If social, mobile and the new wave of ecommerce are the Disruptive Third Wave, then, bluntly, The Times newspaper appears not to want any of that. Those were my first thoughts when I saw the new paywall sites of The Times and The Sunday Times. Personally I am bemused by people lauding the design. To me, design is nice but less of an issue. The design of the site looks like any clean looking blog. Crisp text, not many ads, if at all. But what actually matters is the function, and a large part of that function resides in the Link. If I can capture a link I can share then that is of huge value to me as a reader. On the Internet brand is function, not design. If you don’t have any functionality you can’t be a brand. And the new functionality is social or mobile or commerce, or a combination of any or all of those.
Soon I’m only going to be able to share Times’ links with other Times subscribers. But who of my friends on social networks will also be Times subscribers? Do you realise how annoying it is when people share links you can’t read? It’s like pointing people towards a Silverlight-powered site. Or a Flash site when you’re on an iPad. Or a subscription only site…
And there is the API. I don’t know The Time’s development roadmap, but if they do not have an API for their content (I presume they won’t since the whole of the new sites will be paywalled and invisible to search engines) then there will be no opportunity to catch the Third Wave of social or indeed of mobile or commerce. The Times cannot possibly come up with all the ideas which will happen in the Third Wave, which is why third party developers will be so important.
Twitter’s API turned it into a powerhouse. The fact it is locking that down now is more testament to their success than anything else. Out of all the newspapers I’m only aware of The Guardian having a fully baked API.
Then there’s social. I just went ann commented on a couple of articles. The site knows who I am, knows my actual home address. I am an authenticated user. But what use is that? But it’s like tumbleweeds in there. There are no gravatars of real people. I can’t create a social profile within their AOL-1996 world. I won’t be ale to see if any of my Facebook friends “Liked” an article. Yes, The Times never got paid for that, but the lack of social features this is a sort of affront to me as a reader. It makes me think less of The Times, when I’d like to think more.
Perhaps The Times has missed an opportunity to insert a paywall virus into Facebook?
It’s nice to have infographics and video enhance the telling of the BP oil spill story, but with its use of Flash and old fashoned paywall approach The Times will cut itself off from the HTML5 future and the innovation to come.
Although The Times has surveyed “over 200” readers about the changes I can’t help but think these 200 people are not the readers of the future, the readers who share and link, which is now something baked into the DNA of young people now.