Digitally inept: Why I canceled the Seattle Times

GeekWirenewMemo to newspapers aspiring to be “new media:” It’s not just cutting-and-pasting your journalism into a digital format. It’s the entire mobile-plus-digital subscriber experience.

Over at GeekWire, I explain that’s the reason why I finally canceled my Seattle Times subscription. Bad e-mail and online billing experience. Bad Android app experience. And a mystifying vacation stop policy that itself just … stopped. If a paying customer wants to have an equivalent subscriber digital experience with a newspaper as they do by going full-paper (for bills and news access), they aren’t going to get it at the Seattle Times.

So, in frustration, after seven years of paying, I canceled. And it led to a flurry of comments, including a couple directly from the Seattle Times. For one, Editor Kathy Best:

“… I agree completely that our mobile experience needs to be miles better than it is today. That’s why we teamed up with Ratio to produce a seattletimes.com app for Windows 8.1-enabled tablets and phones that launched a few weeks ago. Although that’s a small segment of the market, the project allowed us to develop skills that are helping us with the much bigger, much more complicated and much-needed conversion of st.com to a responsive site complete with search capability that will allow readers to quickly and easily surface stories, listings and visual content. No one wants that to happen more quickly than our newsroom. We are producing compelling photos, videos and interactive graphics to complement our enterprise, features and investigative reporting. We want to give readers an immersive reading experience that combines all those elements. And we can’t wait for a responsive design that will seamlessly lead people through the multiple layers of our site on every screen size.”

While I didn’t criticize the digital or print content (I thought it was clear it was acceptable, since I was actually paying to read it for seven years), Best went on to defend the content, accurately pointing out there’s much more on the web than in print. As there should be. But Seattle Times Customer Relations Manager Dayne Turgeon did address one of my other key points:

“Regarding our e-billing solution, you are 100% correct – it is less than customers deserve and expect from us. As a result of our recently having simplified our sign-in process, our prior, better solution for billing was lost. While the sign-in change drove significant customer improvements, we lost some functionality in this one area. We are currently working to provide an e-bill solution that will better serve customers and expect it to be in place within the next few months.”

Other readers pointed to revenue, news content and other issues (none of which I addressed, because hell, it’s my column, and my personal newspaper subscriber perspective here). But they made for a vigorous back-and-forth with 35 comments so far. My favorite non-specific one? “I am Groot!”Newspapersurvey2

An unexpected coda to my column arrived in my e-mail inbox three days after my commentary posted. It was an invitation to take part in a detailed web survey about online versus print news preferences … which, based on the questions, was at the behest of the Seattle Times.

So perhaps I’m not the only one frustrated, and the digital subscriber experience isn’t the only trigger for more needed changes at this major metropolitan news organization.

Read, “Digitally clueless: Why I finally canceled the Seattle Times,” at GeekWire.

Libraries tackle the Internet’s big lie

GeekWirenewCall it the myth of the level playing field. Just put something on the web, and billions of [fill in the blank] will have access to it.

Access, yes. But you won’t necessarily have their attention.

Over at GeekWire, I examine one effort to surmount this hurdle. The Seattle Public Library has launched a unique program to encourage more local authors to self-publish eBooks with a new partner, Smashwords. That, by itself, is of interest. But what makes it fascinating is that the library has turned it into a contest, with plans to select three of the self-published works to feature in its library-wide eBook circulation catalog.SeattleWriteslogosmall

The result, once the contest results are announced November 15, will likely be something far more valuable to a writer than access. It will be readers.

And it’s a model for author+library driven publishing and distribution that can be replicated by libraries nationally and, potentially, worldwide. (There’s clearly some interest; my GeekWire column on the topic has been recommended nearly 500 times on Facebook and tweeted more than 250 times so far, often by other libraries and by author’s groups).

Read, “How the Seattle Public Library is helping authors overcome the Internet’s big lie,” at GeekWire.

Facebook, you are dead to me

GeekWirenewIt’s done. After eight years, I’m off Facebook.

It’s not a move I made lightly. It has nothing to do with Facebook’s ongoing privacy challenges, or a recently reported (and admitted) psychological experiment that toyed with what Facebook users see to determine if the display could affect emotions. None of that.

