New York Times Archive and Weblogs
Friday, June 6, 2003 by Dave Winer.
On Monday I am giving the opening keynote at the Jupiter weblogs conference in Boston. I'll start by talking about what makes a weblog a weblog, how they differ from sites created by large organizations and reflect the thoughts and experience of an individual. I also want to talk about the role weblogs play in the journalism of the future, now that anyone with a mind and a weblog is a reporter.
I will also talk about my recent experiences working with the New York Times on their archive policy as it relates to weblogs. And that's the subject of this piece, an advance on how the new archive system works at the Times.
In September 2000, the Times initiated a new policy re archives. All material on the Times website posted before September 2000 would remain openly accessible without charge, as it had been since the inception of the website, but material posted subsequently would be public for seven days, and then would cost $2.95 to access through the archive. They changed the policy in 2000, but, key point, they didn't change the software, and since most people didn't read the agreement, including yours truly, we were not aware of the change.
Then in April 2003, the Times implemented the policy. All of a sudden the archive of my weblog, which frequently points into the Times archive, had lots of broken links. I wrote several DaveNet pieces lamenting the change. Then the Times, apparently taking note of my writing, changed the policy and once again the archive was open. Then I got an email from Martin Nisenholtz, CEO of New York Times Digital saying that they would switch back to the closed archive again. Rather than mirror the current state of their archive every time there was a change, we began an offline conversation so I could get educated on their business issues, and they could learn more about how it looked from a weblog writer's point of view, and we could see if there wasn't some way to accomodate both. Happily, I think we found a way.
The Times sees itself as the newspaper of record; it's only natural that it wants to extend that to the Web where it would like to be the news source of record. However, with a closed archive, and broken links from weblogs, it's impossible for the Times to achieve that goal.
From the weblog writer's point of view, even if the Times isn't always correct, even I don't always agree with what they say, I do believe that what they say is important. Without constraints, I will point into the Times archive regularly. In the brief period where I thought it wouldn't work out, I really felt a loss by not having the Times as a full participant in the Web that I write for.
But we did come up with a solution that I think works; a simple way for the Times to maintain its revenue stream from its archive, yet remain open to weblog authors.
Check out the New York Times RSS feeds, which are maintained in partnership with UserLand Software, the company I founded, and am majority shareholder of. If you look at the URLs of each of the stories, you'll see that there's information encoded after the question mark. I've included an example below.
The special coding tells the Times's server that the link is coming from a weblog, and now and in the future, this link will work without a fee to access the archive. So if you link into the Times archive through a link generated by the Radio UserLand aggregator, or compatible software, the link will continue to work in the future, as long as there is no substantial abuse to this system.
As I undestand it, the Times wishes to encourage people with weblogs to point to and comment on New York Times articles, but it also must protect sources of revenue that are not related to weblogs.
PS: If you have questions or comments, I've created a space to do so.