Tag Archives: web

Browser monoculture draws nearer as Opera adopts WebKit, Google Chromium

Browser company Opera is abandoning development of its own browser engine and adopting WebKit.

To provide a leading browser on Android and iOS, this year Opera will make a gradual transition to the WebKit engine, as well as Chromium, for most of its upcoming versions of browsers for smartphones and computers.

Note that Opera is not only adopting WebKit but also the Google-sponsored Chromium engine, which is the open source portion of the Google Chrome browser.

What are the implications?

The obvious one, from Opera’s perspective, is that the work involved in keeping a browser engine up to date is large and the benefit, small, given that WebKit and Chromium are both capable and also close to de facto standards in mobile.

This last point is key though. If everyone uses WebKit, then instead of the W3C being the authority on which web standards are supported, then the WebKit community becomes that authority. In the case of Chromium, that means Google in particular.

On the desktop Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox both have substantial market share, but in mobile both iOS and Android, which dominate, use WebKit-derived browsers. BlackBerry is also using WebKit in its new BlackBerry 10 OS.

There is already a debate about web pages and applications which make use of webkit-specific tags, which often implies a degraded experience for users of other browsers, even if those other browsers support the same features. A year agao, Daniel Glazman, co-chairman of the W3C CSS working group, wrote a strongly-worded post on this issue:

Without your help, without a strong reaction, this can lead to one thing only and we’re dangerously not far from there: other browsers will start supporting/implementing themselves the -webkit-* prefix, turning one single implementation into a new world-wide standard. It will turn a market share into a de facto standard, a single implementation into a world-wide monopoly. Again. It will kill our standardization process. That’s not a question of if, that’s a question of when.

Therefore, Opera’s decision is probably bad for open web standards; though web developers may not mind since one fewer browser variation to worry about makes their life easier.

People commonly raise the spectre of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 6 and the way it effectively froze web standards for several years, thanks to its dominance. Might WebKit’s dominance repeat this? It is doubtful, since the IE6 problem would not have been so great, except that Microsoft decided it would rather promote its own platform (Windows) rather than the web platform. The WebKit community will not do that.

On the other hand, for rivals like Microsoft and Mozilla this is a concern. Something as important as web standards should ideally be vendor-neutral, so that big companies do not use standards as a means of promoting their own platforms and making other platforms work less well. In practice, it is rare that standards are truly vendor-neutral; the big vendors dominate standards groups like the W3C for exactly this reason. That said, it would be true to say that the W3C is more vendor-neutral than WebKit or Chromium.

Leaving all that aside, another question is what value Opera can add if it is building on the same core as Google and Apple. That is a matter I hope to clarify at the Mobile World Congress later this month.

Google the new Microsoft, goes to war on Windows Phone users (updated)

Google has fired a one – two – three salvo at Microsoft and Windows Phone users. Consider the following.

First, we learn that Google, under the guise of Winter cleaning, is removing Google Sync from its Mail, Calendar and Contacts online products, for consumers only. This is the Exchange ActiveSync protocol used by Windows Phone and other mobile devices:

Starting January 30, 2013, consumers won’t be able to set up new devices using Google Sync; however, existing Google Sync connections will continue to function

Next, Microsoft reveals that Google is blocking the creation of a YouTube app for Windows Phone:

Microsoft is ready to release a high quality YouTube app for Windows Phone. We just need permission to access YouTube in the way that other phones already do, permission Google has refused to provide.

Now Google is blocking Windows Phone users from accessing Google Maps in the mobile browser. Google says:

The mobile web version of Google Maps is optimized for WebKit browsers such as Chrome and Safari. However, since Internet Explorer is not a WebKit browser, Windows Phone devices are not able to access Google Maps for the mobile web.

but Microsoft observes that Google Maps works fine in IE on Windows and:

Internet Explorer in Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 use the same rendering engine.

