And so it begins.

After a launch event last night (which was invited to but was unable to attend, alas), *[The Times](* and *[The Sunday Times](* have begun the four week transition to their new online model. The new sites are live already, and, in four weeks’ time, the old sites will be frozen for good, and the paywall will go up around the new ones. You already have to register to see the new content.

The journo blogs are full of discussion on the subject, and I’ll spare you my analysis of the sites as they appear now, as I don’t have much to add beyond efforts like, say, Malcolm Cole’s. Some people have gone as far as to say that this is an anti-social media, dead end effort

I disagree.

I think there’s a concept hidden in this that most people have missed. Recent statements by people working on the project have given us two clear ideas:

  • They expect to lose 90% of their traffic in this process
  • They will enforce “real name” commenting and discussion within the paywall

And where does that leave us? Well, to me, this opens up the possibility that what News International are actually trying to create is, in essence, a private members’ club. There will be a limited number of people joining in on discussion, largely around content. James Harding even highlights the fact that the content should trigger the question “What do you think?” in the video above. People sharing what they think will be identifiable, and they will have paid an entrance fee to get in there. This is, in fact, a *community *model, just one that differs from the wide, inter-connected community model we’re used to on the open web.

I recall Lee Bryant saying at last year’s Social Media Influence conference that sometimes its the wall that defines the community. And that maxim will be tested on these sites.

Now, if this is what The Times is attempting, it’s a very interesting experiment, and one that I’ll be watching with a great deal of interest.