News Clipping Service Changes Everything

By: Steve Outing

I think I know what the online news consumer — make that, “news junkie” — of the future will be like:

* He/she will have one or two favorite Web sites that will be visited regularly (or, more likely, top news and customized information from those sites will be delivered; the delivered news will contain links to additional content within the sites). These might be a local news site (by a local newspaper, or perhaps an online city guide) and a favorite national publication (say, the New York Times or Wall Street Journal).

* The online news junkie also will read many additional publications on the Web by means of a free — let’s emphasize that word, “free” — news clipping service which will comb hundreds of publications’ Web sites looking for articles matching the consumer’s news preferences.

Actually, that already describes my online news-reading habits, which are made possible by the new crop of news clipping services appearing on the World Wide Web.

Times are a changin’

Forgive me if I wax nostalgic briefly, but I can’t help but feel giddy about how quickly the delivery of news has changed. Not long ago, reading a sampling of the world’s top publications was not possible without subscribing to an expensive news clipping service. Pre-Internet, only corporations could afford such a service, and the news was likely to be dated by the time they received it. As the online era dawned, online news clipping services made timely electronic delivery possible — but they remained expensive.

Recently, I’ve been using the NewsTracker news clipping service by Excite, which has just thrown a wrench into the news clipping industry. I like this service a lot — and I especially like the price: free — and have found that it’s changed my news reading habits.

NewsTracker has been revamped, and the improved version of the service opened to the public today (February 3). It tracks the Web sites of 300 publications — local, regional, national and international newspapers; consumer and trade magazines; news services and wires; and corporate and government news sources — and twice a day catalogs all the news on the sites. Users of NewsTracker can set up their own profiles, instructing the system to monitor the 300 sites and create links to articles matching user preferences. The system also is capable of learning what you like, and tweaking your profiles based on feedback. (I have created a profile to track news about interactive media; another is set up to notify me whenever my name turns up in a news story.)

Excite also has created templated search profiles, such as Top Stories, Baseball, Fine Arts, Movies, etc., which turn up articles from multiple publications. And each day it highlights breaking stories and creates templated search profiles. For example, click on “AOL Troubles” and you’ll find stories written about America Online’s foibles from the American press. When I clicked on that link on Friday, there were AOL stories from USA Today, Newsday, San Francisco Chronicle, Tech Wire, Boston Globe, Houston Chronicle and PC Week.

This is likely to become a widely used service during major news events, when news consumers hungering for information on a big story can sample the world’s media to find the best coverage. No longer will we need to surf from news site to news site.

Article links for newspapers stay on NewsTracker only for five to seven days, as insurance that links the system turns up won’t be dead (if an article has been moved by the publisher to another URL to be archived, for instance). Magazine article links are maintained for the publication cycle of the magazine. (At this time, the service is strictly a current awareness tool and does not address the archiving space.)

Excite’s model

Excite founder Joe Kraus explains that NewsTracker is designed as a free, advertising-supported service. The Silicon Valley-based “Internet navigation” company sees the service as fitting into its core mission of helping people find what they need on the Web. For now, advertisers on NewsTracker pay higher CPM (cost per thousand) rates than for placements on Excite’s main search pages. Eventually, advertisers will be able to target consumers based on keywords in their NewsTracker profiles, Kraus says.

NewsTracker’s Web spider goes out twice each day to catalog the 300 sites in the service, collecting URLs (Web addresses) of stories and analyzing them to be categorized. The system is merely collecting links, rather than republishing copyrighted articles, Kraus points out. NewsTracker users visit the news sites when they click on links on a NewsTracker page, so publishers don’t have much to complain about.

Kraus says that Excite does some coordination with sites that require user registration, to enable NewsTracker users to view those sites’ pages, but free sites often don’t hear from Excite. He hasn’t received complaints from publishers, but “our goal is not to be competitive.” Excite’s role is to get more people to publishers’ sites.

(While most Web publishers welcome the traffic, not everyone sees the issue in the same way, as evidenced by a court case in the Shetland Islands, Scotland, where a newspaper publisher is trying to prevent links to his inside news Web pages by a local online competitor.)

It’s the future; get used to it

Services like NewsTracker are a new fact of life for Web publishers. It’s clearly a good thing, in that they drive additional traffic to a news site, which can be used to justify higher Web advertising prices. Some publishers might prefer that Web users go directly to the “front page” of their sites, but it’s simply not practical nor desirable to restrict access to your site in that way.

Web publishers do need to be mindful that more and more users will be entering through side doors, by-passing a site’s home page and accessing stories directly. The majority of sites these days do include their logos and navigation aids on individual story pages — so a NewsTracker user will see links to the rest of a news site.

However, as I clicked on several NewsTracker article links, I noted that many “inside” stories referenced by NewsTracker did not contain a news site’s advertising. This is a major oversight by a Web site publisher. Traffic coming in from services like NewsTracker — which will be substantial as these services gain popularity — can be used to drive up impression numbers on ads if placed on all individual stories on a site. Some Web sites don’t favor putting banners ads on top of individual stories, but I’ve noticed many sites placing them at the bottom.

Coming soon

The future for NewsTracker will include “pushed” delivery of the service, using digital delivery software like Netscape Inbox Direct, Intermind Communicator and others, as well as simple text e-mail. Kraus says he’s exploring various options for the push model of the service. The number of publishing Web sites included will also be increased, he says, but not until NewsTracker adds a user source selection feature (sometime in the coming months). Currently, the system tracks personalized profile requests by combing through all of the sites.

I find NewsTracker especially interesting for what it is doing to the news clipping business. NewsTracker’s most direct competitor is Individual Inc.’s NewsPage and Heads-Up news clipping services. NewsPage allows users to view news articles from some 630 publications; some are free, some are viewable only if you subscribe to the NewsPage premium service, and some require a per-item fee to read. It’s not uncommon to find an article on NewsPage that costs $1 or more to read, but can be read free via NewsTracker. The NewsTracker model appears to throw NewsPage’s existing model out the window. Such is the pace of life in the Internet publishing industry.

Contact: Joe Kraus, [email protected]

Steve

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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at [email protected]

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company

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