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The Free and Open Internet (avc.com)
75 points by mooreds 41 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 51 comments

That free model that Wilson louds got us to this point in the first place. Over last twenty years that Wilson been making money investing in free Twitter, etc., thousands of people lost jobs in journalism, etc. He has no solution or suggestion, just ranting. Isn't he the freemium guy anyhow?

I have the rejection email from Fred Wilson printed out and stuck to the wall next to my desk at the office. It says: this VC won't fund your startup because it's difficult, and I suspect no others will either. There are better ways to make money.

What was your startup about?

We're a data management platform for public infrastructure. Think domo or mulesoft meets apigee for government. It certainly hasn't been easy, but I'm proud we've made a lot of progress since that rejection email! :)

I'm curious, did you get other VCs to fund you?

add to your points this gem:

>> places like Twitter and Medium that remain open and free.

WHAT? Perhaps only in the most literal sense of "they don't make you pay money to read", but that's not really what people mean when they talk about open and free...

People are starting to see through this BS that Wilsons of the world been preaching and profiting from for a quarter century. I only care for my money, not your job. I also prefer surveillance driven ad model that was never free and will never be free.

Not to mention how much of Medium is behind their paywall...

yeah was gonna say Medium literally makes you pay money to read now.

Yep. Well known VC talks their book. News at 11.


> Sure I could have purchased a subscription to the Washington Post, but I don’t believe opinion pieces should be behind a paywall and I certainly don’t believe that something like Dingell’s last words should be behind a paywall.

Quite cheap for a millionaire (billionaire?)! Just think about that for a second. It’s comical. Newspapers were never free. Ever. People subscribed or bought them in a vending machine or news stand.

> have ceded their role as the public square to places like Twitter and Medium that remain open and free.

They aren’t free. They both burn massive amounts of cash. Medium isn’t profitable and Twitter lost money for 12 years before stuffing it with ads to turn a profit. Oh and most importantly, Twitter doesn’t have to pay a single journalist or reporter! Hard for a VC to understand, but WaPo is actually concerned with making money.

> But the way paywalls are implemented today stinks. Some content should never ever be put behind one.

Well that’s just like your opinion, man. WaPo has been profitable under this model.

Moreover, WaPo gives a few free articles per month so it's not like this is a one-off where he wanted to read a WaPo article. I can't fathom being in an industry like VC and not having a subscription to all the major papers even just to skim articles that mention portfolio companies.

I sure hope Twitter pays whoever curates Moments and writes trend descriptions.

No. Just no. I have downloaded a truly obscene amount of material from the net for the actually tiny fees which ISPs require for access. From 100,000 college grad guides & books to 10,000 "magic" program and production systems, I'm only curious. The Internet leaks and leaks, and how can you make any money?

I think cryptocurrency-based microtransactions would be perfect for paying for online content. If browser-based wallets become a thing, making a $0.01 payment to read an article would be easy, painless and potentially sustain online media.

Why is the fault even the Post's? The Dingell family (or Dingell himself) decided to sell the piece to the Post, a revenue-generating newspaper that uses a paywall. They had many other options. They probably could have gotten another senator to read it into the Federal Register, where it would have been available to all. But they made their choice.

I don’t see any way to solve the paywall problem except to have Spotify for news/written content.* Even then there are too many hands reaching into my wallet to the point where I just don’t read some things.

*Until there is a universal web currency that is low friction to send like some of the crypto currencies.

>*Until there is a universal web currency that is low friction to send like some of the crypto currencies.

I see this idea pop up every day now. It blows my mind that we don't have it yet. It seems so obvious, why hasn't someone written it yet? Can someone just pick a cryptocurrency that doesn't have high transaction fees and make a few browser plugins? Add your payment address to ./well-known or something?

The Brave Browser (https://brave.com/) is attempting something like this. (I expect compatible plugins for other browsers could be made in the future if its system takes off.)

There are complications that make this not super straight-forward to pull off. Low fees in cryptocurrency currently is usually done by having low activity. (There are several projects attempting to solve this in a decentralized way, including the Bitcoin Lightning Network and various Ethereum projects.) Then there's privacy issues.

I see that coinbase seems to be pushing the 0x/ETH as the solution, and maybe I just don't understand how the 2 are supposed to work, but it seems clunky to me. By that I mean I can't abstract the concept easily based on things I have read...