I dropped Facebook, as I explain on GeekWire, because it simply ceased keeping a core promise: that it would let me easily and quickly see what my friends and family were doing in my News Feed, in a straightforward, full, reverse chronological way.

FacebookDeactivate3I actually waited 24 hours after the column appeared before deactivating my Facebook account. The process was simple, and I made sure I took a step that’s a good idea for anyone to take (whether you leave Facebook or not): archiving all my Facebook uploads. You can find how to do that under Settings: General on your Facebook profile; it’s “Download a copy of your Facebook data” on the bottom of the main screen.

Facebook may be making boatloads of money. But if reaction to my column on Twitter and GeekWire is any indication, it’s not because people are ecstatically happy with what Facebook has to offer. It’s because they don’t think they have a choice because of Facebook’s extreme “network effect” reach and lock on that network of family and friends.

Read, “Facebook, you are dead to me … for now,” at GeekWire.

I see dead words: terms tech has left behind

GeekWirenewZombies walk among us. And you may encounter one when you open your mouth, if your talk references dated tech.

Over at GeekWire, I take to task some common terminology by examining its linguistic and technological origins. And, of course, I offer helpful alternatives for “cc:,” “dial a number,” “next slide” and two other terms.

However, there was a sixth “outdated” term that I had to dump before the column was submitted, because when I did further research, I discovered I (and others who had suggested it) were, well, wrong.

The original unedited text?

“Ditto” to something. We’ve all typed it or said it in utter shorthanded agreement: “ditto.” As in to duplicate. As in a Ditto (yes, proper noun) master.

Because Dittos were a 20th century technology for making – again, pre- cheap photocopy or computer – copies. They required typing or writing on a special Ditto master, with a dense waxy layer, often purple, on its reverse side. When the protective sheet was removed from the back of the master and the master was attached to a rotating drum, remarkably clear spirit fluid transferred whatever what was imprinted on the master to multiple sheets of paper, until the waxy substance was depleted and you only got faded duplicates.

I only say the spirit fluid was remarkable because it had certain properties I suspected that, if inhaled, would explain the behavior of those teachers I recall who hung around the machine much of the school day. And it was legal.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APerthGazette_1833_06_01_1_ditto.jpgThe only problem with this entire section? “Ditto” and the typographical mark which sports the same name date back to 1625 in English usage. It was not a term based on 20th century technology, but on centuries-older language and typography.

Of course, I only discovered this pesky reality after I’d drafted the column and was doing a final fact-check.

Facts: those double-edged swords that either provide the foundation, or the undoing, of a columnist’s work. Despite their annoying nature in this case, I still prefer relying on them.

Read, “I see dead words: Terminology that technology has left behind” over at GeekWire.

Lies my Fitbit tells me

GeekWirenewThose little tickles in the back of your mind that tell you a relationship may not be quite what you expected? I can no longer ignore them. They’re the lies my Fitbit tells me.

Over at GeekWire, I analyze my “relationship” with my Fitbit Zip (after I lost 25 pounds using the MyFitnessPal app), and find it lacking based on battery life, accuracy and, well, expectations.

In the lively comments, I’m taken to task about one flaw I cited:FitbitZip

“You’re getting too popular?” – Honestly? What sort of hipster crap is this? If a product works, it works, you’re not some special snowflake that deserves a unique fitness monitoring device. If you really want to feel unique, go back to doing it by hand.

To which I responded:

The problem is that Fitbit Zip’s actual battery life is half of what’s claimed, that questionable accuracy of fitness trackers is well-documented (even with regular step walking), and the popularity of many fitness trackers may be unearned based on realistic (or unrealistic) buyer expectations, and that’s why they’re “too popular.” Hipster suspicions aside.

I’ve got to be more careful with that “too popular” line in the future. Really, it’s “too popular based on expectations” or “too popular for perhaps the wrong reasons.”

Oh. And I’m not breaking up with my Fitbit. I think a little honesty is good in a relationship.

Read, “Lies my Fitbit tells me,” over at GeekWire.