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Saturday, February 19, 2005

Great or Ho-Hum? A Wish List for NYT's About.com

In the wake of the Times acquiring About.com, I thought it might be nice to imagine a reinvented About.com under new management. Let's face it: About.com operates far below its potential and despite a lot of isolated instances of excellent content, it has not built a consistent image of quality.

TO: THE VENERABLE NEW YORK TIMES

FROM: ANDREW@TRAFFICK.COM

RE: WISH LIST FOR THE "NEW" ABOUT.COM


1. Reduce clutter. Too many ads and ads of the wrong type. Less is more.

1A. Redesign page templates to be cleaner and to convey reputability.

2. Quality control. Fire poor quality Guides. Implement an editorial
oversight board with an ongoing mandate to nurture good Guides and to
insist that quality does not slip. Have consistent policies on self-promotion.

3. Overhaul publishing platform, provide more support for Guides.
Quality writers/guides need a modern, easy-to-use publishing platform.

4. Raise perception of quality another notch by introducing NYT
columnists to the opportunity to run their own Guide Sites for
additional compensation + bonus... or just the opportunity for further
notoriety.

4A. Enlist B-list celebs or their lackeys to run Guide Sites. Eg. have
interns from the Jon Stewart show run one.

4B. Postmodern self-referential Guide Sites with cooperation of producers
of culture. Example: Insider's Guide to The Simpsons.

5. Allow "lite guide" sites to be more like blogs to reduce the burden
on Guides and to encourage the participation of quality writers (eg.
Times columnists) who would rather be producing content than jumping
through hoops.

6. Encourage RSS subscriptions. Study how Guides can maintain steady
contact with readers but not through email.

6A. Satellite radio channel. Put 50 Guides in their own time slots and produce
actual radio for profit.

7. Partner with educators; produce child-friendly guide sites.

8. While building up quality, operate at break-even or a slight
loss for three years, to build the brand equity of NYT & About.com.

9. To reduce fiscal risk, score banner ad deals with pricey
advertisers who currently advertise in the newspaper. Leverage
existing sales relationships.

10. Longer term, build online classifieds for each Guide site (in-house
listings, not just farming out monetization to Google). Some readers
will actually seek commercial listings, so while limiting clutter, increase
focus on targeted listings that people may actually seek.

11. Consider integrating some Guide sites with Google Answers.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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