CONTENT MEANS SOLVING PROBLEMS

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By: Jason Williams

Make Life Easier For Readers, Publishers Say



NEW ORLEANS – Publishers need to think of Web content as solutions to
readers’ problems, several innovative online publishers are saying at
E&P’s 11th Annual Interactive Newspapers Conference here.



‘Be the big red button’ is Brian O’Connor’s ‘Zen’ mantra for providing
content. O’Connor, managing editor of Bankrate.com, a financial Web
site that helps people deal with any manner of money quandaries,
insists that content creators must redefine the way they look at Web
site information. ‘Throw out the models based on gasoline and dead
trees,’ and give people what they really want – solutions to their
problems, O’Connor says. ‘Analyze your users’ needs and concerns and
work to address them.’



For John Coate, general manager of SF Gate, the push-button analogy is
apropos for describing a unique navigation tool of his site. A site
should work like a ‘vending machine,’ says Coate, in that it should
provide satisfaction at the touch of a button, no matter what the
taste. SF Gate’s use of Autonomy software gives an automatic list of
links to related stories for a given article and allows users to group
news on the site according to specific categories, locations, or
sources. ‘We essentially made up a bunch of categories [environmental,
health, gay and lesbian, etc.],’ says Coate, providing users with a way
to get at news according to interests.



The Autonomy application learns how to separate the different news
stories after analyzing a large sample of work within a given category.
‘It’s really hard to get a computer to understand English,’ Coate says.
‘[Autonomy] sort of diagrams the sentences like we did in 4th grade.
It’s like having an army of 4th graders.’



Unique and original content are also key to building a successful site.
Janine Warner, director of new media for The Miami Herald Publishing
Co., which owns a number of sites including the one for the Spanish-

language El Nuevo Herald , emphasizes the value of her bilingual
content. ‘Nobody dominates the Spanish-speaking Internet market,’
Warner says. That gives the site unique content to provide to other
others.



For example, the site provided a translation of the entire Kenneth
Starr report on President Clinton – the most popular posting to date.
‘Translations are very expensive,’ Warner says. ‘I average five calls a
day from companies wanting to partner with us.’



Conference attendee Ulrike Porat admits she may have been one of the
five. Porat, associate director for multimedia at Creative Labs, is in
search of text-to-audio content to feed her wireless MP3 player.



Like Warner, Madan Rao, principal consultant for PlanetAsia, the point
of Internet dealings in the Eastern Hemisphere, deals with content that
is also unique to the United States. ‘Very soon there will be a need to
manage bilingual content,’ says Rao, who presented a plethora of sites
that use or provide news and information from Asia in a pre-conference
seminar. Rao contends that online managers must reengineer the way they
look at content online, shaking the traditional content models.



Speaking of engineering, Janice Tuchman, managing editor of
Engineering News Record , a McGraw-Hill-owned magazine, says her Web
site allows her niche content to be seen and possibly used by a larger
audience outside of the 75,000 circulation of the magazine. ‘Here’s our
chance to compete,’ Tuchman says. ‘We want to be able to reach out all
over the country.’ From backhoes doing the ballet to investigative
pieces on building collapses, ENR.com provides unique content to its
users, including Netwire News, a wire of engineering-related stories
filtered by Screaming Media, although Tuchman admits the links are
sometimes irrelevant due to filter difficulty.



Along with delivering unique and valuable content, sites must deliver
the content best suited for the Web, says Robert Niles, former
executive producer of the Denver Rocky Mountain News Web site now
with latimes.com. He listed the three most important qualities of the
Internet as its immediacy, interactivity, and selectivity. ‘Are you
updating with breaking news?’ Niles asks.



In addition to providing the latest news, sites should act as community
touchstones and arrange content in ‘clear, hierarchical fashion’ as
well as give the option to customize how you view the information,
advises Niles. And all of it, of course, must be delivered at the click
of a button.


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Jason Williams (jasonw@mediainfo.com) is the
new media reporter for Editor & Publisher magazine.








(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher

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