New Zealand needs an informed, independent technology press

Today, more than ever, technology touches every aspect of our lives. That isn’t going to change.

And yet New Zealand no longer supports a viable, vibrant technology press. I want to change that.

There’s no time to lose.

The New Zealand government has embarked on huge infrastructure projects to support a national fibre network to urban New Zealand and upgrade rural broadband.

Fibre is going to change our lives and transform our economy. It means new ways of doing education, health, government and business.

Meanwhile home grown technology exporters are pushing on to the world stage and our telecommunications sector is adjusting to a new, highly competitive market.

And on the world stage a revolution is underway as PCs give way to tablets and smartphones, while everything is connected by clouds.

It’s an exciting time to be a technology journalist. It’ll be great for readers too.

I hope you’ll join me on the journey. We’re going to see things that make us breathless.

Come on, let’s get started….

Bill Bennett, Auckland, July 2013

Into tomorrow

Publishing has changed. The old media rules have gone.

Readers are in control. They have new ways to share knowledge.

And everything happens at breakneck speed.

You don’t need a large company to publish. You don’t need print. You don’t even need your own servers, designers or developers. You could get by without an office – but that may not be the best idea.

You certainly don’t need a bloated management corps sucking ideas, life and resources away from the frontline operation.

A computer, smartphone or tablet is enough so long as there’s a decent connection.

You no longer need large amounts of capital – although some money is necessary. Almost all income can go to the people producing the words, pictures, audio or video.

People still want information. Facts come first. Informed opinion is good.

Publishers, editors and front-line journalists are no longer remote from audiences. They can’t preach from ivory towers. Readers respond almost immediately correcting mistakes, disputing facts, opposing views.

That’s something to celebrate, not run from.

Dymocks exits ebook publishing after 15 months

Dymocks New Zealand

Dymocks New Zealand closed in 2012, now the company is retreating from ebooks

Australia’s BRW magazine reports Dymocks exits ebook publishing after 15 months. The company told BRW the program was a ‘innovative experiment’ but the challenges were too great.

Dymocks managing director Steve Cox told BRW:

“We learned a lot about that market and those customers but unfortunately the constraints of the platform and business model meant we couldn’t fulfil the vision”.

This story doesn’t make it clear if there’s something systematically wrong with ebook publishing or if the closure is part of Dymock’s winding-down. The company closed its New Zealand business in late 2012 and appears to be in retreat.

I’m interested to know if there’s a viable space in the ebook business for a quality operation sitting between the giant, global powerhouses and the niche publishers. What do you think?

Why I use WordPress.com not WordPress.org

Pieter Breugel - Landscape with the Fall of Icarus

Pieter Breugel – Landscape with the Fall of Icarus

WordPress is the top name for online publishing software. It comes in two similar, yet distinct, flavours. Both are free.

  • WordPress.com is the hosted version, the software is so simple you can have a basic site online within minutes of signing-up. Anyone can use WordPress.com, it requires little technical knowledge. Although WordPress.com offers thousands of design choices, there are restrictions. 
  • The software at WordPress.org is much the same. There are minor differences, but you have to find your own host which usually will cost you money. This gives you far more flexibility over the look of your site and the way it functions. There are thousands of plug-ins and themes – some free, some paid-for, to spruce-up your site.

The price you pay for more flexibility is complexity. While WordPress.org can be straightforward, it can quickly get technical. If you like, you can dig around in the code to your heart’s content.

My WordPress journey started with the free .com version. After a year I wanted more flexibility and moved to .org. I still run a few .org site, but this site has been back with .com for a little over a year.

WordPress.com is a better choice for my needs because it allows me to focus on what I’m writing and not the mechanics of running a website. 

What I gained moving back to WordPress.com

Time. Self-hosted WordPress gives you many opportunities to tinker with site design and functionality. I would spend hours each month tweaking – trying to make the site look better or work better.

That was great for learning more about WordPress. It wasn’t great for productivity. Now I spend that time on other matters, including writing more posts. That has paid off with higher traffic.

Reliable. WordPress.com hardly ever goes offline. In the past year I’ve seen just 85 minutes of downtime – some of that was scheduled. During my time with two New Zealand-based hosts I could see that amount of downtime in a single month.

uptime

Uptime measured over one year with WordPress.com

Compare those figures with those from the last twelve months of my self-hosted site.

Uptime measured over one year with a New Zealand web host

Uptime measured over one year with a New Zealand web host

Performance. WordPress.com is faster than any New Zealand web host I’ve used as this graph from Google Webmaster Tools shows:

Time spent downloading a page

Time spent downloading a page

Switching from self-hosted to WordPress.com saw the average page download speed drop from 2200 milliseconds to 400 milliseconds. I posted about this shortly after moving a year ago. Since then the average page speed has crept up to 600 milliseconds, some of that is because I now post more images. 

Money: Cost wasn’t my reason for switching back from self-hosting to WordPress.com. I paid around $160 a year for local hosting on a shared server, WordPress.com is free. You can’t argue with the price – the downside is WordPress sometimes inserts ads on my site. I expect to pay US$30 a year for the no-ads option in the next few months.

Last year I paid US$30 for the custom design add-on. This allows me to tweak designs and use different fonts. I played with it for a while, but decided not to use it because I was in danger of being dragged back into the WordPress tinkering black hole that sucks all life out of the universe.

I paid my NZ host around $30 a year for my domain name – I now pay US$13 to WordPress. Again my choice is about convenience not saving pennies.

Conclusion: Overall moving back to WordPress.com worked well for me. I may change back if circumstances change, but for now this is the best option: Faster, more reliable, less distracting and cheaper.

 

Leanpub – a wonderful eBook publishing model

Leanpub ebook publishing

Leanpub send me a mail saying an updated version of Paul Bradshaw’s book Scraping for Journalists is available. The mail includes links to download the book in PDF, EPUB or Mobi formats – or perhaps all three if I want, there’s no digital rights management to worry about.

Because I already purchased the book, the updates are free.

Leanpub is a great way of selling ebooks: buy one, all future updates are free.

Royalties are generous for writers, around 90% less a 50 cents per book fee. If I ever get around to writing another book, this is where I’ll go first.

Another great thing about Leanpub, is the books are reasonably priced. Scraping for Journalists doesn’t include as much information as you might get from an everyday paperback, but the price is about half what you’d pay for a printed book. There’s also a money-back guarantee.

Oh, and it case you’re wondering the Scraping for Journalists book is good too.