Life Support for Pantheon as Stand-alone Publishing System

By: Steve Outing

The Pantheon Web publishing system, now owned by Zip2, is in use at a couple hundred newspaper Web sites. The software, originally released in early 1996 and designed specifically to serve newspaper Web sites, converts content from front-end editorial and classifieds systems into HTML for Web publishing. But despite its widespread use by newspapers (those 200-plus papers represent about 70 installations), the Pantheon software is being supported only minimally by Zip2.

Newspaper online managers who have come to rely on the Pantheon software were concerned in recent weeks when Zip2 executives made statements (reported on in this column) indicating that the Pantheon software would not be upgraded in the future, and the company would support existing Pantheon users only to a limited degree. Rather, Zip2 is strongly encouraging its customers who may be using Pantheon software as an in-house solution to migrate to its “Zip2 City Guide Platform,” a suite of services providing state-of-the-art, dynamically generated Web content managed in Zip2-hosted databases, along with administration and data integration tools and other services. (Pantheon software underlies some of the Zip2 suite of services.)

Some want control

Not all publishers, however, are comfortable using a vendor to host their content, so there remain many newspaper sites that wish to continue using the Pantheon system to manage their content services in-house. One of the original employees of Pantheon (before the company was purchased by Zip2 in mid-1997) sees that as a market opportunity, and has created a support service for those sites still using Pantheon’s Builder and Interpreter systems.

Rick Nolte was an initial employee of Pantheon, which originally was based in Seattle, and was the primary developer of the Pantheon Builder software. His new company, DataByNet, has just announced a support service for Pantheon users. And in cooperation with an as yet unannounced software company, Nolte’s venture is developing a next-generation system for managing locally hosted newspaper Web content.

The support services for the Pantheon systems are priced at $400 per month for during-business-hours support, or $600 a month for 24×7 support. That includes fast-turnaround telephone and e-mail support, and an allotment of on-site support (though clients pay travel expenses to get a technician on site). There’s also a per project arrangement. The service was announced in recent days, and early clients include the Boston Herald, Naples Daily News in Florida, and El Nuevo Dia in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Nolte parted ways with Zip2 last June, mostly over a difference in philosophy, he says. He believes that most newspaper publishers will prefer to operate systems on their own servers, rather than place their content in the hands and servers of a vendor. That’s why he’s begun developing a new software product, expected to be on the market sometime next year, that will be a successor to the Pantheon concept. (It will not be an extension of the Pantheon software, of course, since that’s owned by Zip2; rather, it is being built from the ground up.)

While the new product (as yet unnamed) will compete with Zip2, Nolte says that his company and Zip2 will be serving different markets — Zip2 for those publishers wanting a hosted environment, DataByNet serving those who want complete control and require an in-house solution. He says he saw a need for a continuation of the process of developing effective newspaper in-house Web publishing systems — since Pantheon development has been halted by Zip2. (The Pantheon software has not had a significant upgrade in some time.)

Nolte’s competition will be advanced Web publishing systems such as those by Vignette, FutureTense, and Inso (DynaBase).

Database publishing moves onward

The stand-alone Pantheon software is becoming somewhat dated, though it continues to serve its purpose for many newspapers. However, the Web publishing industry is fast moving toward advanced database publishing systems as opposed to systems that support flat-file publishing. At the Dallas Morning News, for instance, which has been using the Pantheon system, Pantheon will go away in the near future to be replaced by a Dynabase database publishing system, according to Greg Anderson of the newspaper’s systems staff.

As a result of Zip2’s decision to let further development of the Pantheon software line halt, publishers wanting an in-house solution are faced with continuing to live with a Pantheon system that’s beginning to age, or go with a competing product. Nolte hopes to snag the newspaper industry with his upcoming product, which is being built specifically for newspaper applications, though its use is not restricted to newspaper Web publishers.

Contact: Rick Nolte, rnolte@databynet.com

Online polls: A contrary view

After my recent column about online polls conducted on some news Web sites, I received a fair amount of mail, most of it supportive of my view that such polls are dangerously misleading and too often an inaccurate reflection of real public opinion. I did receive one contrary view, however, from Alex Beckett of Globe Information Services (Canada), who writes:

“I think you were too quick to criticize online polls. I think they disappoint you because you assume that the people implementing them want users to perceive them as accurate reflections of the opinions of the general public. And I agree that if they are represented as such, they are deeply flawed, but you ask, ‘why bother running them at all?’

“Polls that show acknowledgment of their context can be very useful. Good Web sites are about communities. Community members can find value in what others think within that community. For example, polls of Wall Street Journal site users are certainly not indicative of what Americans in general think, but they can powerfully illustrate what some of America’s businesspeople think on a given subject. Other members of that community might find those results very interesting. The same could be said of a poll on the Utne Reader site, or the Village Voice.

“Anyone hoping to see an accurate reflection of society in an online poll will be disappointed, but those who understand the context of a Web site poll may learn a lot.”

Online polls: Scientific back-up

Support for my observation that online polls are misleading and inaccurate came from San Diego, California, public opinion research company Competitive Edge Research & Communications. Pollster John Nienstedt, president of the company, cites results of his recent research into the voting habits of U.S. online users, which finds that online users are significantly less likely to vote than their non-wired counterparts. Nienstedt says this is largely because online users as a group are younger than the population at large, and younger U.S. citizens vote less often than older people. His research finds that voter turnout is depressed among online users, even though they tend to be better educated than other groups.

The Competitive Edge findings contradict common wisdom that online users represent a strain of “super voter,” according to Nienstedt. The Internet may eventually meet those expectations, but not today. Nienstedt says that Web polls tend to be made up of people who are “hyper interested” in the subject and generally are not selected randomly. Relying on data collected on the Web can be dangerous, he says.

(Note: Competitive Edge does not currently have a Web site, otherwise I would have referenced it.)

Co-branding solutions

Following my recent column about the automated content co-branding technology developed by Pencom Web Works, Tribune Media Services marketing director Steve Tippie wrote in to point out that his company has been co-branding its content using Vignette’s StoryServer application in combination with a proprietary “multi-brander” application developed for Tribune by a consultant. To see Tribune’s multi-brander in action, view the URLs below and click on the affiliates listed:

WeatherPoint TVQuest TMS TV Listings

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This column is written by Steve Outing for Editor & Publisher Interactive. Tips, letters and feedback can be sent to Steve at steve@planetarynews.com

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