Getting into the community spirit: A page from Family Shoebox, powered by KOZ Inc., opens to user-generated content such as a newsletter, threaded discussions and a list of participants.
Self-publishing tools will open doors for community groups
Giving the power of the press to the people may not be a top objective for your newspaper's on-line unit, but maybe it should be.
Let's review your goals:
Building new revenue streams? Check.
Protecting franchise and extending brand? Check.
Automating text and ad entry into traditional and new media products alike? Check.
Paving new roads for advertisers to reach customer segments? Check.
Giving John Q. Public a corner soapbox? Donating bandwidth to the First Assembly of Hometown Saints?
Maybe later. Gotta generate revenue first.
After you do, consider this: You can hop into new audiences without much effort or outlay, and the revenue may follow. The tools to do this were on display at Discovery '98 June 19-23 in Orlando, Fla. Discovery '98 combined NEXPO, the Newspaper Association of America's annual newspaper trade show, with Connections, the NAA's new media conference which also had a small exhibition.
Many terms describe the practice of helping readers post their news on-line -- community journalism, consumer-supplied content, community builders, self-publishing.
Distinct from chat rooms and bulletin boards, which organize notes from many individuals around a topic or interest, community publishing involves a single group or individual managing info from fellow members. With development of browser-based interfaces to on-line databases, people can type or paste their news into little windows, and their text can appear on a web page, calendar, guest editorial spot -- any kind of space in cyberspace.
With security levels to control access, you can provide the web equivalent of a free meeting room to group members. There are private pages, accessible by password-equipped group members, and public spaces where they share interests with everyone.
The benefit to your newsroom is that the public types in material for your web features -- and printed listings. Need a calendar of coming events? Need an on-line source list covering any topic? As newspaper managers, you still retain control of correspondents' access, but you don't have to pay for their input.
In my book, an ideal system allows group leaders to control their content. Members feed, edit and link by typing into a web browser (no FTP or overt uploading). Security levels enable private or public access to specific pages.
The system automatically posts future events to public and/or private calendars and creates a directory of group contacts. It links to topical web pages that the newspaper creates. E-mail lists, newsletters and graphics should be included. And auditing tools allow the host (that's you) and the group to see readership around the web space.
But let's not get sidetracked from the revenue problem. Did you say that advertisers want to reach targeted markets? Is an ad placement in the Soccer Field Lines segment acceptable exchange for the soccer leagues using your press?
If you still doubt this is a sound business idea, consider moves by two portals in August (portals are the latest, greatest idea on the Web -- they're the place users congregate). Excite is soliciting beta testers for its new Excite Communities (http://www.excite.com/comm/new/tour/). This self-publishing vehicle, opened Aug. 18 and built on newly acquired Throw Inc. software, features text, photos, web links, an events calendar, member contact list, discussion lists, and public and private space.
Also launched Aug. 18, Yahoo! Clubs (http://clubs.yahoo.com/) feels more like organized chat space, but also features "listed" and "unlisted" groups, invitations and e-mail lists, text-pictures-links, chat rooms and bulletin boards. Yahoo developed its software internally.
What is missing in both is the localized feel and "get out of the house" events. Just as local newspapers offer what the network news lacks, this may be the hook for your readers' participation.
Here are the new -- and different -- products that appeared at Discovery '98 that can get you started:
Come all ye citizens
YourTown.net encourages community groups to self-publish news, events and calendars, while Webforums gathers public opinions in chat and poll participation and YouReview collects likes and dislikes in music, dining, movies and consumer products.
It's all public space, however, without the cozy group nest. Calendaring, news and individual home pages for community groups are all open to all comers. Even group listservs are available to anyone who signs up.
Cameron Park, Calif.-based Waveshift stressed YourTown.net's affordability and ease of use in its brochure. "Our entire suite of powerful interactive tools is included for the price our nearest competitors offer discussion forums alone," the brochure read. Prices for YourTown.net start around $4000.
Waveshift charges a straight, annualized license fee, based on the number of groups participating in your local web section: $3995 for as many as 250 group calendars, $6995 for as many as 500 and $9995 for as many as 2000. Except for extraordinary customization, there are no setup fees. For this fee, the Waveshift folks administer the database, massage the software and hardware, monitor the traffic and write report generators that customers can grab off the Web.
It's a service bureau approach. WebForums is priced based on the number of activities, or "objects," with a starter pack of $3995 annually for 50 objects. Each category of YouReview (movies, restaurants, etc.) costs $995 a year.
Most current customers belong to The McClatchy Co. of Sacramento, which holds a small equity position in Waveshift (watch for other newspaper investors). Strongest participation is at http://www.ncneighbors.com/, the site of the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., with more than 400 groups active since its June launch.
The unified community calendar (http://www.newsandobserver.com/calendar/) integrates with the print version. To see the administration side, contact Waveshift for a password and guided tour of its web site demo (http://www.waveshift.com).
Even without private play space, it's still a good way to gather your readers into your fold instead of a competitor's.
Have press, will share
When few newspapers signed to license its technology and share participant fees, KOZ created channels, topic areas where readers can self-publish and form ad-attracting audiences. First up are the Family Shoebox, KOZ Sports and KOZ Education, with more to come as Kozmaniacs dream up site-populating niches.
