Ghost Sites of the Web

Web 1.0 history, forgotten web celebrities, old web sites, commentary, and news by Steve Baldwin. Published erratically since 1996.

September 17, 2007

New York Times Comes to Its Senses, Abandons "Walled Garden" Content Plan

Back in 2005, I wrote an article for Ghost Sites excoriating the New York Times for putting much of its best content (including columnists Maureen Dowd, Gail Collins, Judith Warner, Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert, Tom Friedman, David Brooks, and others) behind a subscription wall.

The Times was making $10 million a year on its subscription scheme, but its management clearly recognized that it could be making much more by opening up its content and making it ad-supported. Abandoning the "walled garden" approach is great news both for the Times and for those who continue to regard this institution as an indispensable resource. Bravo!

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June 06, 2007

New York Times Obituary: Steve Gilliard

The New York Times posted an obituary for Steve Gilliard on its Web site; this notice also appeared in the Times' print edition. A few days ago, I suggested that the mainstream media would completely ignore Steve's passing; I am very glad that I was completely wrong about this.

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September 23, 2005

The New York Times' "Times Select": Personal Edition Redux?

I am a reader of both the offline and online versions of the New York Times, and I am horrified at the newspaper's recent decision to put much of its contents behind a paid firewall called Times Select.

The wisdom of this decision has been called into question by a good article by Jay Rosen on the Huffington Post. I have little to add to Rosen's piece, except to note that I once worked for a globally dominant news and entertainment empire which bet all its chips on a paid, subscription-based content service. It was called Personal Edition, and was a complete and utter disaster. When it failed, it was only a matter of time before Time-Warner fell into the treacherous arms of AOL.

Only time will tell whether Times Select achieves its subscribership targets, which according to Rosen number in the hundreds of thousands. But history has not been kind to subscription-based schemes which lock up a newspaper's best assets behind a firewall. Personal Edition, the Interchange Online Network, the Washington Post's Digital Ink weren't projects aimed at increasing the breadth or quality of online information. They were retrograde efforts born of fear. Their aim was to control access in order to staunch the flow of red ink, and each failed miserably because they eviscerated the content that users went there for (which in the Times' case certainly include the columnists Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert, and Maureen Dowd). And once users realized that the "free areas" had been gutted, they left and never came back.

It is impossible for me to read the Times' move as anything less than a desperate act which never would have been taken had the newspaper studied the record of Internet failure and the extremely poor record that subscription-based services have. Only porn services and the Wall Street Journal have been successful at evading the odds against such paid services. Why? Because in the hierarchies of human needs, sex and money rank high: far above Tom Friedman and David Brooks, whose words most of us can simply do without.

Is there a bright side to the Times misstep? You bet there is. More and more people will simply eschew the NYT columnists and extra features, and turn to the ever-growing, ever-improving Blogosphere for intelligence and wit. I'm sure this is not the result the Times intends, but for underfinanced and underrecognized opinion Blogs, Times Select couldn't have come along at a better time.

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January 30, 2004

Today's Inflation Stopper Sandwich: $0.50

Belmore Cafeteria at Night, Copyright 1975 by Steve BaldwinI recently unearthed this ancient photo - taken by myself in 1974 or 1975 - from a CD-ROM disk that I was about to throw out. It depicts the Belmore Cafeteria, on 28th and Park Avenue South. The Belmore is, sadly, one of New York City's great Lost 24-Hour Institutions.

In some ways, the Belmore was better than the Web will ever be. Forget broadband - the Belmore had breaded veal! It was cheaper than AOL (observe the ads for a "$0.50 Inflation Stopper Sandwich"). And it was always busy. even at 4 in the morning, filled not with Virus writers, Asian Teens, and Internet Cannibals, but with the sort of supremely twisted New York Night People that Jean Shepherd talked about in the early 1960's and Martin Scorsese immortalized in a scene from 1976's Taxi Driver in which Wizard (Peter Boyle) fails to ease the mind of Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) "in the blood-red light of an outside neon sign". (you can clearly see this sign in the photo, although Bickle and Wizard are missing).

Taxi Driver made the Belmore Cafeteria world famous, but unfortunately, this noble staple of '70's Low Rent Night Life closed in the early 1980's, when Manhattan real estate prices began to crawl upward, prompting its owners to sell out to developers of a sliver-shaped residential high rise. New York changed, I stopped walking the streets at night with a camera, the Web was invented, and all of the young people in this photo - in just a few instants, it seems - became old, although most are still too young to have joined the $0.35 2-Egg Special in the dustbin of history. Today, one's Orpheus-like journey through the Stygian underworld begins and ends within the confines of one's browser.

Yes - time unravels, erodes and erases everything (except, perhaps Hard Times, which for many people are as real now as they were in the 1970's), but this image, and, of course, Scorsese's film, are capable of bringing me back to the Belmore - for one last $0.50 Inflation Stopper Sandwich at 4:00 AM.

(Note: If you're a Belmore Cafeteria fan and want a high-resolution version, I'll make it available, provided that you have memorized all of the dialogue in the scene between Wizard and Travis, especially the part relating to Bertrand Russell.)

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