This last is of most concern. It is one thing to “optimize” for WebKit, another specifically to block non-WebKit browsers. If WebKit is in Google’s eyes the de facto standard for mobile devices – which are more significant than desktop browsers – then what is the function of the W3C, and what is to prevent a repetition of the IE6 effect where one company (Microsoft) in controlled what was implemented for most users?

We can conclude that Google has decided its interests are better served by inconveniencing Windows Phone users in the hope of stifling the platform, rather than trying to persuade Windows Phone users to use its services as it does on Apple’s iOS platform (with considerable success).

Sympathy for Microsoft will be limited because of its history. The company has never been a friend of cross-platform support, preferring to keep its customers on Windows. That said, it is difficult to find exact analogies for what is happening now. Nor is it clear what is and is not reasonable. Google Mail, YouTube and Maps are all Google properties. Is it reasonable to expect Google to make the extra effort required to support additional platforms? It is a matter for debate with no easy and clear cut answer.

This does not mean you have to like it. If it is Windows Phone today, what platform might it be tomorrow? Google’s willingness to lock out users of other platforms is a warning, and one that should give pause for thought to any individual, business or government entity who depends or is considering depending on the Google platform. If history tells us anything, it is that monopoly and lock-in always works out badly for users. Check the price of inkjet cartridges for a simple example, or the price of Microsoft Office for business users for another.

What will be the effect on Windows Phone of Google’s campaign? That again is hard to judge. Microsoft is better off than RIM, for example, because it does have something like a complete stack of what it takes to be a mobile platform, especially in conjunction with Nokia: search, maps, email, web-based documents, cloud storage, music streaming and so on. That said, “doesn’t work properly with YouTube, Gmail, Google Maps” is hardly a selling point.

Update: Google now says:

We periodically test Google Maps compatibility with mobile browsers to make sure we deliver the best experience for those users.

In our last test, IE mobile still did not offer a good maps experience with no ability to pan or zoom and perform basic map functionality. As a result, we chose to continue to redirect IE mobile users to Google.com where they could at least make local searches. The Firefox mobile browser did offer a somewhat better user experience and that’s why there is no redirect for those users.

Recent improvements to IE mobile and Google Maps now deliver a better experience and we are currently working to remove the redirect. We will continue to test Google Maps compatibility with other mobile browsers to ensure the best possible experience for users.

Is Google being straight with us? Why has the statement changed overnight?

One user discovered that certain URLs work for Google maps on Windows Phone and posted a video to prove it.

The video shows Google Maps working on a Lumia 800 (not the latest version of Windows Phone). I tried this URL:


on my own Lumia 800 and it does indeed work. You can search for places, they show up on the map, and you can zoom with the + and – controls. However, it is not perfect. The search box is slightly corrupted and I am unable to pinch to zoom or swipe to pan. Better than nothing? Certainly.

Still, the experience is sufficiently degraded to lend some credence to Google’s statements; and there is undoubtedly extra work in supporting additional browsers as any web developer will confirm. 

Is Google at war with Windows Phone, or just not going out of its way to support a rival platform? Watch this space.

Financial Times thrives on HTML 5, paywall, and snubbing Apple iTunes

I spoke to Rob Grimshaw, Managing Director of FT.Com, shortly after Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where the FT web app won an award for “Best Mobile Innovation for Publishing”.


I was interested in speaking to Grimshaw for two reasons.

First, the FT is a publication which has successfully managed the transition from print to online. The latest published results , for the first half of 2011, report that FT Group sales were up 7% and profits up 10%, “enhanced by digital subscriptions.”

Second, the FT took the initiative to bypass Apple’s app store with its onerous subscription terms by remaking its app as HTML5, as reported here .
The award “was the icing on the cake for the whole process,” Grimshaw told me. “When we abandoned the native app and stepped out of iTunes, it was a big commercial gamble, and it was a rueful moment as well because we’d created a beautiful native app and won an Apple design award.”