The very simplest of reader tactics. On the Internet, for anything posted, it's stored when read, elsewhere after the read. Web2 is built atop the structure engeineered to provide millitary communication in the "nuke war" scenerio. How will you keep your copy in that scenerio?

I recommend taking a look at the good discussion happening in the comments section of that blog article.

I can't tell if that's sarcasm. What good discussion are you referring to?

It's not as bad as what I'd normally see on an article. But I don't see much of value. Just a bunch of people sharing anecdotes as to why the death of the news industry is good/bad/deserved.

It's not sarcasm. I genuinely found the anecdotes which I saw interesting. The current top rated comment there has a good point on the effects of being public vs. private on news organizations. Further down is a comment so long it could be a HN submission on it's own (and FYI, it's not about the death of the news industry).

Thanks for the article! Unfortunately I don’t think Medium is an “open” platform, there are paywalls there too.

The other thing I think we need to be careful about is having a “federated” source for the paywalls. To me, this is a scary idea. Unless the solution is open source and completely encrypted, it will just give whichever companies that do it more access to your data, on what you read, when you read it, and what you pay for.

> Even the Washington Post’s owner Jeff Bezos knew to publish his words that he wanted everyone to read on an open platform like Medium.

Medium is definitely not free. I always get paywalls when I visit it.

The article Fred was looking for, without the paywall: https://beta.trimread.com/articles/27

"but I don’t believe opinion pieces should be behind a paywall"

Why not (assuming you aren't totally against paywalls)?

I can understand being against basic news reporting being behind a paywall, but opinion is like a newpaper's value add, it's USP.

> paywalls should federate, like the early ATMs did, so that joining one means joining them all

That’s an interesting idea. I imagine it could work sort of like Spotify Premium but with a twist. Perhaps that is not what he meant but it’s what I came to think of so that’s what I want to talk about.

Of course the real problem is getting all/enough/any of the paywall sites to switch. I’ll get back to this but for now let’s ignore that problem.

How the system will work: There is a payment processor (could be one of the existing payment processors or a new company) that provides the federated system to the paywalled sites. The payment processor handles billing of end-users and once per month it pays the paywall sites according to the proportional amount of articles (another problem I’ll get back to) that each user read on each site.

This is similar to the Patreon and other recurring payments services except that payment is calculated automatically similar to how Spotify does it instead of having the end-user decide the amount they want to give to each site. This is done for a couple of reasons. Firstly the point was to lower friction for end-users, so we don’t want them to have to individually set the proportions for each site. Secondly, if end-users were to set the proportions then they might forget to update them.

But there are more problems, both for the end-user and for the paywalled sites. End-users might derive more value from some sites than others. In the extreme case there could be two or more sites where one site had a really really good article that the end-user derived a lot of value from but in the same month they read a lot of content on the other site/sites that did not provide them with anywhere near the value of the single only article they read on the other site. And yet they end up giving most of their money to the sites that provided them with less value.

And that problem is further made bigger by this system encouraging the paywall sites to make more clickbait and to use other kinds of tactics to increase the number of articles read just as with the ad-supported model.

So one way to try and combat that is perhaps to use amount of time spent on each site instead of number of pages loaded. Amount of time spent would be a better metric if users simply navigated away as soon as they found some content to be of little interest. And we already know that they do so on the web in general. So it might work to a certain degree. At least it rewards the sites for content that users chose to stay consuming than content that they were simply tricked into loading but which they quickly determined to be not worth their time.

Of course it could still lead to articles that are longer and so take more time to read, while staying sufficiently interesting that readers stick to them. In fact I am pretty sure that this not just could but would happen. We’ve already seen sites split articles into multiple pages to increase the number of ad impressions they can serve. To instead insert filler content into interesting content within a single article is not much different from that. So while not optimizing simply for pageloads, publishers are still highly likely to optimize for time spent rather than as we ideally would want them to be optimizing purely for value to the end-user.

