Geeks might not like RSS, but it’s an essential tool if you monitor news or need to stay up to date with developments in a subject area.
An RSS feed is a way of listing online material. There’s a feed for this site if you’re interested. It sends out a short headline and an extract for each new post. That way you can stay up to date with everything published here without needing to constantly revisit the site to check for updates.
Some big sites break up their news rivers into separate feeds. At the New York Times or The Guardian you can choose to read the technology news feed. At ZDNet you can pick subject feeds or selected a feed for an individual journalist.
Sometimes you can also roll your own niche feeds from big sites by using a search term to get a list of all stories including a certain key word.
The beauty of RSS is that it is comprehensive. It misses nothing. If you go offline for a week you can pick up where you left off and catch up immediately.
RSS is comprehensive
The alternatives are social media sites like Twitter or Facebook. They are nothing like as comprehensive or as easy to manage. Tweets go flying past in a blur on Twitter.
All the main social media sites manage your feed. They decide what you see. This means you can miss important posts as they get pushed out of sight. That doesn’t happen with RSS.
In his story David Sparks says you need to be on Twitter all the time to catch news. Make that: you need to be on Twitter all the time AND staying more alert than most people can manage.
The other great thing about RSS is the format is so universal. It can be as simple as raw text. You can read it on your phone, tablet, computer or anywhere at any time. You can suck it out and place it on your own web site, for instance.
There are RSS readers built into browsers, mail clients like Outlook and other standard software. Or at least there were. I haven’t checked again lately. Feedly is one of the most popular readers. This is both a website and a series of free apps. You can pay a little extra to extra features such as an ability to search feeds, tools for integrating feeds into your workflows and so on.
The first is having a syndicated work portfolio. If you like, a single source, feed or river of everything I post elsewhere.
This means linking back to my stories published on mainstream media sites. I want to do this even when those sites don’t reciprocate my links. At the moment I sometimes write a linking blog post on my site.
My second idea is to somehow consolidate the comments that fill different buckets at places like Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. There are also some on Disqus. There have been times when there are two or more conversations covering much the same aspects of a story. It would be better if the interested commenters could see what others have to say and interact.
Indieweb central repository
Then there’s my unrealised idea of moving to more of a stream-of-concious style of reporting. This is not so much Jack Kerouac style, but more like the daily live blogs you see on sites like The Guardian. I like the idea of writing a post then update it as the story evolves. This would be easier to manage with a central repository.
Last and not least, there’s my need as a journalist to own my work outside of the big silos. I’m not a snob about FaceBook or Google, but I am aware their shareholders get the reward for my effort when my work appears there. It won’t happen overnight, but the Indieweb may hold the key to redressing the balance in the future.
Advertisers have been given numbers that overestimate the amount of time Facebook users watch video by between 60 and 80 percent. This comes after the social media giant talked about the rapid growth in its video numbers.
There’s a growing fear among advertisers that Facebook and Google hide too much of this kind of information. That’s ironic, because one reason advertisers tell traditional publishers they prefer online media is ‘accountability’.
This isn’t the only bad news Facebook has for traditional publishers. In June there was an algorithm change which saw Facebook prioritise material from human accounts while decreasing the number of posts users would see from media companies.
Those publishers who depend on Facebook to deliver readers get less traffic as a result.
Many publishers feel they have no choice but to throw in their lot with Facebook. After all, it is the largest source of traffic for most big media companies. And Facebook has consistently pushed itself to publishers in a bid to fill its pages with their, free-to-Facebook, material.
Yet Facebook has proved a fickle and unsympathetic partner. Its relationship with traditional media is asymmetric.
It’s not clear if Facebook’s recent misreporting was deliberate or accidental. The difference doesn’t matter much to publishers, either way they suffer.
Facebook’s business is all about building compelling services that win large audiences. It then sells that attention to advertisers. Google is the same.
In many respects both are following the traditional media-advertising model, although there are huge differences of scale and neither invests heavily in producing original material. Instead they let other people do the heavy lifting.
You can see this as a parasitic way of making money. Despite all the goody-two shoes rhetoric about extending the reach of the internet into the poorer areas of the world or bringing people together, the pair are vast empires that care little for what goes on down at the grass-roots level.
Facebook is not the answer to publishers’ prayers, it is yet another nail in their coffin.
But here’s the other thing Wired; I don’t use ad blockers.
My browser doesn’t have one installed. If Wired let me past the front gate, I’d see its advertising in all its glory. From that point of view, I’d be a good reader. Maybe even a lucrative one, because I read a lot of tech stories. Back in the day I’d buy the printed version of Wired if the cover story appealed enough.
I may not have an ad blocker, but I do use a browser extension to block intrusive data collection.
There’s a Ghostery in my house
At the time Wired’s pop-up message appeared, I was using Ghostery. I’ve switched since to Disconnect.
These extensions aim to stop companies from collecting data. I’ve no objection to Wired knowing I’ve seen a page or an ad on its site. I’ve every objection to the commercial snitches watching all my online interactions then selling that data to bottom feeders so they can make my life a misery.
