Australians abroad rejoice. No more scratching frustratingly through English-language newspapers to find one-paragraph briefs: “”Small earthquake in Newcastle, not many dead”.

No more p39 stories on Friday saying: “”Australian leadership spill on Tuesday”, only to find that the sole Australian story the following week is about a funnel-web spider or a shark.

Australian Associated Press is now on Compuserve. Compuserve is the worldwide computer network that contains everything from AIDS research to computer games.

With AAP on Compuserve, Australians abroad can dial in an get all the Australian news they want. At about $20 an hour. They don’t refer to it as Compu$erve for nothing.

Australians in Australia, of course, will also have cause to be pleased. AAP puts out about 2000 articles a day. The average newspaper might run 20 to 50, most of them cut. Now readers can get more about what they are interested in.

But it is not a replacement for a newspaper, at least not yet. For a start it would cost you about $50 a day to get what you get for 70 cents in a paper, and then you would not get local content in any detail.

Also AAP on Compuserve is not a browsing service. It does not pretend to give you a snapshot of the nation on the previous day, as in: “”You tell me what happened broadly.”

Rather you set up you computer to trawl AAP for you special interests. You might want all articles about Nyngan, Archery, the Federal Court, and the XYZ Company. And while you are logged off, Compuserve’s computers will slide into a special file for you all articles with any of those words in them. You can set up quite elaborate searches using standard and/or and wildcard language.

Further, Compuserve will trawl all or any number of AAP, the Washington Post, Reuters, AP and a dozen other world news agencies using the same search criteria.

As you are paying for every article trawled, putting GOLF would be silly. You need to put GOLF+AUSTRALIA* at least, so you only pick up tournaments with Australians in them.

A typical capital city newspaper might cut the story about XYZ company to three paragraphs, but your interest might be intense. On Compuserve, for a price, you get more information.

This sort of searching is good for special interest groups. Conservation groups would search for logging, dolphins etc. Motoring industry groups would search for brand names and the words car or auto and so on.

AAP on Compuserve, however, is not AAP’s full service that is sold to newspapers, government, big companies and universities at huge cost. That service can hold articles for weeks and enables browsing. On Compuserve, if you do not set up a trawling mechanism the world goes by and you miss it.

What does it mean for the future of newspapers and their readers?

Nothing much in the short term. For a start modem use is very low (less that five per cent of computers have them). Second this is a costly service.

However, in the longer term I suspect that some of the things newspapers were best at will be done better electronically: share lists, national and international sports results and tedious detail about individual companies.

But there are three major limits: costs and the phone lines.

The costs are a computers, software and modem and then the connect fee. The phone lines are fairly good for text but not good enough to transmit huge amounts of graphics material without a very expensive modem.

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