Berners-Lee vs Murdoch & Jobs

All seem agreed that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp is set to launch an iPad-only digital “newspaper” in alliance with Apple very soon. There’s been no denial of obviously well-sourced indications about the price (99 cents or 62p a week), the editorial formula (“a tabloid sensibility with a broadsheet intelligence”) or the likely editor (Jesse Angelo of the New York Post).

No one should complain about Murdoch’s willingness to experiment. He may have come late to the web and he has made some mistakes. But he is laudably unsentimental about dumping an error once it’s clear that it is wrong. He cans the project and moves on to something else.

So I look forward to seeing this tryout. Murdoch plus Steve Jobs is a market-moving alliance by any measure. Their attempt to break the mould will test in an interesting fashion what is becoming a pivotal issue about the new public space which the web is creating.

The odd thing about the iPad-only project (apparently named the “Daily”) is that it sounds very much as if it goes directly against the grain of the web. It is perhaps the most ambitious attempt yet made to reproduce the conditions of print in a digital environment. The content won’t be on the web, only on the iPad. You can only get it by paying one way. Presumably, the content won’t link to much, or anything, else.

There’s a magisterial critique of this thinking here by Tim Berners-Lee in a piece marking the twentieth anniversary of the invention of the world wide web. “Closed” systems, he argues, shouldn’t be allowed to reverse the advantages of openess, choice and exploratory innovation which the web has brought.

On balance I think that Berners-Lee and commentators like BeehiveCity are right that news content restricted to a single tablet platform won’t in the end work. But what is likely to settle the issue is software. Unless someone can come up with a way of collecting revenue online for expensive journalism without a closed system, then experiments like an iPaper will become more common.

Update 25/11/10: If you think I’m being a bit over-pessimistic about the Daily, try this for-and-against from Valleywag. Mostly against.

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