By: Karim Mostafa

Giving Content Transactional Value

Online publishers must get their communities to open their wallets. At
least that’s what online advertisers are demanding these days.

Tom Phillips, CEO at, said that online community is evolving
more and more into the commercial realm. ‘It’s about empowering people
to be smarter shoppers,’ he said at last week’s Jupiter Communications
Consumer Online Forum in New York.

At, an online site that rates peers who review products for
the site, Phillips finds that people contribute content on the subjects
they know best. If an Apple disciple knows which site offers the best
deal on the latest iMac, he’ll chime in. The trick is creating
incentives to get users to make a habit of it, Phillips said.

NBCi, the broadband portal launched by NBC Internet on Feb. 28, has a
community philosophy of visit, join, and buy, said NBCi President Chris
Kitze. ‘Every media company today must find a way to complete the
transaction for the advertisers,’ he said. ‘Advertisers are demanding

But editorial departments at old media companies (including presumably
journalists at NBC) cringe when they hear their content – even if it’s
user-generated – being quantified for ‘transactional’ value.

‘We’ve followed a conservative policy in regards to interactivity,’
said Rich Jaroslovsky, managing editor at The Wall Street Journal
Interactive Edition, at a Freedom Forum event in New York last week.
‘Every time we sit down to revise our four- to five-year-old policy,
something comes up that convinces me otherwise.’

WSJ Interactive’s conservative policy requires that real names must be
used on message boards, which, according to Jaroslovsky, makes people
accountable for their words. The site also only accepts submissions
instead of allowing users to post their thoughts directly on the site.
This way journalists can monitor and moderate the discussion, making
sure it remains on topic.

But many newspaper Web sites are letting users create their own
communities, which increasingly will have e-commerce components. In
January, Times Co. Digital launched, a site with 29
discussion circles. Connected to The New York Times on the Web and
other Web sites from the newspaper company, Abuzz will add some e-

commerce features later this year.

The newspaper industry’s most popular community-software provider,, is also focusing more on commerce. The company hired a
director of e-commerce last year to help newspapers integrate their
community sites with local retailers. As a KOZ official said last
summer, ‘The question everyone is asking is: How do we make money off

As Megan Smith, CEO of PlanetOut, points out, ‘The audience has
purchasing power. Aggregating the audience has tremendous value.’

Yet building a community isn’t going to satisfy advertisers
advertisers, said Anya Sacharow, a Jupiter analyst on consumer content

Chat rooms generate a lot of banner impressions due to the length of
time people are in them, but users don’t click on the ads until the end
of their visits, said Jonathan Glick, founder and CEO of
‘There must be a proactive and deliberate effort on the part of the
information providers to close the deal,’ he said.

Glick, formerly group director of product development at the New York
Times Electronic Media Co. (now Times Co. Digital), believes that media
companies have to change roles from data presenter to advocate. He said
companies need to take advantage of the genuine recommendation model.

How? He draws an analogy to the software industry’s open source model,
where no one entity is allowed to control information or how it’s
developed. Open-source your publications, he suggests.

‘ is an open source equivalent of a newspaper,’ Glick said.
The site is a mixture of editorial and advocacy, where many different
users submit articles, product reviews, or just about anything else they
want. The old-media model of publishers and editors who control the flow of
information and who divide editorial from advertising is long gone.

Glick thinks is onto something – giving the audience total
control. NBCi’s Kitze adds, ‘At the end of the day, you’ll begin to
build your own channel.’


Karim Mostafa ( is assistant editor
for Editor & Publisher Online.

(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher

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