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Net Gains

Seven things you're not doing on the Internet (but should be)
Steve Morgenstern
From the Print Edition:
Greg Raymer, Sept/Oct 2004

(continued from page 2)

I rarely pay for online content, but I did pony up for an online subscription to The Wall Street Journal. I don't need most of the paper edition, but the Journal's personal tech coverage is solid, and everybody in the computer business is required by unwritten law to know what Walt Mossberg has to say. Rather than receive pounds more paper destined for recycling, I get the Journal online and read what I need.

Far-flung newspapers that you'd only find at a specialty newsstand are also available at home online. As someone immersed in technology, I need to heed the pulse of Silicon Valley even though I live on the opposite coast. On the San Jose Mercury News Web site, I access the excellent tech coverage produced by the Valley's hometown paper, and it doesn't cost me a dime. While I rarely see a paper version of USA Today, if it isn't left outside my hotel-room door, I can enjoy its interesting, fast-read coverage on the Web. The Onion is a satirical newspaper that is pretty rough-edged and satisfyingly tough on politicians of all stripes. While it's distributed free, if you don't live in a major city or on a college campus, you'll have better luck finding it on the Net than in one of its curbside newspaper boxes.

Unlike newspapers, the Internet outposts of newsstand magazines vary widely in the amount of online content they provide and how much is free. Many, from The New Yorker to Rolling Stone to Cigar Aficionado, offer excerpts from recent issues plus additional archival features (The New Yorker has all of its 2004 election coverage online, Rolling Stone provides all of its historic covers plus an encyclopedic guide to rock history, Cigar Aficionado has an extensive database of cigar reviews plus select feature articles online). Consumer Reports offers a selection of articles free, but for $26 ($19 for magazine subscribers) you gain access to its ratings archive for the past four years. Entertainment Weekly posts its entire content online, but only for print-edition subscribers and customers of conglomerate-mate AOL. Business Week offers quite a bit of current content free of charge, the full issue to print-edition subscribers, and an online-only annual subscription for $29.95 (versus $45.97 for the print edition).

Of course, this is just a smattering of the thousands of conventional magazines and newspapers that are now available online. For a topic-by-topic guide, try Yahoo!'s News and Media list.

And then there are the online-only publications, which range from oddball "zines" serving niche interests to major productions boasting highly professional presentation. Salon is a freewheeling online news and entertainment magazine, well written and thought-provoking. The free version is advertiser-supported, though the pitch isn't too obnoxious. Depending on your interests, however, the premium version may be tempting for its extras: in addition to avoiding the ads, premium subscribers get a free six-month subscription to the print version of The New York Review of Books as well as the chance to purchase yearlong subscriptions to Granta (the British literary magazine), Wired, U.S. News & World Report and National Geographic Adventure—worth $106 in all—for $35.

Two companies, NewsStand and NewspaperDirect (with its PressDisplay service), now offer newspapers and select magazines from around the world, displayed on your computer screen exactly as they appear in print, on the day of publication. You can magnify pages, scroll around them, even perform searches on the text. The NewsStand service requires separate subscriptions to each publication, but lets you download an issue to your laptop so you can read it while traveling. PressDisplay subscription plans let you pick and choose individual issues of 180 newspapers from 45 countries, but require you to be online to read them.

Site Seeing
PC Magazine www.pcmag.com
The Wall Street Journal www.wsj.com
The New York Times www.nyt.com
San Jose Mercury News www.mercurynews.com
USA Today www.usatoday.com
The New Yorker www.newyorker.com
Rolling Stone www.rollingstone.com
Cigar Aficionado www.cigaraficionado.com
Consumer Reports www.consumerreports.org
Entertainment Weekly www.ew.com
Business Week www.businessweek.com
Yahoo! News and Media dir.yahoo.com/News_and_Media
The Onion www.theonion.com
Salon www.salon.com
NewsStand www.newsstand.com
PressDisplay www.pressdisplay.com

Make Phone Calls
In the past several years there have been many attempts to pull an end run around traditional phone service and make calls directly over the Internet. Some of these ploys work reasonably well for two people sitting at their respective computers—in fact, with an inexpensive video "webcam" plugged into your machine and a high-speed connection, you can cobble together a respectable videophone system. Yet, computer-to-computer communication is no substitute for the ease of picking up the phone and placing a call. Recently, though, Internet-based telephone systems, using what's called Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology, have become practical and, while not free of charge, can potentially save you quite a bit every month. As a bonus, you get some fascinating features unavailable with a standard phone connection.

I've tested the Vonage VoIP service and I have to say I'm impressed. All you need is a high-speed Internet connection (cable modem or DSL), a conventional telephone and a subscription, which runs $34.99 a month for unlimited calls throughout the United States and Canada, or just $14.99 for 500 minutes of talk time. You receive a box called a Digital Phone Adapter that connects to the Internet. Plug in a phone and voilá—there's a dial tone. You get a regular phone number people can call, plus voicemail, caller ID, call waiting, call forwarding, three-way calling and more. Because it's Internet-based, you can retrieve your voice messages from any Internet-connected computer through a standard Web browser. You can also take your phone and plug adapter anywhere on the globe that has a broadband connection and call home to the States or Canada for the same price you'd pay from your home phone (free if you have the unlimited plan). And those calling you are only charged for a call to your home number. (See Good Life Guide, Cigar Aficionado, April 2004.) The VoIP concept is available from many cable Internet providers. AT&T is testing a version in about a dozen area codes in New Jersey and Texas and plans 100 more markets by year's end.

Site Seeing
Vonage www.vonage.com
AT&T www.att.com


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