Clay Shirky on Paywalls and Critics

Very Candid Interview given by Clay Shirky to Guardian. He speaks of Paywalls and critics. Very good read.

On Paywalls:

"Everyone's waiting to see what will happen with the paywall – it's the big question. But I think it will underperform. On a purely financial calculation, I don't think the numbers add up." But then, interestingly, he goes on, "Here's what worries me about the paywall. When we talk about newspapers, we talk about them being critical for informing the public; we never say they're critical for informing their customers. We assume that the value of the news ramifies outwards from the readership to society as a whole. OK, I buy that. But what Murdoch is signing up to do is to prevent that value from escaping. He wants to only inform his customers, he doesn't want his stories to be shared and circulated widely. In fact, his ability to charge for the paywall is going to come down to his ability to lock the public out of the conversation convened by the Times."

On Critics:

But if I started out on, say, the Guardian's Comment is free site, the sheer nastiness of many of the commenters would floor me like a train. If the web has unlocked all this human potential for generosity and sharing, how come the people using it are so horrible to each other?

Shirky smiles, confident that he has the answer even to this. "So, there's two things to this paradox. One is that those conversations were always happening. People were saying those nasty things to one another in the pub or whatever. You just couldn't hear them before. So it's a change in our awareness of truth, not a change in the truth.

"Then there's this second effect, that anonymity makes people behave more meanly. What I think is going to happen there is we are slowly going to set up islands of civil discourse. There's no way to make the internet not anonymous – and if there was, the most enthusiastic consumers of that technology would be Iranian and Chinese and Burmese governments. But there are ways of saying, while you're here, use your real identity. We need to set up the social norms which say in this space you need to use your real names, or some well-known handle.

"Whenever you say that, people cry censorship, but frankly? Fuck off." He breaks off, laughing. "You know, getting that right is important. The whole, 'Is the internet a good thing or a bad thing'? We're done with that. It's just a thing. How to maximise its civic value, its public good – that's the really big challenge."