An Interactive Publishing Wish List for 1997

By: Steve Outing

As a new year dawns, I find myself in a wishful mood. (Perhaps this has something to do with today, coincidentally, being my 40th birthday.) And there's much to be wishing for in the interactive publishing industry. I'm optimistic and hopeful that 1997 will be a good year, but there are a few things I'd like to see, to insure that our industry advances to a new level of consumer acceptance.

* I wish for faster, faster, faster access. The slow connections the majority of Internet users rely on are the biggest impediment to the Internet becoming a successful mass medium. Solutions are coming, with various cable modem trials under way around the U.S., and some of the telephone companies are beginning to implement ADSL solutions; both of these technologies promise super-fast Internet access. Greater bandwidth to the home is absolutely essential if Internet usage is to spread beyond today's computer literate and to a mass audience. While we wait, Web publishers are advised to get content ready for the day when streaming video and other applications of high bandwidth are possible.

* I wish for a 24-hour connection to the Internet, which is what cable modems promise. The obnoxious screeching and time delay of getting a dial-up connection has got to go. Less-computer-savvy consumers will get impatient with this, particularly when -- as is the case with subscriptions to many Internet service providers -- they get busy signals or the connection doesn't take on the first attempt.

* I wish that during 1997, the interactive publishing industry will find a balance between technology and content as core focus areas. During the Internet's infancy, too many publishers have concentrated on the technology, and perhaps forgotten that publishing is about information first and that the technology -- no matter how nifty -- is merely the distribution mechanism. In online publishing, it's important for managers to find a balance between experimenting with new technologies and designing the best content to fit the new medium.

* I wish that ALL journalists will have an e-mail address provided by their employer, so that they can take part in the information age first-hand. Further, I'd like to see employers offer Web access to every journalist. In 1997, a publisher should no more deny a reporter Internet access than not let the journalist have a phone.

* I wish to see more Internet-based reporting. While computer-assisted reporting has made great strides in the journalism community in the last couple years, I'd like to see reporters tap the tremendous resources available now on the Internet to break stories that could not have been conceived prior to the growth of the Internet.

* I wish to see the U.S. lose some of its dominance over the Internet, as other nations catch up -- and perhaps surpass Americans in some areas.

* I wish that WebTV succeeds wildly, because the Internet-on-the-TV-screen technology holds the best immediate promise of bringing new people to the Internet -- and helping the news industry's online endeavors succeed.

* I wish for significant progress with portable digital tablets, such as espoused by Roger Fidler of Kent State University. When digital publications are accessible other than when sitting in an office chair in front of a desk with a computer on it, then electronic publishing will take a quantum step forward.

* I wish that all newspaper publishers would wake up to the fact that classifieds is the component of their business that is most at risk by the success of the Internet -- and do something about it. Many in the industry are well aware of the threat posed by cyber competitors attempting to chip away at newspapers' classifieds largesse, but many others have yet to trod the online landscape. There's money to be made with electronic classifieds -- money that can make up for inevitable losses in the coming years in print classifieds.

* I wish that advertisers will look beyond the big numbers being offered by search engine companies like Yahoo!, Lycos, et al, and realize that online newspaper services -- when aggregated -- represent a high-value online ad venue. This can be accomplished via efforts by newspaper organizations like New Century Network or private companies like Real Media, which place ads on multiple newspaper sites and offer advertisers increasingly sophisticated demographic targeting.

* I wish that Microsoft, which holds such power in bringing masses of new people (novices) to the Internet, would simplify, simplify, simplify. This week when I went to download the latest version of its Explorer Web browser, I was disturbed by the lack of intuitiveness of the Microsoft Web site. Did I want the 2.0 beta, the 3.0 standard beta or the 3.0 beta with virtual java? While I as an advanced user had no trouble figuring it out, I envisioned a computer novice, wanting to upgrade to a better piece of software, sitting at the screen somewhat intimidated by Microsoft-speak. All of us in this industry need to make our products and services simple to use for the novice -- especially the industry leaders.

* And for my 40th birthday, I'd like a crystal ball (digital, of course) that works. But I have a feeling that I'm not going to get that wish fulfilled. Oh, and I'd like a multi-tasking module for my brain, to better keep pace with this fast-moving industry. That can be tough for old guys like me.

Prodigy Classifieds sold to Thomson

Prodigy's electronic classifieds business has been purchased by Thomson Newspapers of Stamford, Connecticut. Thomson says it will use the Prodigy classifieds system to publish its newspapers' classifieds on the Web, and license the technology to other publishers. The system already is in use at more than 20 newspapers, including those of the Southam chain in Canada. Thomson publishes 85 daily papers and numerous weeklies in the U.S. and Canada, including the Globe & Mail in Toronto. Thomson Newspapers is a unit of Thomson Corp. of Toronto.


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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company


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