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How Internet news should work

Friday, March 14, 2008 by Dave Winer.

By the mid-90s I became accustomed to reading news on the web. So much so that I cancelled subscriptions to the NY Times and Wall Street Journal because most days I'd never take the papers out of the plastic bags they were delivered in.  Permalink to this paragraph

Getting news on the web was so much more efficient. I'd read the TImes and local papers and News.com, Infoworld, MacWeek, and a bunch of other industry publications. This was before blogging, before RSS. Permalink to this paragraph

How I'd do it -- I'd go to a site, News.com for example, and scan for articles that interested me. I'd do this every hour or so, I'd rely on memory and link color to determine if an article was new or not. Being a software developer, every time I thought of better ways to do this, if only... Permalink to this paragraph

Then in 1999 something great happened, a bunch of tech industry publications, working with Netscape, started publishing titles, descriptions and links to stories in RSS. I immediately put together a web application that scanned these "feeds" periodically, and put the new stories at the top of the page, pushing down the older ones. Then, to do my hourly news trawl, I'd just have to start at the top of the page, and read down until I came to something I had seen before. I thought of this as "automated web surfing." It took the labor out of the hunting and pecking I had been doing before.  Permalink to this paragraph

This is, imho, the way news should work on the Internet. I've had this argument many times with people at the NY Times and other big news organizations who feel that part of what they do is to prioritize and organize the news into a front page backed by sections. They feel the Internet versions of their news should work this way, as their print versions do. Permalink to this paragraph

But you see them break out of this model sometimes when news happens in the middle of the day. When William F Buckley died last week, there was an item at the top of the home page, in red letters, with the news of Buckley's death. What if two or three big events had happened that day? What would they do then? Permalink to this paragraph

We've already seen news organizations when the rush of news is too great, adopt the blogging style of news -- the New Orleans Times-Picayune didn't allow tradition to get in the way of reporting Katrina, they turned their news flow into a blog.  Permalink to this paragraph

I think every newspaper on the web should at least offer the reader a choice of a reverse-chronological view of the news. I think they would find most readers would use this view, most editors would too.  Permalink to this paragraph

I was inspired to write this today because Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 has come to basically the same conclusion. I think we may finally be coming to the tipping point for news publishing on the web. I hope so. Permalink to this paragraph


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A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 53, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

"The protoblogger." - NY Times.

"The father of modern-day content distribution." - PC World.

One of BusinessWeek's 25 Most Influential People on the Web.

"Helped popularize blogging, podcasting and RSS." - Time.

"The father of blogging and RSS." - BBC.

"RSS was born in 1997 out of the confluence of Dave Winer's 'Really Simple Syndication' technology, used to push out blog updates, and Netscape's 'Rich Site Summary', which allowed users to create custom Netscape home pages with regularly updated data flows." - Tim O'Reilly.

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