By: B.G. Yovovich

For This NetProphet, Personalization Is The Focus

Editor’s note: NetProphets is an occasional series on Editor &
Publisher Online, featuring prominent Internet players.

Personalized news stands to get a big boost in the wake of the
acquisition of NewsEdge’s by

And CEO Ilene Lang is at the center of efforts to roll
out new strategies that use customized news and information to attract
an audience and to drive online commerce to Her initiatives
highlight some important ways in which the Web is re-shaping the news

The former CEO of AltaVista, Lang was hired last May to lead the
NewsEdge unit and to help completely revamp the subscription-based
business model on which the service had been based. Before she arrived,
the strategy was to take news content from a multitude of business,
financial, and trade sources and, on a daily basis, use a combination
of technology and human editors to sort, filter, and organize it. The
customized news and information then was sliced and diced into hundreds
of industries and thousands of subtopics, and delivered electronically
to users based on each customer’s specified topics of interest.

For more than a decade, NewsEdge’s business model had called for
revenue to come from sales of a variety of levels of subscription
service. The lowest level started at $3.95 a month for the most basic,
single-user service, and rose to $500,000 a year – or $250 a seat – for
subscribers in large companies who received premium-level customized
news delivered on corporate intranets.

By early 1999, however, the NewsEdge parent company had concluded that
it would be missing a huge opportunity if it continued to force the
single-user part of its business to rely on a subscription-based
revenue model.

‘What has happened is that there is a segment of the market today that
is expecting and rewarding those who deliver content that is free to
the end-user,’ Lang says. ‘This is growing very quickly. We want to
grow with them and gain market share, and you cannot do that with a
subscription service.’

Since the relaunch of as a free service targeted at
single users, its membership has swelled to more than one million
members. Last month, these efforts culminated in the sale of to, a Web site run by the Winstar
telecommunications firm. Winstar wants to serve as a one-stop provider
of ‘e-enabling’ services for small- and mid-sized firms, including
high-speed Internet access and data transport, Web-based information,
Web hosting and local and long distance services. Within that strategic
framework, the role of is to serve as a portal for those
small- and mid-sized businesses, providing a comprehensive mix of
business products, information, experts, and services. The customized content is intended to attract a community to the site.

Look for to launch some major promotional initiatives in
the next few months, and particularly look for support from CBS Corp.,
which purchased a one-third stake in in April 1999. That
deal included an agreement to provide promotion and advertising across
CBS properties. also has a deal with Yahoo! to coordinate
and integrate the small-business offerings of the two organizations.

E&P Online recently caught up with Ilene Lang, who shared her insights
about the changing role of content online.

The Latent Power Of Personalized News

‘Effective e-commerce is not just about buying cheap stuff,’ Lang says.
‘It also is about creating community and content that is relevant to
that. It is about having relevant service and commerce offerings within
that context, and content is the key to getting people’s attention and
being relevant to them. Our content is a very strong complement to what
Winstar and are trying to offer.’ Moreover, the
personalization of news is crucial to that relevance, Lang believes.

‘News and information can get people’s attention and make the
connection for them, and the next logical step after that is a very
tightly integrated commercial transaction,’ she says. ‘People need very
relevant information, and then look at all the things that you can
build around that.’

In addition, the preferences that customers indicate
regarding their news interests enables the service to deliver much more
targeted advertising, which holds the promise of being able to charge
higher advertising rates. ‘One-to-one publishing has the potential for
much higher revenue yields from the advertising,’ Lang says. Not only
does the advertiser benefit by being able to target their messages much
more precisely, the users also benefit because ‘they are getting more
relevant information [via the ads]. They are getting a better user

Selling ‘I-commerce’

Although the news provided via is free, it does open
opportunities for other content-based revenue.

