After an experience this afternoon, I came to the conclusion that on the Internet, if your content isn’t unique, your image and usability had better be. Here’s what happened:
I was browsing the online New York Times for an article for my American Religious Communities course, and I happened upon a promising headline. When I followed the link, I was asked to either buy a subscription or pay to see the article. Rather miffed, I did a Google News search for the headline, and found an article at Reuters UK with apparently the same content — for free.
The moral of this story: If you set the threshold for using your site higher than others do, you will lose to your competition. The only way you can retain users is by offering a service that is so unique that no one else has it or making the experience more pleasant than others do. Period. Sure, there’s the small issue of mindshare — how prevalant your brand is in the culture — but the Internet allows content to win out over fame. A new site or service can gain instant recognition in the Internet community through search engines or social networking.
Does this mean free-content sites force pay sites to improve their content and user experience? I think so. I believe the free content movement leads to better content, design, and usability all around.