Was the FT move all about subscription fees, or were there other factors? “It was not all about Apple,” said Grimshaw. “Certainly their 30% tax on subscriptions didn’t make sense to us, because we already have our own platform so why pay somebody else to use their platform? Second, they would have owned the relationship with the customer. That’s important for various reasons, but for example it makes it difficult to manage churn, which is a crucial aspect of a subscription business.

“There were some other reasons. The mobile market would have been problematic if we had to keep developing all our applications for many different  operating systems. The overhead is enormous. It doesn’t stop once you’ve launched the app, you have to keep ugrading and changing.

“HTML 5 offers a way out of that headache by producing code that runs across multiple platforms.

“When you add all of that together, it seems to be smart to go the HTML 5 route even though it was technologically risky because at the time nobody else had done it.”

So what has been the impact of the web app versus the native app?

“A lot of people said, if we leave iTunes we’ll disappear from the world. We haven’t found that to be the case. In the four month period after we launched the web app, from June through to October 2011, our traffic on the iPad and the iPhone increased by over 50%. 1.7 million people have now visited the web application, more than ever downloaded our old iPhone and iPad app combined.

“We have many tools and techniques which help us to promote and build audience in the browser, and they work just as effectively for the web app as they do for our normal web sites.”

Is the success of the web app a reflection of the type of app, which is content-dominated, or will web apps dominate more generally in the mobile space?

“I think that HTML 5 will dominate. The buzz around HTML 5 at Mobile World Congress reinforced that view. It feels to me that there is an unstoppable momentum behind it,” said Grimshaw, mentioning PhoneGap-style native wrappers as well as pure web apps. “The counter argument is that for some of the new features of phones and tablets you have to use native code. However, I think 90% of applications don’t need that kind of support. We produce a very sophisticated app, and HTML 5 covers all the functions that we would ever need to use.”

“Once people discover what they can do within the browser they will start thinking why would you develop in native when it creates all of these headaches.”

As form factors become more varied, do you see a convergence between what you do for mobile and what you do for the wider internet?

“I can see them coming together. I can imagine a day where a single set of HTML 5 code can power our site across the full range of smartphones, tablets and desktop. The only obstacle is that so many browsers on the desktop don’t support HTML 5 fully.

“That doesn’t make all the contexting go away. Now with our mobile development we are dividing screen sizes into four buckets, and the thinking is that we will have to design for those four screen sizes. Device manufacturers are going to carry on producing a device to occupy every possible niche, and as publishers we have to cope with that.”

How important is cloud and mobile to your business, what new opportunities does it offer?

“Mobile is incredibly strategically important. I’m personally convinced that mobile will be the main distribution channel for news in the future. People’s lives don’t stop when they leave their desks or exit their houses. They want to carry on their friendships, their business, their reading. If you have a powerful mobile device that can deliver that, you’re going to gravitate to that device, and pretty soon it does become the main channel.

“We already see the audience migrating onto mobile. About 20% of our page views now come from mobile devices. That could be over half within three years. Figuring out how to present our content, sell our subscriptions, deliver our advertising on mobile devices is hugely important.

“It’s a shift on a tectonic scale. For publishers this is a bigger shift than the shift from print to desktop, and it’s happening faster.

“It does create new opportunities as well. We have a new sales channel, we’re now selling our subscriptions through mobile devices. 15 to 20% of our new digital subscriptions every week are sold directly through mobile devices.

“It gives us the potential to reach new audiences. We’ve seen some good evidence from the mobile operators to show that our audience from mobile is much younger that our audience on desktop or on print. Devices are helping us to reach younger audiences and recruit readers who might be with us for the rest of their lives.”

What about social media and the relationship with the big web portals, Google, Facebook, Twitter?

“I see social media as a parallel trend to mobile. Mobile is the desire of people to take content with them physically. Social media is about the desire of people to take content with them virtually, and equally powerful.

