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Wednesday March 23, 2011 4:54 pm
Interview: The person who destroyed the NY Times paywall using Twitter
When the New York Times announced its plans for an online subscription model, or "paywall," critics picked it apart almost instantly. It was readily apparent that there were many ways around it. For example, the publication offers free access to stories posted on social-media sites. Very quickly someone set up @FreeNYT, a Twitter feed that aggregates every Times Twitter posting, effectively giving away all the articles for free. The Times has asked Twitter to suspend the account.
The person behind @FreeNYT, who prefers to remain anonymous, agreed to talk to PCMag.
Do you think the Times will be able to shut you down?
@FreeNYT: I don't believe the Times will be able to shut me down, as it's a rather laughable claim that by simply aggregating their own Twitter feeds into a list I've engaged in trademark violation. I assume the folks at Twitter told them as much—if they were even contacted by the Times.
What do you think will happen if Twitter suspends your account?
@FreeNYT: As I showed with the creation of @tyneerf/fearthefuzzy, even if they shut @freenyt down, others will just pop up in my place. The only way to stop this is for the Times to either change its policy about referrals from social-media sites being free or stop tweeting out all its own content. I'm guessing they'll do neither, at least for now.
[The aforementioned list is a compilation of all the different Times twitter feeds, like @NYTimesDining, @NYTimesFashion, and others where the publication posts its articles. The name of the handle is @FreeNYT spelled backwards].
There appear to be lots of other ways to avoid the paywall. Do you think the Times will try to take these down, too?
@FreeNYT: At this point there are already more sophisticated (yet still trivially easy) and pleasant ways to get around the paywall, such as the NYTClean bookmarklet, or simply using your browser in safe mode, and I assume other workarounds will pop up as well. The NYT can't realistically shut these all down. So the salient question is whether the workarounds will become sufficiently pervasive that they lose a significant number of potential subscribers. That remains to be seen, but I wouldn't bet on the Times.
[The NYTClean bookmark is a tool created by a Canadian coder that wipes out the paywall using four simple lines of code].
Why did you start the @FreeNYT feed?
@FreeNYT: I started @freenyt as an experiment to play around with the loophole that the Times left open, and as a catalyst for conversation about the paywall and its limitations.
What do you think of the paywall? Will it succeed?
@FreeNYT: I'm an avid reader of the Times and I am disappointed that after spending two years and $40 million they came up with something so unimaginative. The content they produce has immense value and I would gladly pay for it but they need to get more creative about how they monetize their offering. Suddenly asking people to pay for something they've been getting free for years, without providing any new benefit, is a losing proposition. This could have been an opportunity to engage with their community, and some creative thought leaders, in a collective endeavor to generate some really innovative ideas; instead they paid a bunch of consultants a lot of money to come up with a business model that probably won't work and creates an adversarial relationship between the Times and its readers. The New York Times has the power to transform journalism and actually create a viable online model, but they need to start thinking more like Google and less like the RIAA. I hope they figure it out. I want them to succeed.
This article, written by Leslie Horn, originally appeared on PCMag.com and is republished on Gear Live with the permission of Ziff Davis, Inc.