Spoiling the paid party (again)

Paid Content reports today that The New York Times Companies’ Martin Nisenholtz is talking about charging for the paper’s mobile app.

On the face of it, this seems to make sense: People are paying for mobile content and functionality (ring tones vs. earth-shattering news, ferchrissakes!) and for mobile apps. The New York Times iPhone app is downright wonderful. It’s far better than The Times’ Kindle app (no fault of The Times; all the Kindle news sites are sucky). I’d pay for the app – once.

But would I pay for an ongoing subscription to it? Well, here’s the problem: my iPhone brings me the web and I can read The Times there without paying. Damn, that genie; doesn’t know his place (in the bottle).

Nisenholtz says, quite rightly, that one problem with the iPhone app is that there are fewer opportunities for advertising. And even so, the few ad avails I see are all filled with free house ads for The Times itself; obviously, the sales staff hasn’t taken seriously the opportunity to sell this prime audience (why is it always thus?). So The Times’ app makes bupkis. Even the house ads are irritating, so I might pay for an app without ads. But then I’d be paying for less irritation rather than for the content.

What’s the solution? I haven’t the faintest idea.

Apture, An Open Window into the Web of the Future

First of all, I want you to know that the purpose of this article like others I wrote recently or those upcoming, is not to promote a company or a product although indirectly they are of course. When I sit at home and think about cool things to write about I try to ask myself what is good for me, what really works for me. If I like it I certainly feel more comfortable and inspired to make a review. In other words, what’s good for me may be good for you.

Today I want to talk about Apture, a fine little tool that has been around for some time on the web but a little unknown so far. I say so far because there is some sort of silent tidal wave which I am certain will hit the shore sooner or later. Well known main actors in the news world like The Washington Post and The New York Times or Reuters have implemented Apture. As it happened to me with Glue which I recommended in the previous post, I had my doubts about Apture when I first got in touch with it. I only had my Blogger photoblog back then and was having too many problems with the site (Blogger was not always as user-friendly as it was supposed to be). But due to the recent buzz plus a little intuition, I decided to enhance the experience on this one, my brand new site, by giving those curious popping windows a second chance. I was lucky there’s a wonderful Apture plugin  for WordPress . I had registered the service about a year ago, so that part was covered. You need to sign in to start editing but don’t worry you will only follow a few steps. The result is so great that I also included Apture in Barcelona Photoblog recently, where it ended up being much more helpful due to the obvious image-oriented nature of the site.

But let’s not waste more time. What is Apture anyway and who is behind it? What can it do for you? How does it help your visitors? Is it obstrusive? Is it worth the trouble? A lot of questions need to be answered before you decide to partially commit your site to a certain program as you do for example with sharing applications or whatever tool not included in the basic structure of your blog.

Apture is a line of Javascript code, that’s the first thing you should know, although due to the nature of its activity it is a whole communication platform in itself. If you were to install it manually as it happens in the case of Blogger you would have to insert the code near the end of your template just before the body tag (before other script tags that appear at the end ). If you are not familiar with editing your template there is a browser plugin which will guide you out during the installation among other things. I had to try placing the script twice before it started to work but now it is running smoothly. With the WordPress plugin it is even easier. You first download the zip file, browse for it to upload, install and activate. Don’t forget to tune up the settings the first time!

Now that you got it all working, go to your text, call the editor with just one configurable keystroke and start selecting words or phrases in your article which you think might need further explanation or rich content support. Before getting into details, why don’t we go and answer some of those questions above now that you’ve had the appetizer?

Apture is, rephrasing the company’s definition, a communication platform that allows to link and incorporate media items into a dynamic layer above pages. So, you have a layer on top of your text, you can’t actually see it, but it is like adding some transparent slide over the article. On top of that layer you are going to highlight with your mouse, those relevant words you suggest and will instantly create windows to new “subfolders” of information. It’s like the entrance to another dimension. Now your ideas will no longer be linear. In part this is the essence of the web of the future, call it web 3.0, the next web or whatever term you feel like choosing. Although the window is precooked somehow because you are offered some services there’s the possibility to add your own links or embedded content. Summing up, these are resizable windows popping up from custom links that enrich the context with multimedia resources without you having to leave the site. Apture also has an auto mode which may automatically capture reference links like Wikipedia for example.

Apture has a lot to thank to Stanford University as all of its co founders studied there. Such is the case of Tristan Harris, CEO who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science; Can Sar, CTO, with a BS and MS Degree in Computer Science and Jesse Young, Chief Engineer, BS in Electrical Engineering and MS in Computer Science.

Last month Apture secured $4.1 Million in Series A Funding led by Clearstone Venture Partners.

The recent introduction of a Twitter viewer has played an important role in making the tool even more solid due to the enormous success of the “bird” lately, but this is just my opinion of course.

But what are the pros and cons of using Apture? Cons there are some but they don’t overweigh the positive indicators proving Apture is a must-have.

The way I see it, the main obstacle is the fact that any link, any media, any reference that’s inside Apture windows is some resource I might have included directly on the page and thus would have been crawled by spiders and affect my SEO in some way. Those internal links or those videos you would have embedded are not indexed, except for the very first one of course. But that basic contradiction may be controlled by properly administering this utility. One good thing Apture has is that you won’t have to cram pack your site with embedded videos. That will save you some space. Your visitors stay on your site longer. There’s no need to go for a map  or checking that video on YouTube. It opens up here and on a separate small box if you like. In seconds you may display all the content on top of your article as if you were playing cards. Too much info, a crazy ordeal of popping up windows on mouseovers, can be noisy and scare away your visitors so use it wisely. Another apparent nuisance is that any editing you do is post publishing. That means that the more it takes you to go back and add the information, the less people will notice as the posts leave the frontpage for example. A good thing is that should you forget to highlight any idea, you may go back and add the link without republishing!

According to my opinion this wonderful app is a major advance in itself. It is not a one-day flower. Apture brings change to the system in the sense that we are given a tool to reinterpret the web, to surf along a different path. It is a vertical application. It is semantic web. More than a simple glimpse on the web of the future. It is the future.

Other sources to consult:

Apture Offers The Next Generation in Contextualizing Websites by Jason Falls at Social Media Explorer
Apture: Web 3.0 is Now by Rory O’Connor at The Huffingtonpost
Top 5 Ways to Use Apture like the New York Times at Apture’s blog.

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