“On the advertising side I find social media a little alarming because of scale. Facebook has a trillion page views a month, which makes them 400 times bigger than the BBC and 1500 times bigger than the New York Times. It’s scale which is unimaginable for most publishers, and they have tremendous insight into their audience. That’s a potent cocktail. And every time someone shares an FT article on Facebook, an extra bit of data builds up on their side that tells them about our readers.

“On the subscription side though it is all positive and they can be powerful sales channels for us. We have big communities in social media, 300,000 odd on Facebook, 1.2 million Twitter followers, and these are to some extend self-selecting marketing audiences, people who stuck up their hand and said we’re interested in the FT.

“We also believe we can find ways to allow people to consume content in the social media environment if they are subscribers. We’re working on finding ways to do that.”

What do you think of paywalls versus free content for newspapers on the web? Does the paywall only work because the FT is a niche publication, albeit a large niche?

“We are very much on the paywall side and unashamedly so, we think our content has tremendous value and people do not object to paying for it. We now have 270,000 digital subscribers and that compares to our newspaper circulation which is around 330,000, so we’ve been successful in building up a paying audience in digital which is now pretty close in scale to our paying audience. It’s been an enormously success business venture for us.

“When you look at the publishers that are giving all their content away, the reason they are giving it all away is in order to build up a bigger audience for advertising. But the scale of the competition in the advertising market is so huge that actually it is a fruitless exercise, unless you can acquire a scale which will give you billions of page views a month. It’s very hard to see how you can build a decent business just from online advertising. The numbers don’t stack up.

“My message to other publishers is not necessarily that you have got to have a paywall, but is that you probably need other ways to make money, other than online advertising.”

WebKit dominance threatens mobile web standards – but who will care?

Daniel Glazman, co-chairman of the W3C CSS working group, has written a strongly-worded post describing how the “over-dominance” of the WebKit rendering engine threatens web standards.

Everyone loves the open source WebKit, so how is this so? The issue is a complex one. Those who make web browsers do not want to be tied only to those standards already ratified by the W3C as part of HTML or CSS. Therefore, they add features, sometimes in the hope that they will become standards, but use a vendor-specific prefix such as -webkit-,-moz- or -ms-. If you use those features in your markup, you do so in the awareness that they will only work on that specific vendor’s browser. The idea is that the best vendor-specific extensions become standard, in which case the prefix is dropped; or are replaced by an equivalent standard, in which case the prefix is also dropped. This has become an accepted part of the way standards are formed.

The issue now is that WebKit dominates the mobile web to the extent that web authors can assume its use without losing many users. WebKit is used in Apple iOS, Google Android, RIM BlackBerry 6 and higher, as well as on the desktop in Apple Safari and Google Chrome. Amazon also uses WebKit in the Kindle and of course the Android-based Kindle Fire.

The consequence, says Glazman, is that:

technically, the mobile Web is full of works-only-in-WebKit web sites while other browsers and their users are crying.

The further consequence, and this is Glazman’s strongest point, is that other browsers will have to pretend to be WebKit and support its extensions in order to give users a good experience – even if they have their own vendor-specific extensions that support the same features:

All browser vendors let us officially know it WILL happen, and rather sooner than later because they have, I quote, "no other option".

Glazman says “all browser vendors” which suggests that even Microsoft will do this, though that would be a surprising development.

This would mean that the -webkit- vendor-specific extensions were no longer vendor-specific. It would also meant that WebKit is in effect able to create web standards without the bother of going through the W3C:

It will turn a market share into a de facto standard, a single implementation into a world-wide monopoly. Again. It will kill our standardization process. That’s not a question of if, that’s a question of when.

says Glazman, suggesting that there is a risk of a return to the bad days when the dominance Microsoft’s IE6 prevented standards from evolving.

