Posts Tagged ‘RSS feeds’

On paywalls and censorship

August 12, 2022

I explore and read pretty widely on the internet; various RSS feeds to which I subscribe point me towards a plethora of magazine articles which may be of interest to me for all sorts of reasons. And every now and then I settle down to binge read them. But it’s getting more and more frustrating, as more and more publications put up paywalls.

I understand they are commercial businesses that need to survive. In the past they often allowed you to read a couple of articles a month free of charge and then blocked you, but increasingly I begin to read articles and then find them cut off with a demand that I subscribe, or at least set up an account; some quite bluntly lie to me and say I have already read all my free articles for the month when I haven’t read any…

So what do these publishers expect to achieve through such an approach? There are publications I now know not to bother with at all. There are some it’s worth trying occasionally, to see if they have recognised it’s a new month and will offer me an article. And there are publications like the Independent newspaper which are just plain bonkers; I set up an account and randomly it will let me sign in or not, read an article or not.

If I like a particular publication sufficiently to want to read it all, I’ll subscribe; I’ve had the paper edition of Le Monde Diplomatique through the post for over twenty years. And I subscribe to The Guardian app, for free puzzles and news without adverts. But if I’m only interested in the occasional article, then I won’t be subscribing. And this approach feels rather self-defeating, both for me and for the publications: they imply I’m a cheapskate because I won’t subscribe, or open an account and be bombarded with adverts and junk mail, and I feel almost, though not quite, as if there’s a sort of reverse censorship going on: we don’t want you to read our article.

Whatever happened to micropayments, which a few years ago were supposedly going to be the way forward? If I could read a single article in exchange for a small sum of money, I’d be handing over reasonable sums of cash in many directions, hardly thinking about it; instead, I pay nothing to anyone and get to read very little, and the magazines don’t even get to try and entice me to vote with my credit card for a full-on subscription because I can’t sample their wares.

Once upon a time, the internet promised openness and information; now I feel it’s closing doors rather than opening them, and we are moving back to the old days, where I read less widely overall, and used libraries far more, and when if I liked the look of a single issue of a magazine on the news-stand, it could be mine for a modest sum.

Surely there has to be a better way than the current one?

Still not reading books…

August 19, 2020

Despite all be best intentions and renewed efforts, I’m still not succeeding in reading very many books during the pandemic and all the extra time I have at home at my disposal, as this blog shows. I’ve accumulated a few new books with the best of intentions, but…

Recently I’ve been distracted by the way I use the internet. In a very old-fashioned way, I’m very fond of RSS feeds, which I discovered many years ago, but which now seem to be dying the death. Interesting websites allowed a feed to be set up, usually in an e-mail client (which was very convenient) so that one could be notified of new articles; these would remain in a list – just like emails – for me to look at whenever suited, but they contained links to the actual articles, so if the feed title looked interesting enough, I’d read the article, otherwise I’d just delete the header.

It’s only people like me that use desktop email clients; tablet and phone email apps don’t have built-in RSS aggregators, and purpose-made ones annoyingly insist on trying to ‘curate’ (god, I hate that word!) a list of articles they think I’ll be interested in, ie fill up with crap.

Anyway, I’d built up a stack of feeds over several years and only visited them desultorily, but over the last week or so I’ve been carefully making my way through everything I’d saved and reading everything that grabbed my attention: a lot of very interesting stuff, raging through a wide range of topics. The stuff I save is mainly literary, with some religion and politics thrown in. Arts & Letters Daily sends me three chosen links a day and rarely do I delete them all without reading one. Strong Language started up a couple of years ago and is a blog dedicated to swearing in all its forms and languages, and I find it fascinating. Then there’s Strange Maps, which, as the name suggests, offers all sorts of interesting cartographical perspectives on our world. And of course, Project Gutenberg is forever throwing new delights as ebooks into the public domain, and the marvellous volunteers at Librivox are regularly recording them for our delight.

Attempting to read the articles after some time has not been without its frustrations: some of them have just vanished, some of them are now behind paywalls, some of them dislike my adblockers, and I often have to clear the cookie cache in order to visit the same site more than a couple of times in a day. I’m still surprised that no-one seems to have found a way to make micropayments work for access to the occasional article on a site; I’m quite willing to pay a small sum for this.

I’m aware this has all been a displacement activity, but a very useful one in that it’s tidied up the laptop, the email, given me some more space back, and the few articles I may want to return to at some future date are saved as pdfs. I am planning to get my hands on some real, paper books in the near future…

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