You could then have a scoring system that allows the user to score each piece of content, kind of like how HN and Reddit has upvotes and downvotes but where you use the scores that each individual user gave to each piece of content when you calculate the proportional division of money that will go from each individual user to the publishers of each piece of content that said individual user consumed that month. But first of all this increases friction once again, which is what we want to avoid, and secondly it encourages publishers to manipulate users into giving a high score. And publishers who made good content and did not remind users to “please give this article a good score if you enjoyed it” would once again get the short end of the stick. And on top of that nobody bothers to score every piece of content that they come by — but that can be accounted for with some maths, the main problem is the friction and incentivizing publishers to manipulate users about the scoring like I mentioned.

There’s a lot of other things to consider as well, but I’ll round off this comment now with my thoughts on adoption.

On getting sites to switch: I think at the core there are three factors that would determine whether paywalled sites would use this federated system.

One, revenue. Will the paywall sites earn more by using the federated system? With the lower friction of a federated paywall system, it could, but even if there are more subscribed users the sites are also getting only a portion of what each user is paying and the sum of those payments might add up to less than fewer users paying a site directly.

Two, adoption. In order for the system to work in terms of offering lower friction to the end user, high adoption among paywalled sites is required. In the beginning, before adoption is high, why would any paywall site agree to adopt it? A chicken and egg problem.

Three, trust. Will paywalled sites trust the provider of the federated system to be honest and pay them the amount that they should?

> End-users might derive more value from some sites than others. In the extreme case there could be two or more sites where one site had a really really good article that the end-user derived a lot of value from but in the same month they read a lot of content on the other site/sites that did not provide them with anywhere near the value of the single only article they read on the other site. And yet they end up giving most of their money to the sites that provided them with less value.

The solution to this is to allow the user to apportion their monthly fee between the sites, but only for the current month. If the user doesn't specify anything for this month then it gets apportioned based on articles read. Then there is no trouble in forgetting because if you forget then the default is in proportion to the number of articles. On the other hand, if the publication posts clickbait or articles padded with filler, the user can retaliate by allocating 0% to that publication for the month. And if there is a really great article you can do the opposite and allocate more.

I suspect the real problem here is that the publishers would need to take the long view, even though they're struggling already. Because if they did this, the first thing that would happen is that any users who subscribe to more than one such publication already would subscribe to the combined service and save money. So the first thing that happens is a short-term revenue decline.

Then the advantage of getting every publication for one fee allows them to gain new users, but that takes longer. You need to advertise the new offering to non-existing customers and convince them to sign up. But the publications need to stick with it long enough for that to happen. If they start to drop out before it does, the whole thing falls apart.

Federation among publishers would be a difficult business challenge. Apple's rumored "Netflix for news" subscription service would be a centralized approach for managing subscriptions or micro-payments. It would not be a giant step beyond their existing Apple News app (on iOS and macOS).


With Spotify and Netflix, you measure engagement by how many times a piece was listened to/viewed, and the only measure is popularity.

With advertising-based journalism, you measure engagement by clicks - which is bad because it gives us clickbait. You can argue about whether there is clickbait in music and video, but we know that clickbait in journalism is definitely a problem.

In an ideal world, there would be a simple measure of how good/relevant/interesting/informative a news or opinion article is. I don't think anyone has discovered that yet. To my mind, this is the core problem. If we can solve "how to measure objective quality in journalism", then we can apply all sorts of business models to it. All the current business models fall short not because the model is inherently flawed, but because they reward bad journalism. If how much an advert paid the publisher was linked to how good the article was, then we'd have good journalism. As it is now, we reward clickbait-y high-volume low-quality journalism, so that's what we get.

> You can argue about whether there is clickbait in music and video, but we know that clickbait in journalism is definitely a problem.

There definitely is clickbait in video - see Youtube recommendations. In the long run, we should move towards funding content by crowdfunding and open licensing, perhaps combined with a reasonably short embargo period where the content is limited to subscribers. This gives the right long-run incentives, while avoiding either paywalls (after the embargo) or intrusive ad tracking.

As much as I was in awe of WaPo's tablet app (on Amazon's Fire), I despise their website on the public Internet ever since they have started the paywall flags. Neither NYT, nor WaPo are going to solve the world's publishing business model on the Internet. The author here makes a lot of good points. And someone please tell me exactly why Bezo wrote his letter on Medium and not anywhere else?

