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Making Media Social in the Era of Digital Content

Creating a better user experience via Facebook, Twitter, etc.

by / May 2, 2011

You might have heard that The New York Times made headlines in March by putting a paywall in front of its online content. The paywall is designed to put an end to the free all-you-can-eat content buffet that news outlets have been wringing their hands over. It’s a new tactic for old journalism as attempts continue to reconcile fickle Web users, journalistic integrity and good, old-fashioned moneymaking.

Opinions about The Times’ paywall are divided. My opinion is that it’s a bad idea. Based on my Web use, the paywall serves only to drive me elsewhere to get news. But in my reasoning lies a fundamental challenge to media in the Internet age: No two people use the Web alike. Everyone thinks something should be done online this way or that, yet opinions are colored at least in part by personal Web habits.

Too many media companies try to treat the Web user experience like that of someone watching a TV show or reading a print article.

In March, I spent a couple of days at the New York Media Summit, an event for media types to get a better grip on our place in the era of digital content. Many good ideas were shared and many excellent points were made. One comment truly resonated with me: We should not try to re-create the magazine experience online or in apps. Rather, we should create a new experience that leverages those avenues of content consumption.

It seems so obvious after you read it. Treat the Web differently than you treat a print magazine, TV show, movie or anything else. But trust me, it’s harder to do than it sounds. When I came on board at Government Technology more than six years ago, most of us had one job — write for the magazine. Now we are also tasked with creating Web content, newsletters, video reports — even the need to bone up on writing “search engine optimized” headlines that are pleasing to the Web gods at Google.

One solution we’re working on to create a better user experience at is an increased focus on social media. I want to be a place you visit not just because you clicked a link in a newsletter (please do that though), but because it’s an intentional destination. To make your experience better, please follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, comment on stories. But above all, tell us what you want. Only together can we make media, ours anyway, truly social.

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Chad Vander Veen

Chad Vander Veen is the former editor of FutureStructure.


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