‘Winstar has coined a term, ‘i-commerce,’ that refers to the sale of
premium information for a fee,’ Lang says. ‘The term is intended to
separate out intellectual content from goods and services, and Winstar
has a tremendous resource; they bought Telebase several years ago, and
big pieces of it now are being integrated into

‘It has a very strong content base [including all of Dun & Bradstreet’s
reports on 12 million companies, most of them private] and
has a wonderful search mechanism that is going to be making this
available to people.’

Overlooked Trend: Upsurge In Reading and Writing

‘One thing that has not gotten a lot of attention and that has big
implications for publishers and content creators is that people are
reading again,’ Lang says. ‘People are reading more. When they are on
the Web, they are reading, and they are looking for stuff to read. But,
it also is important to realize that when they are reading on the Web,
they are reading in different ways, and this has implications for the
way information and news stories get presented.’

For instance, says Lang, Web readers ‘want more context. On the Web,
you can organize things differently. You can have links, and everyone
now knows what links do. You can have related stories, related
information. When you see a story on the Web, it is not just a story
that is in a column with a headline and surrounded by ads the way it
would be on paper in a magazine. On paper, the organization of material
is very sequential or linear, but, on the Web, you are able to link
different things together so that you can present information in
different ways.

‘This has an impact on how you write and how you organize and package,
and also on how different producers of content make relationships with
one another.’

A related development that has not gotten a lot of attention is the
rapid evolution taking place ‘in design that helps make information
accessible to people so that they can find it,’ Lang argues. ‘If you
look at all these Web sites, in the last year or so, you can see new
design elements that are very powerful and effective in the packaging
of information in ways that help people get to what is useful to them.’

Lang points out that Web pages now are being designed with a great deal
of information that is ‘displayed with very small type, but people
still are able to read it because it is organized and presented

And not just reading is on the rise, Lang claims. So is writing.

‘People are now reading and writing e-mail far, far more than they were
ever reading and writing letters, and that is text,’ she points out.
‘E-mail is the leading app on the Web. It was the first one and it is
still the leading one. People love e-mail, and a lot of these are
people who never wrote anything.’

Lang suggests this upsurge in online reading and writing is changing
the way small businesses communicate. Publishers should be aware of the
trend, she says.

Entrepreneurs Represent Huge Opportunity

The burgeoning population of ‘knowledge-workers’ is fueling a demand
for news and information, Lang adds. ‘One thing that we know from our
user base is that 31% are entrepreneurs who own their own business.
These are workers in the new economy who are solving their own
problems, managing their own lives, and our free service offers those
business users very targeted information that helps them manage their
busy professional lives.’

Even those who are actually employed by large corporations are seen
likely to need help dealing with the torrent of news and information.
‘Of the 50 million people who were using the Internet for business last
year, only about 15% got their business information or news through a
subscription service delivered through their corporation,’ Lang says.
‘The remaining 85% got it on the Web. They are just going out and
looking for it on their own.’ And probably wasting a lot of time and
energy in the process.

‘This already is a large market and it is going to grow much larger in
the next couple of years. Their business lives, their professional
growth, their professional development, their career growth, their
personal finance: They are doing it all themselves. These are people
who have to manage very complicated and busy lives – and they do not
get a whole lot of corporate support to do it. They are on their own.’

Impact of Increasingly Info-Savvy Users

‘Web users are evolving, and one thing that we have learned is that the
people who are using the Web are gaining expertise at a very rapid
rate,’ Lang says. ‘It is a much more sophisticated audience. Research
shows that 40% of the Web users today have 3 years or more experience
online, as compared to 23% a year ago.’

This has led to the emergence of a much more demanding online
population. ‘People are getting much more focused on getting what they
want,’ Lang says. ‘The people who surfed the Web a couple of years ago
were more tolerant of slow service, and they were more willing to spend
time and to work to get information that they wanted. Now there is a
much higher degree of experience and familiarity. People are not
tolerant of delays. The expectation of service is much higher.’


B.G. Yovovich ( is an author and business writer
based in Evanston, Ill. He writes the Web Trend Watch column, published
on E&P Online every Thursday.

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(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher

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