February 20, 2005

More on the Newpapers’ Conundrum [5:40 pm]

Newspaper Business Faces Competition [pdf]

Many newspapers recognized the Internet’s combination of threat and potential early on and have plowed hundreds of millions of dollars into Web sites of their own, hoping to keep readers, even if they don’t leaf through the actual paper. In 2003, the New York Times’ Web site became profitable for the first time; last year, The Post’s Web site did the same.

But working against newspaper Web sites is the fact that the Internet has trained users that most content — including news — should be free. Users generally will pay only for specialized information, such as the in-depth financial reporting provided by the Wall Street Journal, which charges a subscription fee to read stories on its Web site.

[...] General-interest papers such as The Post and the New York Times are playing a sort of game of chicken with each other: None wants to be the first to charge to use the Web site, fearing that users will refuse and simply migrate to a competitor whose site still is free. Papers, however, have begun using their Web sites to provide Internet-only content that gives in-depth information on everything from football to politics beyond what is available in the newspaper. In future scenarios, such content may require a paid subscription. A potential model is ESPN’s Web site, which includes a great deal of free content but charges $6.95 a month for its premium “Insider” reports. In the online news industry, this is called moving content “behind the wall.”

See earlier Are Newspapers “Getting” The Net?

Note that these “profitable” sites are looking to erect a pay-wall. Yes, there is pressure on publishers to maintain margins, but is there a limit? And has the market for intangibles been engineered to ensure the reasonableness of this limit?

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Computers and the Mind [5:24 pm]

A spooky ideology taking hold, and in a place that has long been a science fiction worry: Who Do You Trust More: G.I. Joe or A.I. Joe?

John Searle, the philosopher at the University of California at Berkeley whose most recent book, “Mind: A Brief Introduction,” came out last year, has argued for decades that the brain is not just a computer strung together from neurons. Whatever is happening in the head - and nobody really knows - it is not computation. Confuse reason with calculation, he argues, and disaster lies ahead.

But that has become the minority view. Attend a conference of the Society for Neuroscience or the Cognitive Science Society and you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t assume deep down that the brain is some kind of information processor. For the time-being, people excel at certain tasks, like recognizing faces and making sense of ambiguous data, but that may be only because of wiring details and variations in the algorithms - things that eventually could be simulated electronically. The result would be machinery that can do anything a person can, but faster and better.

If that comes to pass, doubting some future incarnation of Multivac might be an act of mutiny.

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