'Co-branding Engine' Eases Content Creators' Workload

By: Steve Outing As is commonplace in the Internet publishing environment, Web content publishers often co-brand their content with other companies. A typical example is a syndicator that produces content used on dozens of Web sites, where the syndicator's content either shows up co-branded with the name of the customer Web site and the syndicate, or branded entirely with the Web site name.

An example of such an arrangement is Tribune Direct, a personalized e-mail stock tracking service offered on the Chicago Tribune's Web site. If you click on that link in the previous sentence, you'll notice that Infobeat, the creator of the service, is not even mentioned on that page.

Content publishers (like Infobeat in the example above) wishing to sell their content to multiple sites in the past have had a technical chore in front of them. They sell the same content to all of their partners/customers, but each customer requires that the content incorporate its particular logo, graphic style and layout. In some instances, the work required to support multiple partners has limited the amount of such custom co-branding a publisher can do.

A new server software product, billed as the "first co-branding engine" for publishers, was recently introduced by Pencom Web Works of New York, a 3-year-old software consulting company. Called the Metaphoria Data Transformation Server, the co-brander is designed to make selling site-customized content to many customers simple enough that there are no limits on the number of co-branding deals a publisher might enter.

According to Tristan Louis, marketing director for Pencom, the process of adding an additional customer for your content using the Metaphoria technology (which is a "Java Servlet") takes about 5 minutes to set up. It involves creating two HTML template pages -- one of which resides on the content creator/syndicator's server, the other on the customer's server. These templates determine how the content -- which is published once by the content creator and distributed in one form for many customers -- is displayed for each customer. Metaphoria's template mechanism residing on the content creator's server dynamically generates HTML pages based on each customer's template file.

One of Pencom's first publishing customers is Hearst New Media's HomeArts "lifestyle" feature news service, which provides a daily aggregated content service with material from Hearst's various magazines and newspapers. You can see how the Metaphoria technology works by looking at each of the pages below. Each includes the same HomeArts network content, placed in the template of several publishers.

Excite: Lifestyle Netscape Netcenter: Lifestyles Prodigy: Lifestyle News WCVB-TV Online Electric Times Union Houston Chronicle Louis points out that the server software supports various ways a content creator might do business. In the Excite: Lifestyle example above, when a Web user first comes across the service via Excite, the Excite brand name is part of the page and there are navigation devices pointing back to the Excite service. However, should the user bookmark that page with a Web browser, the next time that page is visited it will appear sans Excite branding. That's because HomeArts wants to build its brand name and not Excite's. Excite, meanwhile, cares only about making fresh lifestyle news available whenever someone visits Excite; it doesn't care about people revisiting that particular page via a bookmark.

To demonstrate the concept more clearly, let's take a theoretical example using the wire service Reuters, which provides its news to Yahoo! When a user clicks on the "latest international news" link on Yahoo!, she sees Reuters headlines and stories along with a Yahoo! logo and navigatioin. Depending on the relationship that Reuters creates with Yahoo!, the wire service (content creator) has two options for subsequent content that users see when they bookmark the "latest international news" page and visit it at a later time: 1) The page can appear with Yahoo! branding just as on the initial visit via the Yahoo! link, or 2) the page can appear entirely with Reuters branding, so that the Yahoo! customer now becomes a Reuters customer. Alternatively, page templates could be set up so that some pages are co-branded and others are not.

The advantage to this scheme is the idea of publish once, distribute to many -- yet each distribution point is customized. In the past, a content creator would have to publish on a daily basis a different information stream for each customer who needed custom branding. This technology eliminates that work. It also allows publishers who buy content from content creators to design templates that automatically mix that bought content with their own local content on customized pages.

The Metaphoria co-brander is a Java-based server application, with a one-time licensing fee of $10,000. It will run on platforms that support Java 1.1 and is compatible with Web servers supporting the Java Servlet API. Java servlets enable programmers to build modular applications that use Web servers to perform middleware duties.

Contact: Tristan Louis, tristan@pencom.com

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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:steve@planetarynews.com

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


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