New Century Chooses HTML E-mail as First 'Push' Service

By: Steve Outing

New Century Network's much ballyhooed NewsWorks service gets a public debut on Monday, when the password comes down from the Web site. NewsWorks culls the content from NCN's affiliate U.S. daily newspaper sites to create a national news site that features the best journalism that the U.S. newspaper industry has to offer. It is designed to bring Web traffic to local newspaper sites while at the same time providing a national news experience that rivals the best competing national news sites on the Web.

(For a description of the NewsWorks site, follow this link to an article elsewhere on E&P Interactive.)

An enhancement to the new service is already under development, and represents NCN's first foray into the area of "Push" Internet publishing. Late this summer, NCN expects to release an e-mail service that will allow users of the site -- or affiliate Web sites -- to "subscribe" to Web pages on the sites and receive them as HTML e-mail messages.

The system is currently being built by NCN staff under the direction of Vin Crosbie, a Push expert and president of Digital Deliverance, a Greenwich, Connecticut-based consulting firm. NCN president and CEO Lee deBoer hired Crosbie to come up with an initial Push service, which is being built with in-house resources and component technology from third-party vendors.

Natural extension

Crosbie explains that the NewsWorks Web system already is crawling through and cataloging all the content of affiliate newspaper sites minute by minute, so developing an e-mail system that utilizes this processed information stream in order to "push" the content seemed a natural next step.

A typical e-mail system user might subscribe to topic areas of interest, such as articles about golfer Tiger Woods. NewsWorks would assemble the best stories about Woods from among all the NCN affiliate papers, and these pages could be sent to the subscriber. Alternatively, a user might subscribe to a regular search of the NCN site, which would turn up articles about Woods and deliver them to the user. A subscriber also may wish to subscribe to regularly updated Web pages from an individual newspaper site -- say, the Sports section front of the Chicago Tribune -- and receive that page once a day.

Crosbie says the system is being designed to deliver individual Web pages (say, a favorite columnist); section fronts or news category summaries (which would be a Web page containing links to headlined stories); and search results (where a subscriber might run a regular search for Tiger Woods stories on NCN newspapers and have the results e-mailed each day). For the latter, the system might send a summary of all matching articles found on NCN papers, or send the top few stories as complete articles and then a summary hypertext document for the remaining search results.

The system also is being designed around the concept of dynamic content, Crosbie says, which will allow subscribers to receive personalized Web pages as e-mail. For example, a subscriber might designate that she wants to receive school lunch menus from her local newspaper site, plus news of her favorite baseball team. The NCN system will be able to deliver a personalized page for the subscriber containing this content, even though no Web page exists on the newspaper or NCN site containing exactly this content.

Revenue models

deBoer and Crosbie envision the system as free to the consumer, and a way to drive up traffic on affiliate sites as NCN site users receive newspapers' Web pages as HTML mail deliveries. Increased Web server hits as the e-mail system deliver pages to subscribers will of course mean more ad revenue for both the NCN central site and individual newspaper sites. deBoer points out that these incremental revenues will be "more guaranteeable" than standard Web site banner impressions from visitors "pulling" content.

The e-mail feature of NewsWorks also will be used by the affiliate sites themselves to allow visitors to their local sites to "subscribe" to their content. An affiliate newspaper might place a button on its personal technology page or on a columnist's regular page, enabling a reader to receive the pages via e-mail whenever there is an update, for example. In this case, NCN will do the fulfillment -- actually executing the e-mail deliveries -- yet the newspaper controls what gets offered as an e-mail subscription.

While Crosbie believes that for newspapers, such e-mail delivery services need to be free -- in order to compete with other news sources available free throughout the Web environment -- local newspapers could use the system to create subscription fee-based e-mail services (again, with NCN as the service bureau doing the actual deliveries). The trick will be in finding information that is valuable enough to the consumer to charge for, and in not driving away users by asking for money, he says. deBoer says the environment for news/information services is a moving target, and he believes that down the road such e-mail services will bring in subscriber fees as well as advertising revenues.


Ads delivered with the NCN e-mail edition will be standard Web banners, since that's what's common on Web pages. NCN will include national ads sold by its sales staff (with revenues shared with the affiliates) and local ads sold by the local affiliates (in which they retain all revenues). Of course, not every e-mail service subscriber will be seeing delivered content in HTML format, so some will not see the banners. deBoer explains that advertisers will pay only for those banners delivered to subscribers with HTML-enabled mail clients. Their ad message will get through to text-only e-mail readers, but they won't be charged. (Subscribers to the service are expected to have an option of receiving content in either HTML or ASCII/text-only format, specified at the time they sign up for the service.)

Crosbie sees the trend toward HTML e-mail as clear-cut, with most e-mail clients being able to render HTML mail messages by the end of this year. Yes, he concedes, text-only e-mail applications will persist for some time (such as for those people using Unix mail readers), but numbers of people using HTML-enabled mail readers (such as the mail applications within the Netscape and Microsoft Web browsers) will mushroom. NCN's service also is initially targeted at the U.S. market, where adoption of HTML mail is expected to move quickly later this year and next.

deBoer says that affiliate publishers are supportive of the e-mail initiative and seem to be increasing their awareness of e-mail opportunities. Crosbie expects it to take a while before newspaper publishers begin to see the value of HTML e-mail services as separate online businesses in their own right, possibly operating separately from a Web site. Initially, the service is likely to serve a complementary role to newspaper Web sites, then over time we're likely to see such e-mail services serve as standalone online ventures, Crosbie says.

deBoer says this will be only the first NCN experiment with "Push" services. NCN chose an HTML e-mail service because it believes it will have the biggest impact of any Push method in the coming year.

Contacts: Vin Crosbie,
Lee deBoer,

Times Mirror invests in CitySearch

Following on the heals of a similar deal with the Washington Post Company, Times Mirror earlier this week announced that it has made a strategic minority investment in online city guide company CitySearch, of Pasadena, California. And like in the Post deal, Times Mirror and CitySearch plan to launch co-branded CitySearch community and local entertainment sites in some Times Mirror cities. Times Mirror owns the Los Angeles Times, Newsday (Long Island, New York), Hartford Courant, Baltimore Sun, and other U.S. newspapers.


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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

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


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