Why online news failed

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Print media have failed online because they don’t know how e-mail works. Their Web sites have no regard for the basic principles of e-mail. In fact, they operate in a completely opposite fashion.

Imagine logging on to your e-mail to check for new messages. And imagine that you had hundreds of messages each hour because you had no filter. They’d be a horrendous system. You obviously need a filter for spam. Otherwise any relevant message from friends, family or colleagues would be lost. With a filter, you receive only the e-mails you want, which may amount to a dozen or so messages each day.

Print media run Web sites, however, in this exact manner. They spam readers with irrelevant content. And they fail to incorporate the most basic function of e-mail: the queue system.

E-mails queue when an individual does not immediately read a message. The message is stored so an individual can read the message at a later time. It’s the equivalent of a voicemail. Rather than being unavailable, individuals are essentially always accessible – they choose their availability. Bad timing doesn’t inhibit content.

A 24/7 news cycle creates bad timing, though, in terms of readers. Readers do not access information 24/7. They choose their availability. And this creates a disconnect — online media force updates on their terms rather than readers’. Content spams readers with no queue system. And that makes any news whatsoever essentially disappear.

A typical e-mail system with no filters bombards you with dozens upon dozens of e-mails. Online media are worse than this. Articles disappear in hours, being replaced by newer ones. Imagine if e-mails from your family had a lifespan of less than one hour. After that hour, they would be erased permanently. You wouldn’t desperately check your e-mail 15 times each day, as online media bank on. You’d abandon such insanity.

Aggregator feeds solve this. Queued items serve as a checklist, an agenda. They store items to allow readers to dictate their own terms, and they kill spam. Aggregators are voicemails. They are the equivalent of e-mail.

Online media still put the burden on readers, who must subscribe to an aggregator and specify their desired feeds individually. One alternative that news Web sites should provide, though, is personalized Web pages that embed aggregators.

Regardless of the approach, online media must change their mindset: companies need to place the burden on themselves. Currently, these media companies have failed for one simple reason – their mindset. They place the burden on the reader rather than themselves.

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