When Apple’s iOS 9 landed, a new Newstand folder appeared on the first screen. Inside were four options: The New York Times, Businessweek, the Australian and the New Yorker.
Whatever their merits, none is a natural choice for New Zealand readers.
It’s the latest example of how international media doesn’t think for one moment about New Zealand needs.
Sure, this is only a small country. We’re the last stop on the few international air routes that reach these islands.
There aren’t many of us.
You can see why we might be overlooked in the boardrooms of New York, London or Cupertino.
Our business is only a rounding error on the balance sheet of global giants.
Foreign publishers want your eyeballs, not your brains or engagement
And yet, international publishers want our business.
They want our eyeballs to view their advertisements. They’d like to earn New Zealand dollars for their print or paywall subscriptions.
They want us. Sometimes they even pay lip service to woo us. They often list New Zealand as a market they service. Yet when it gets down to considering our needs, we’re lucky if we rank as a bolt-on to Australia.
In practice this is more annoying and frustrating than ignoring New Zealand altogether.
The Guardian is a good read and an alternative voice that stands out from the pack. It’s one of the world’s top online news websites. There’s intelligent coverage of international issues that you might not find elsewhere in the English-language press.
While the headquarters are in the UK, The Guardian now has editions in the US and Australia.
As it turns out, this is a problem. When you load The Guardian app or go to The Guardian website, New Zealand readers are, by default, sent to the Australian version.
The Australian edition fills gaps in that country’s media. From a parochial Australian point of view it does a reasonable job. If you want to know about domestic Australian issues you’re well served.
Little for NZ readers
But there’s little in the Australian edition of The Guardian for New Zealand readers. It’s not even the best place to get a big-picture view of what’s happening across the Tasman. Nor is it great on Australian business news, which can often be relevant here.
And anyway, it’s not as if local media ignores Australia. Fairfax’s Stuff is often packed with Australian stories. Sometimes Stuff selects the most relevant Australian stories for New Zealand readers. But not always.
As an aside, Stuff is guilty of running overseas stories as if they were local copy. There is often no hint in the headline you are about to read foreign material.
That’s because Fairfax is another foreign media company. Given the company’s investment in New Zealand, it can have a deaf ear to our needs. But that’s another story.
Almost every New Zealand reader choosing The Guardian will be looking for international news, the cultural pages, sport or long-read features.
A few weeks ago the Australian edition led with a story about Bendigo Council. That might be relevant to five or six people in New Zealand, but whoever makes editorial decisions for the Guardian served it up here anyway. Nothing better illustrates that no thought has gone into what we get.
To be fair to The Guardian these annoyances can be fixed. You get around the problem by registering, then choosing a different edition. The app also allows you to change the fixed home page in its settings.
In the great scheme of things The Guardian’s hamfisted approach to New Zealand readers isn’t a big deal, but it illustrates how foreign media companies marginalise our country, culture and identity.
PC Magazine website
For much of the last 25 years or so PC Magazine has been a great resource for serious PC users. It takes a professional line and largely focuses on business and productivity.
I was managing editor of both New Zealand and Australian editions of the magazine when ACP printed separate versions in both countries in the 1990s.
Today PC Magazine is online only. There’s a US parent website and a satellite in Australia. They don’t look the same and they don’t have the same content, nor do they serve the same advertisements.
New Zealand readers are forced to the Australian site. Most of the time this doesn’t matter. While the Australian site may feature products that are not on sale in New Zealand, online shopping means locals can usually fill in the gaps.
This doesn’t always apply. PC makers like HP might sell similar, but distinct versions of their laptops in Australia and New Zealand.
Guess which country’s versions never get written about in the Australian PC Magazine?
Some reviews and features don’t make it from the US edition to the Australian site. There have been times when I’ve seen glimpses of the story I want on the US site in, say, Google search. Clicking the link takes you to a generic Not Found page on the Australian site.
The automatic redirect is draconian. I’ve tested it, not methodically or scientifically, but enough to understand that it detects your location and redirects.
Type an explicit US URL, you’ll get redirected. Find something through search that is only on the US site and you’ll get redirected. Change browsers, or browser settings and you’ll still get redirected. The only way you can be sure of reaching the US site is with a VPN.
Presumably this redirection is all about serving up NZ eyeballs to Australian advertisers.
In the past PC Magazine’s main rival was PC World. For years PC World published in New Zealand. It was the last big local technology publication to sell on bookstands.
PC World New Zealand still exists. It has its own URL. What it doesn’t have is any New Zealand content or flavour. It only just manages to have any New Zealand relevance.
You can take it as read the front page of the .co.nz site is identical to the .com.au website. A few recent visits confirmed that.
Last night two of the four main stories on the front page slider were dinky-di Australian:
Labor MP slams Turnbull’s NBN as Aussie broadband speeds fall behind
Win 2 tickets to Call of Duty World League in Melbourne
There’s nothing wrong with this, but passing off the website as PC World New Zealand is, at best, dishonest.
You’ll notice from the Google screenshot you can read stories by PC World’s Auckland staff. The top, presumably the most recent, story there is How to buy … a Digital Camcorder from 2006.
This is treating New Zealanders with disrespect. It’s not in any way a New Zealand site.