Today I wear the hat of SD Times ombudsman, peeling back the curtain to reveal some of the thought processes behind what we do.

Somewhere between creepy and courteous lies the current state of the media business. What with visitor tracking refined down to the article being read, even to the line of an article where a reader jumps off, editors and publishers today are able to glean more about their readers than ever before.

I’m thinking about this today because of the recent re-launch of, our software development website. As the site’s editor, I think about how we can best serve your needs. Most modern website frameworks today, whether off-the-shelf or custom-built, give publishers the capability to know exactly which articles you’ve read, so we know the topics that pique your interest. In short, we can see what it is you’re looking for, and we can help you find it.

(Related: Watson helps shoppers find what they want)

I know, for instance, that if you’ve read three articles on Hadoop, you’re looking to improve your knowledge of that technology. Perhaps you’re even in the market for a tool that can help you do your job better. Armed with this knowledge, we can serve up to you more articles on the topic, or whitepapers that provide more depth, or a buyer’s guide, or even send you an offer to attend a conference on the subject.

The paradigm of reading has changed. In print, you get a magazine, and perhaps you go to the table of contents to see which articles are included. If you’re more like me, though, you simply start thumbing through it until you come upon something that catches your eye: a beautiful graphic, a snappy headline, a byline you’ve come to respect. There was a trust that the editors would choose the articles, put them in the magazine, and then step aside. If you want more information, you’ll find it.

On the Web, readers often don’t have the casual time to see what the editors put in front of them today, and then search through it for something relevant. Readers today know what they want and need, and don’t want to hunt for it. Reading, in short, has gone from a “push” event to a “pull.” With so much content out in the world, though, navigational help is much desired.

Here’s the dilemma: The trust between readers and editors is breaking down, as the industry has morphed. Readers see veiled sales pitches in so-called news articles, as “content marketing” becomes the new order of the day. They fear that registering for a newsletter will lead to an endless stream of unwanted e-mails on topics completely irrelevant to them. They fear a loss of their right to find what they want, when they want it.

Then there’s that “creepy” factor. Often, I’ll go to a website—let’s say Golf Galaxy—and look at golf clubs I’m thinking of buying. An hour later, I’ll go to a developer site to read an article, and sure enough, there’s an ad for the exact golf clubs I was looking at! I react in anger. I’m done shopping for golf clubs; now I want to read an article. If I wanted to be tailed like that, I’d hire a private detective to spy on myself!

And, I think, what ELSE is being captured about me and my habits that I don’t know about? Visions of the NSA go dancing through my head.

But leave it to the new technology to help us around these thorny issues. By being able to capture the likes and interests of our readers, we can push out to them articles or offers based on their actual interests. No longer will a Microsoft developer be asked to read an article outlining the five best new features of Java EE X.

We understand that a lot of websites and blogs are competing for your attention. But we’ve come to realize that the screamer approach doesn’t work (while retaining an unabashed affinity for “kittens in programming”). By being able to put before you only that information we know to be important to you, we know you’ll be more receptive to what we have to say.

Fewer offers for you, but with more relevant information. Welcome to the new