Funny if it's true - from the E&P article, is sounds as if the San Francisco Chronicle is installing touch-screen PCs in a number of coffee shops that people will only be able to use to access the SFGate website, plus perhaps later some of the paper's proprietary classified offerings. Needless to say, the hope that they can rebuild their old print distribution/gateway monopoly by artificially crippling the Internet so as to resurrect the exclusivity of access they used to enjoy is a silly, doomed plan. Giving away web access and making SFGate the default opening page, or - here's a thought - making the SFGate website so universally useful a gateway to everything going on in the city that no-one wants to surf away might work though. Not that I've anything against SFGate, as newspaper websites go - it's just dumb to try and force people to use it.
Some odd coincidences about this story too:
(1) it comes less than a month after the Google/Earthlink plan to provide free wifi for San Francisco seemed to get shelved. The Chronicle certainly couldn't have got away with anything so limiting in a city that had universal free wifi;
(2) a couple of days ago Scott Karp pointed out that online news isn't really as free as people casually claim because he pays for a PC and a broadband connection. It's just that he's now paying his ISP and his computer seller for providing the distribution network that gets the content in front of him, not the New York Times. Now the San Francisco Chronicle unveils a plan that tries to recapture the very distribution relationship that Scott says has moved on by giving away the stuff that someone else is usually paid to provide. It's almost as if the guys at the Chronicle read, but really fatally failed to understand, Scott's insight and then went off to build a business plan.
I wonder how long it'll take the Tully's coffee shop patrons to hack the thing?