The parallel with IE6 is weak. IE6 was not an open source project, and the damage it did was in part because Microsoft deliberately chose not to invest in advancing HTML, preferring to drive users towards rich internet-connected Windows applications. It is difficult to see how that can happen to WebKit.

Nevertheless, the situation with WebKit is making it difficult for other mobile browsers to compete and does undermine the standards process. This is not really the fault of the WebKit team, though the W3C would like to see support for obsolete vendor-specific extensions dropped more quickly to discourage their use. Rather, it is a consequence of web authors seeing little value in adding support for other browsers that have little actual use on the mobile web.

It is worth observing that Glazman is a Mozilla guy, and his company Disruptive Innovations makes Mozilla extensions.

How can this be resolved? Glazman and others are right to raise awareness of the issue, but I doubt that many outside the standards community or browser vendors themselves will see this as a major problem.

The best fix would be for non-WebKit browsers to become more popular on the mobile web. Growing use of Windows Phone, for example, would give web authors more incentive to fix their markup. Another route to improving standards is via tools which do the right thing. Adobe’s strong support for CSS in Dreamweaver, for example, gave a significant boost to its use and helped to rescue us from font tags and the like.

Finally, it seems to me that the distinction between the “mobile” web and the “full” web is blurring, and rightly so. Users on mobile devices often tap the “full site” link where available since they have big enough screens to benefit. WebKit does not yet dominate the desktop Web. 

HP breaks 2.5 million web support links

The internet and search: the greatest resource ever for troubleshooting computer systems.

Except when you follow a promising link to find this:


On June 26th, the HP IT Resource Center forums were migrated to the HP Enterprise Business Community. This migration coincided with the release of the new HP Support Center, and the retirement of the legacy ITRC support portal. As part of the transition, we have migrated all ~2.5 million posts and ~712k users from the ITRC forums into the new community site.
As a result of this transition, all links/bookmarks/search results that attempt to load an ITRC forum page will redirect to this announcement page.

I understand the reasons; but I wish companies would think twice before doing this. Or three times. Eventually the search engines will stop listing the broken links, but other references to these support discussions will still be broken.

How much would it cost HP to keep the old links online in read-only form?

It is not just HP of course. These generic “sorry, we broke the link” pages pop up regularly on Microsoft’s site, for example, often after following a link on Microsoft’s own site.

The web is designed to tolerate broken links; it is one of the reasons why it works. However, that is no reason to break them with abandon.

Adobe abandons Project ROME, focuses on apps rather than cloud

Adobe is ceasing investment in Project ROME, a labs project which provides a rich design and desktop publishing application implemented as an Adobe AIR application, running either in the browser or on the desktop using the Flash player as a runtime.


According to the announcement:

Project ROME by Adobe was intended to explore the opportunity and usability of creative tools as software-as-a-service in the education market and beyond. We have received valuable input from the community after a public preview of the software. Following serious evaluation and consideration of customer input and in weighing this product initiative against other projects currently in development, we have made the difficult decision to stop development on Project ROME. Given our priorities, we’re focusing resources on delivering tablet applications, which we believe will have significant impact on creative workflows.

There must be some broken hearts at Adobe because ROME is a beautiful and capable application that serves, if nothing else, as a demonstration of how capable a Rich Internet Application can be. In fact, I have used it for that purpose: when asked whether a web application could ever deliver the a user interface that comes close to the best desktop applications, I showed Project Rome with great effect.

I first saw Project ROME as a “sneak peek” at the Adobe MAX conference in 2009. It had made it past those initial prototypes and was being worked up as a full release, with a free version for education and a commercial version for the rest of us. Curiously, Adobe says the commercial version will remain available as an unsupported freebie, but the educational offering is being pulled: “we do not want to see pre-release software used in the classroom “.