KOZ gives a lotta power to the people in exchange for their ad tolerance: a home page, newsletter, calendar, public or private participation levels, threaded discussions, photos, logos, administration tools. The affinity possibilities are endless, with Family Shoebox groupings like Adoptive, Blended, Dysfunctional, Military, Showbiz and Single-Parent. And either a lot of KOZ employees spend oodles of time working up demo spaces or they are coming -- with dozens of families plugged in.
Advertisers are connecting as well. KOZ provides the ad server and framing for sponsorships, acting as a service bureau for hardware and software. It splits local and national ad sale opportunities, with the newspaper keeping 75 percent of its locally generated ad income and 25 percent of KOZ's national ad sales.
There is a technology licensing fee and hosting fee as well. That approach appeals to Guy Gannett Communications, whose New Media Development Group launched Maine Communities Online (http://mainetoday.koz.com/) and has taken a business stake in KOZ. Two others on KOZ are the Orlando Sentinel and the newest affiliate, the Bergen Record Online's NJCommunity.com (http://bergen.koz.com/).
What's under a baby's name?
The site concept is cute: Before burdening a child, check your favorite moniker's meaning, history, context and like-named population. The technology is serious: Organize any subject and its participating audience with a highly flexible database, potent development tools and a whizzy parser.
For your profit tooth, glance at the demo, "A Table in Seattle" (http://www.atable.com/), whose menus and text would be updated by restaurant managers, then imagine what groups could be on-line.
The Newspaper Association of America is translating its on-line newspapers database with InType (http://naa.intype.com/). Empowered with a password from the NAA's director of new media business development, Melinda Gipson (firstname.lastname@example.org), your on-line marketers can update their own records on such subjects as online services and content features, advertising rates and specials, and contact personnel in editorial, technical, business development and managerial positions. (Check the ease of self-publishing when they insert your specs.)
The association hopes to propagate the use of this database among on-line advertising buyers, who also must obtain a password to access the free service. A "work in progress," the research and matchmaking power will emerge this fall; get the whole scoop at July's Digital Edge (http://www.naa.org/edge/monthly/1998_07/database.HTML).
Try it, like it? Here's the deal -- single newspapers can't order InType or Babynamer. InType's executives are hunting a few good customers as development partners, and they expect to release modules in the next six to 12 months. San Jose-based Knight Ridder New Media -- which coordinates 31 newspaper web sites -- hooked Babynamer to its family. Keep your ears open for other releases.
Funnel for public activism
Hop on E-The People's bandwagon for do-it-themselves links between readers and public officials, through on-line letters, petitions and e-mail (http://www.e-thepeople.com/). A massive database of elected and appointed officials helps constituents identify their representatives, then flick-type- click, they can create petitions, mount polls, rouse like-minded citizens and zap letters to the right people.
Sound like automated flaming? The technology brings sanity, with tools to tally opinions and organize delivery, as officials request. The tools also help your newsroom keep tabs on the activity, without sacrificing reader privacy.
This project from the Alex Sheshunoff Initiative, based in New York City, shows lots of ingenuity and energy. A public awareness campaign rides on the Grassroots Express bus, which will roll into local malls and newspaper offices from Texas to California this fall.
The first commercial flight lifted off at the Daily News' mostnewyork (http://townhall.mostnewyork.com:80/mb/index.HTML). What's the price for this free speech? With this co-branded product, it's a split of both national and local ad positions.
And since the Sheshunoff staff does all the technology, hardware and database management, all you have to do is link and update with your own issues and local names.
Bookmarks and match-making
A web guide to complement Switchboard's commercial telephone listings service (http://www.switchboard.com/), SideClick matches a visitor's keywords to its index of 3.5 million web links and delivers "more like this." Culled by staffers who crawled more than 40 million web pages, these web links are the "people's choice" -- links embedded in personal and business web sites.
The Bookmarks2Go twist is that readers can upload their personal web pages or bookmark files, to either a public or private space, and in return they will receive mega-mark lists, including links to participants with similar interests.
The aggregation of registrants will begin this month and matchmaking is scheduled for December.
Along with the matching tools and database, the newspaper gets a set of authoring tools, which allows customized web link categories, topics and links around local interests. With these authoring tools, on-site staff can customize the look and feel as well as content for the newspaper's site.
The directory services supplier to AltaVista, America Online and other big names, Westboro, Mass.-based Switchboard also has inked deals with the on-line Toronto Star (http://www.thestar.com/ or http://torstar.com/) and Community Newspaper Co.'s TownOnline (http://shop.townonline.com/), serving eastern Massachusetts.
The Star is the first newspaper-affiliated site to hook up SideClick, and it plans to break in Bookmarks2Go.
Business partners typically leave the hardware and software services to Switchboard, paste their private labels on the technology and resell ad space to their own customers. For Switchboard directory service, private label setup typically runs $1500 to $3000 per service, and there are no monthly or annual fees. Since Bookmarks2Go and SideClick include authoring tools, there is no setup fee.
To cover its cost of service, Switchboard associates banner ads with the newspaper's pages. Newspaper sales teams return Switchboard $8 to $12 cost per thousand impressions (or CPM), usually sold in blocks of 100,000 impressions per month, with price based on site volume.
But in-house sales teams and high traffic aren't a necessity. Smaller customers include their pages in Switchboard's inventory of banner ads, which Switchboard sells to national clients and retains the revenue.
Dabbling with access
Alas, the New York site hasn't implemented its reader-entry features at our press time. Expect an ambitious approach.
-- Marion J. Love
From THE COLE PAPERS, September 1998, Copyright © 1998, All Rights Reserved.
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