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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 | | | Permalink

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Friday, February 18, 2005

Standard Naming Convention Would Speed RSS Adoption

Recently there was some chatter from Dave Winer, founder of RSS, about the difficulty of RSS in penetrating the public's attention. He wondered if it wouldn't make sense for a central syndication source. Others retorted that, no, that idea runs contrary to the spirit of RSS, which is decentralized by nature.

Regardless of how that debate plays out, one thing is for sure. Many people probably don't understand RSS for the simple reason that plagues the English language -- too many synonyms (aka TMS).

Words that describe syndication technologies include RDF, RSS, XML and Atom (which itself is the name of an independent film website and a provider of internal site search engines and e-commerce technology!).

The acronym RSS itself stands for at least two different phrases: rich site summary and really simple syndication. Most articles that give an overview of RSS usually point out that the proper acronym depends on "who you ask."

Then there are the generic phrases used to describe this technology: syndication, subscription, news feeds, RSS feeds and XML feeds!

Not surprisingly, the software used to read RSS feeds is alternately called: news readers, feed reader and RSS aggegators.

There's little doubt that RSS will lead to a signifcant change in how content is published, distributed and conusmed online. And there's also little doubt that it will benefit (almost) everyone.

But, due to the confusion in naming conventions and the lack of agreement among the major RSS players, as evidenced by Blogger endorsing Atom over RSS, that process will be slowed considerably.

Can't we all just get along and agree on naming standards?

Posted by Cory | | | Permalink

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Thursday, February 17, 2005

Enhance and Jeeves: No Partnership

Enhance's email announcing a "partnership" with Ask Jeeves was a goof by overzealous sales staff, according to the company. Andy has the lowdown.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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And Meet Our Legal Counsel, My Cousin Vinny

Some headlines are too juicy to resist. Motley Fooler Rick Aristotle Munarriz has probably been waiting for months to pull this one out: Throw Mamma From the Train.

This after the company's independent auditor, PriceWaterhouse Coopers, refused to back financial results. On Tuesday, shares had surged on takeover rumors, before gapping down Wednesday morning, being halted, then plunging 32% on yesterday's news. The reason for the auditor's reluctance appears to be related to the company's past connection with a well-known stock promoter who had a history of pushing penny stocks in a boiler-room type operation. To be fair, the company is no longer associated with the individual and there is no reason to doubt that the financials will be approved after a delay. The jury's out for now.

This shouldn't come as a huge shock to anyone who had watched this as a potential investment back when Mamma was just one division of a publicly-traded holding company called Intasys. The fact that other parts of Intasys were shed to make Mamma.com into a pure play in the hot paid search sector speaks volumes. Prior to the reorganization it was difficult to follow INTA's financials, but in at least a couple of instances, the company took pains to make the claim that its Mamma division, at least, was profitable. The claim was unverifiable then. We'll see if another auditor is at least willing to back the 2004 financial statements.

More insight: TheStreet.com.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Enhance Keeps Foot in the Door

[via Search Engine Lowdown] Ask Jeeves has made a deal with Enhance Interactive to serve featured keyword-triggered listings in a premium position above Google AdWords results. Time will tell whether the two can coexist happily on the page. Jeeves is probably just trying to keep Google honest for any future revenue share negotiations.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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