Why abandon it now? I think we have Apple’s Steve Jobs to thank. AIR applications do not run on the iPad; and when Adobe says it is focusing instead on tablet applications, the iPad will figure largely in those plans. Still, there are a few other factors:

  • One thing that was not convincing in the briefing I received about Project ROME was the business model. It was going to be subscription-based, but how many in this non-professional target market would subscribe to online desktop publishing, when there are well-established alternatives like Microsoft Publisher?
  • Adobe makes most of its money from selling desktop software, in the Creative Suite package. ROME was always going to be a toy relative to the desktop offerings.
  • The output from ROME is primarily PDF. If Rome had been able to build web pages rather than PDF documents, perhaps that would have made better sense for a cloud application.
  • Adobe did not market the pre-release effectively. I do not recall hearing about it at MAX in October, which surprised me – it may have been covered somewhere, but was not covered in the keynotes despite being a great example of a RIA.
  • The ROME forum shows only modest activity, suggesting that Project ROME had failed to attract the attention Adobe may have hoped for.

It is still worth taking a look at Project ROME; and I guess that some of the ideas may resurface in apps for iPad, Android and other tablets. It will be interesting to see to what extent Adobe itself uses Flash and AIR for the commercial design apps it delivers.

Final reflection: this decision is a tangible example of the ascendancy of mobile apps versus web applications – though note that Adobe still has a bunch of web applications at Acrobat.com, including the online word processor once called Buzzword and a spreadsheet application called Tables.

Google’s web app vision: use our store

I’m at the Future of Web Applications conference in London, a crazy mixture of tips for web start-ups and general discussion about application development in a web context. The first session was from Google’s Michael Mahemoff who enthused about HTML5 and open web standards, while refusing to be pinned down on what HTML5 is, which standards are in and which may in the end be out.

Microsoft is here showing off IE9; but one of my reflections is that while the HTML5 support in IE9 is impressive in itself, there are going to be important parts of what, say, Google considers to be part of HTML5 that will not be in IE9, and given the pace of Microsoft’s browser development, probably will not turn up for some time. In other words, the pressure to switch to Chrome, Firefox or some other browser will likely continue.

I digress. Mahemoff identified four key features of web apps – by which he means something different than just an application on the web. These are:

  • Local storage – encompassing local storage API and also local SQL, though the latter is not yet well advanced
  • Application cache – Cache Manifest in HTML 5 that lets your app run offline
  • Local installation – interesting as this is something which is not yet widely used, but clearly part of Google’s vision for Chrome, and also in IE9 to some extent.
  • Payments

The last of these is interesting, and I sensed Mahemoff showing some discomfort as he steered his way between open web standards on the one hand, and Google-specific features on the other. He presented the forthcoming Chrome Web Store as the solution for taking payments for your web app, whether one-time or subscription.

I asked how this would work with regard to the payment provider – could you freely use PayPal, direct debits or other systems? He said that you could do if you wanted, but he anticipated that most users would use the system built into Chrome Web Store which I presume is Google Checkout. After all, he said, users will already be logged in, and this will offer the smoothest payment experience for them.

The side effect is that if Chrome Web Store takes off, Google gets to make a ton of money from being the web’s banker.

Outside in the exhibition area Vodafone is promoting its 360 app store, with payments going through the mobile operator, ie in this case Vodafone. Vodafone’s apps are for mobile not for web, but it is relevant because it is trying to draw users away from Google’s Android Marketplace and onto its own store. PayPal is here too, showing its developer API.

The app store and payment provider wars will be interesting to watch.

What next for the BBC and its world-beating website?

The UK’s public broadcasting company the BBC is in the spotlight, thanks to a new strategy review and ensuing discussion. I have only just read it, because of other work, but I think it is significant. The BBC’s Director-General Mark Thompson says:

Clearly the BBC needs the space to evolve as audiences and technologies develop, but it must be far more explicit than it has been in the past about what it will not do. Its commercial activity should help fund and actively support the BBC’s public mission, and never distort or supplant that mission.
Where actual or potential market impact outweighs public value, the BBC should leave space clear for others. The BBC should not attempt to do everything. It must listen to legitimate concerns from commercial media players more carefully than it has in the past and act sooner to meet them. It needs the confidence and clarity to stop as well as to start doing things.