Bezos likely wrote his letter on Medium to neither attach it to his ownership of WaPo (which could be viewed as some sort of conflict of interest), nor to give it to a competitor in the news media space.

if the owner of a newspaper decides what it publishes, that newspaper is no longer considered to have "editorial freedom". This is a very important thing to journalists.

I can totally understand why it's less hassle all round for Bezos to publish in Medium, or the NYT, or any other publication than the one he owns.

If the "owners" of a newspaper don't have final authority about what it publishes, they aren't the real owners/publishers in the first place; they just provide funding to it, and perhaps own its branding. It's understandable that journalists like "editorial freedom", because it's a de-facto property right. Who wouldn't like that sort of thing?

That's the curious thing: the owner does have final authority, but if they choose to exert it, they lose what they own (as the character of the publication changes).

Like the King in the Little Prince, their authority is absolute, but only if they are reasonable :)

Having been witness to an entire newsroom resigning because the owner told them what to publish, I can definitely say that it's more than a "like".

I despise paywalls and not because I'm cheap. If I see good value I'd pay for it. I already do it for books, movies and music.

But paywalls are not different from the old model of selling print subscriptions, and that's my problem. I don't see the value of paying for an article of the WaPo or NYT. If I susbcribe then I had to consume that media daily and read several articles to make that subscription worth it and I won't do that. Reading daily news is neither motivating or important for me.

So paywalls for me are just deterrents. I will never get converted into a pay user and they are just another reason for me to go and look for alternative media or simply rely on Twitter with all its biases and shortcomes.

I think that is the feature, and not a bug.

> "Reading daily news is neither motivating or important for me".

Yes, for you. For others its how they stay informed. If it helps, replace "newspapers" with "Bloomberg terminal." It really doesn't matter.

Not to be rude or overly simplistic, but people pay for things they find valuable. You don't find daily news valuable. So its no surprise that you despise a toll booth onto content you don't want. However, that doesn't mean what you don't want/like is bad.

True. That's my absolute personal experience and probably an outlier.

lwn.net has a solution to this. Subscribers can create a link that allows non subscribers to read that one article and at the top it has a promo offering a few months free subscription.

This allows you to posts articles on reddit/hn and people can still click them and when they see how high quality the articles are they will want to subscribe to see them all.

Of course this requires your content to be quality and not just clickbait that gets shared around on social media.

lwn.net's true solution here is that they open up their archives after a very reasonable delay, right up to the beginning of the site. The "share a subscriber link" is a nice marketing gimmick, but far from essential.

>>If I susbcribe then I had to consume that media daily and read several articles to make that subscription worth it and I won't do that.

Why do you feel compelled to read several articles per day to make that subscription worth it? I presume the answer is because you think current subscription prices are too expensive. Perhaps this compulsion would be dampened if the subscription price were lower -- but by how much?

Or better yet, a service existed that paid per view. Microtransactions, for example, could pay per article read in a similar way to Medium's system (although it would be better if there was just a wallet that it paid from, without a minimum monthly charge). I know Brave is working toward that goal, and I like what they're doing, but I'd prefer if their system was universal (I refuse to use their browser).

If I had to pay a monthly subscription for every link I clicked I would be spending hundreds of $ per month on low quality content.

Exactly. If I could pay for an article I would totally do that. If you paywall an article behind a 20 or 25 cents (the price of a PPC ad) it's very likely that I would pay it. The issue is powering those micro transactions profitably.

I have seven T of Junk in my bunk, and dudes, When are you going to get realistic pricing for the native explorers? and pron? A pittance, but sometimes it's hard to get it off. Brains are worth enlightening,but whats a fair cost? Would you follow me around forever? If the net disappeared, I wouldn't/couldn't read all this again... (Oh, filing sys.)

For that case, it should use the economist model of you have x free article per month. Then those really burn you like an orange head waving his hair you can read. Or the last word of X.

The title is a bit problematic though. What is meant by free and open if 1/5 of human beings are not allowed to read anything written in English be default. You may argue that is because of their government and people deserve ... But no. I blame it on Internet very design. We were told in 1990s that it is free and open. At worst the commence may have to be tolerant but we can at least offer ourselves and others may. That is within that context this article is. But what we have missed in this context the infrastructure of Internet is not free and open. It is in fact not just closed but a means to monitor every word without a chance to delete.

Free and Open. RIP the last words of Internet.

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