who I have worked with, who I trust, and who is CEO of a publicly traded software company, I see just under 100 connections.

So after surveying my connections profiles, I have developed the “LinkedIn Connection Credibility Metric”.

  • 1-10 Connections: You are either antisocial, or don’t “get” social media.
  • 11-100 Connections: You’re “regular folk” and consider your connections before making them.
  • 101-250 Connections: Difficult. If you have a customer facing job, your connections could be credible. If you don’t, then you probably include anyone you’ve met in business and thus your connections are questionable.
  • 251-500 Connections: If making connections with people is your only full time job, then this is possible, but still your connections are met with scepticism. If there are solid, meaningful recommendations to back up your connections, then maybe.
  • 500+ Connections: Give me a break. If I connected with you, either I knew you before you went over to the dark side, or for some reason I thought you might be useful as a portal to someone I want to work with. Yes, I’m using you. But then again, you probably think that’s what social media is about.

The New Swoop: Four-Colour Quadrant Based Logos

Google’s new Icon



One site I miss from years back is It was a compendium of “swoop” based logos, showing the design trend (or lack of originality if you’re less generous) pioneered by the Nike logo.

Maybe it’s time to do the same with four colour quadrant-based logos. I admit, I used this motif in a logo about four years ago. Maybe that’s a sign. When part-time hacks like me start using a motif, it’s time to put it to bed.

Yet this past week, Google introduced a new four-colour, quadrant based “favicon”. And… and… and it just plain sucks. Not only is it a stunning example of trailing-edge design, it features limited readability. On my system, the outlined lowercase “g”, which bleeds into the background, is lost in either the default brownish grey of the default theme, or completely obliterated by the black background of my alternative theme. If you can’t control the background, don’t use bleed. Isn’t that Design 101?

Two revisions back, Google’s icon was an elegant representation of the uppercase G on their full logo. I have no idea why they moved away from that, but each successive revision has been worse.

So here’s some advice for aspiring designers: get past the four colour quadrant motif. Come up with something new and original, or at least rip off something that’s less tired. Please.