I was doing some varied reading this morning and stumbled across this article by Paul Graham. I want to highlight this passage:
“We now have several examples to prove that amateurs can surpass professionals, when they have the right kind of system to channel their efforts. Wikipedia may be the most famous. Experts have given Wikipedia middling reviews, but they miss the critical point: it’s good enough. And it’s free, which means people actually read it. On the web, articles you have to pay for might as well not exist. Even if you were willing to pay to read them yourself, you can’t link to them. They’re not part of the conversation.“
It pretty much sums up what I’ve been thinking for some time about sites with paid-for articles. Do they have any future at all? I was interested to see Rupert Murdoch placing his hopes on a paid-for future. He’s arguing that free news sites are dead. Can’t say I agree with that. I’m sure they’ll be different to what we’ve been used to in the past.
When I’m searching for technical topics, I have to say that every time I see a link to a site I know is paid, I don’t think “I must join that site some time”, I simply automatically skip over their content. A good indication on Google is page caching. Google will happily turn off page caching for paid-for sites. I wish they had an option to simply leave them out of my results set. When I’m searching for results, any page I see that doesn’t have a cached page available, is probably no longer of interest to me.
I think Paul’s last sentence is the most telling: “They’re not part of the conversation”. You can’t build a buzz or discussion around something that people have to pay to see.
What this does raise is the question on how technical content will be generated in future. Is our future one that’s full of “good enough” technical articles too? Or is advertising the only way forward, much as we might wish it wasn’t?