Why such negativity? The essence of the problem is that the BBC has been too successful for some. Commercial broadcasters and web sites have to compete with an organisation that is publically funded, and complain that it is unfair competition. The BBC demonstrates the effectiveness of the subscription model, especially when that subscription is all-but compulsory. In the UK, you have to pay the licence fee if you have equipment capable of receiving its TV broadcasts.

My main interest is in the BBC website. It is one I use constantly, and I do not think there is anything like it in the world. It offers comprehensive news, features and comment, on a site that is fast and resilient, and without the irritation of advertising. For example, if I want to know the latest state of play in financial markets, I head straight to the BBC’s Market Data page.

The absence of advertising has several benefits. First, it increases confidence in the neutrality of the site. Second, it improves performance – I’m aware that my own blog is slowed down by ad scripts, for example, and I’m not happy about it; but I’m also trying to make business sense out of running the site. Third, it improves usability in other ways, with less distraction and increased space for content. Note though that the BBC site does carry advertising when viewed from non-UK locations.

The BBC web site is an enormous success, the 44th most visited in the world according to Alexa, and the top news site (cnn.com is next at 61) unless you count Yahoo, which is something different to my mind.

So what do you do with a world leader? Cut it, apparently. The report talks about “focusing” the BBC web site by:

  • Halving the number of sections on the site and improving its quality by closing lower-performing sites and consolidating the rest
  • Spending 25% less on the site per year by 2013
  • Turning the site into a window on the web by providing at least one external link on every page and doubling monthly ‘click-throughs’ to external sites

This is made more explicit later in the report:

  • To help ensure that this refocusing takes place, the BBC will spend 25% less on BBC Online by 2013, with a corresponding reduction in staffing levels
  • The number of sections on the site (its ‘top-level directories’, in the form bbc.co.uk/sitename) will be halved by 2012, with many sites closed and others consolidated
  • New investment will be in pursuit of the five content priorities only, and there will be far fewer bespoke programme websites
  • BBC Online will be transformed into a window on the web with, by 2012, an external link on every page and at least double the current rate of ‘click-throughs’ to external sites.

There is an even more explicit section on BBC Online further down (pages 36-37) – the report seems to say the same thing several times with more detail on each iteration – but I won’t quote it all here. I will note that the sections identified for removal are not ones that matter to me, with the possible exception of local news:

Restricting local sites in England to news, sport, weather, travel and local knowledge (where ‘local knowledge’ means supporting BBC initiatives such as Coast and A History of the World in 100 Objects where there is local relevance, but not general feature content)

I do understand the problem here. Consider, for example, UK newspaper sites like the excellent guardian.co.uk – disclaimer – there are a few of my own contributions there. Such sites do not really make money, because they depend on synergy with print media that is in decline, not least because of advertisers turning to the web. There is a big debate in the media industry about whether to charge subscriptions for sites like these, as the New York Times has done, and will do again. However, the existence and quality of the BBC’s free site significantly impairs the prospects for subscriptions to UK newspaper sites.

This, I presume, is why the BBC intends to increase the number of external links; a small compensation for its unfair advantage.

Nevertheless, I think the BBC is mad to consider reducing its online investment. It is against the trend; the web is rising in importance, and traditional broadcasting decreasing. It is bad for the UK, for which the BBC is excellent PR and a genuine service to the world. It is bad for subscribers such as myself, enforced or not, who want the online service to get better, not worse.

Rather than cutting back on the BBC’s most strategic services, I’d favour looking again at the way the BBC is funded and what happens to the licence fee, which is an anomaly. I don’t see any reason in principle why it should not be shared with other organisations that are serving the public interest in news and media.