turning the paywall into a velvet rope

"The way to kill a newspaper is to ask more for less," says legendary newsman Sir Harold Evans in his autobiography My Paper Chase.

The New York Times should remember Sir Harold's rule as plans to erect a paywall around its online content in January 2011. 

The paywall means not just that readers will pay more, but that they'll get less. How? The New York Times currently is a must-read for any card-carrying member of the commercial, media, entertainment, educational, and government elites. The paper is read, in part, because everyone reads it.  (Or at least claims to.)

With fewer post-paywall readers, the site will become less relevant, less essential. Which means will cost more for less.

[Update 1/27/10: News that Newsday, a daily focused on Long Island, has gotten just 35 paid subscribers to its site since launching a paywall in late October certainly confirms Sir Harold's rule.'s $5 per week online subscription seems reasonable -- little more than a Starbucks coffee, right?]

So how might NYT add value online even as it raises prices?

It should make its smaller, more dedicated audience part of the value proposition. [Update: reports that its readership has fallen 50%, but argues that since these online readers are all also local print readers, they're of higher value to advertisers. In theory, they're also of higher value to each other.]

* The company should spend the next twelve months ramping the social network already nascent among its readers, writers, editors and partners. 

* Some of these social functions could be built in-house, others should be bolted on from LinkedIn and Facebook Connect. (Copy half of what Huffpo does.)

* Think intra-member messaging, micro-conferences, membership schwag, rankings.

* Let members earn points -- think Foursquare or American Express -- that earn them more prominence in the community and/or face-time with Times' talent.

* Emulate a savvy party promoter: comp the people -- pundits, activists, students, community leaders, mavens, industry figures, teachers -- who will add life to the party. 

* As with the planned content wall, drive-by readers should be able to sample snippets from within the social network (reading comments for example), but would not get inside the site's functionality to really participate in the social mix.

With some luck and a good feature set, the newspaper's prodigious reporting and analysis would become the bait for people to come to, and the people themselves and their insights are the velcro that keeps them around.

In a world deluged with opinions, rumors, factoids and billions of pixels pumped out by anybody with a cellphone, smart Times readers might pay to brainstorm and network with a self-selected community of other discerning news patrons and producers.

Repositioning its paywall as a velvet rope might raise the value of enough to justify raising prices.

Yes, this would be a radical revision of the Times and its mission. Surely Sir Harold, hater of class snobbery and champion of a newspaper's duty to be an open forum and spokesman for  non-elites, would abhor the idea of As a former journalist, I don't don't find the idea entirely palatable either.

But as an entrepreneur, I'd say's odds of success are better than 50/50.

And those odds are fifty times better than those of NYT's current plan to charge more for its soup while diluting the product. That, with apologies to Sir Harold, seems like a great way to kill a website.

New Twiangulate features: biggest followers, smallest friends, and common followers

Last week we soft-launched a bunch of new features to help you untangle the mysteries of who is who on Twitter.

You can now:

a) Identify an individual's most influential followers. Wonder who's really influential?  This is your search.  In theory this search is "biggest followers," except we've weeded out all those people who follow more thatn 11k, figuring those follows are automatic or spam. Whatever they are, they're not meaningful. What remains are pure influentials. For example, here are my most influential followers.

b) Identify an individual's smallest friends. We figure that the smallest tweeps that a big tweeter follows are probably some of the most personally relevant to that person.  For example, here are @GStephanopoulos's smallest friends.

c) Identify the biggest followers of two or three tweeps.  I'm still trying to figure out why this is actually useful, but several people have asked for it, so we've done it. For example, wonder who the 456 people are who follow @dsearls, @davewiner and @dweinberger in common?

As always, you can still do the "who do a + b + c follow?" search to get a list of incredibly relevant people you might want to follow within a given company or industry or neighborhood.

Original Twiangulate video

Covers only our original "common friends" feature.


Twiangulate: a bird’s eye view of Twitter

Want to help test a new service we’re coding? Drop me a line and I’ll get you a beta code for Twiangulate.

The service is simple, something we originally designed for staff use.

Exhausted by plowing through lists of hundreds of people who our favorite tweeters follow, we rigged Twiangulate to (you guessed it) triangulate: create a short list of interesting people by comparing two or three target Tweeters’ followees.

The process combines the robustness of code with the discernment of hand-sorting.

Here are a few pre-baked lists:
Politicos: @benpolitico + @jmartpolitico + @AriMelber
Open gov geeks: @cjoh + @ellnmllr + @bill_allison
Reason editors, past and present: @nickgillespie + @mleewelch + @vpostrel

Turns out that AriMelber, benpolitico and jmartpolitico follow 34 people in common. AriMelber and benpolitico follow another 24 in common. AriMelber and jmartpolitico follow another 47. And benpolitico and jmartpolitico follow a separate set of 53.

If you’re a DC-news geek, charting who is on one list but not the others is fascinating. 

Does anyone else care? Maybe not.

Twiangulate’s ambitions aren’t huge. We’re just trying to help people more efficiently figure out who their friends, enemies and peers are following. Twiangulate augments Twitter’s SUL and its new “user generated” Lists, which offer essentially monocular snapshots of a dynamic, multi-dimensional world.

Taking a more social approach, Twiangulate aggregates the wisdom of small crowds.