Newspapers Added to AOL Line-up

By: Steve Outing

There's so much new activity in the newspaper business on the World Wide Web, it's rare to find publishers making deals with the commercial online services any more. At America Online, now the world's largest online service, some recent launches of newspaper areas were announced. Let's take a look at them.

New York Times redesign The Times has been on AOL with its @times service since June 1994, but this week unveiled a significant redesign of the service. @times is one of the most popular services on AOL, accounting for "hundreds of thousands" of visits per month, according to the Times.

The Times' area has been limited by the restraints of the AOL infrastructure, so that its area looked pretty much the same as most other content providers' areas on the service. The new look takes advantage of AOL's new content creation tools, so that the Times area has more of the look and feel that we associate with the newspaper.

Unfortunately, the area still suffers from AOL's limitations. For example, headlines for many stories can be found in scrollable boxes, where you double-click on the words to pull up the entire story. Often, the boxes are too small and you can only see part of the headline; letters or entire words sometimes are cut off and there's no way to expand the scrolling box to see the full headline. This is not the Times' problem, of course; it's a shortcoming that AOL should have fixed long ago. (I visit AOL using the Macintosh client; I can't speak for if the Windows version also has this problem.)

The Times is a big draw for America Online, and many visitors to the area want to see news. @times in its new incarnation has remodeled presentation of the various news sections, making it easier to find articles and navigate through the service. A nice feature is a Computers & Technology section, which aggregates the newspaper's technology coverage and includes an archive going back to the beginning of 1995. This is great if you missed the Monday business section, which focuses on information technology coverage. In the daily sections, articles remain posted online for 2 days.

Other new features include the Week in Review from the Sunday newspaper edition, and enhanced search capabilities for classified ads and restaurant listings.

To get to @times, go to the keyword TIMES. Be warned, for @times as well as other new content areas on AOL, that on your first visit you will be waiting several minutes while the AOL client downloads the section's new graphics.

The New York Times also will introduce a major World Wide Web service in the coming weeks.

Arizona Central

Officially launched last week on AOL was Arizona Central, a service of the Arizona Republic, Phoenix Gazette and Arizona Business Gazette. Arizona Central is a regional online service featuring news, sports, discussion forums, a teens area, destinations information, calendars, gardening, a home hunting section, and more.

Arizona Central went live first on the Web, and the Interet edition is farther along that what's on AOL in terms of presentation. If you look at the Web site, (, you'll see a more polished and graphically pleasing look that is possible to pull off on the Web, but not on AOL. On the Web, you'll find a lodging guide, golf guide, interactive TV listings, destinations database and dining guide. The TV listings feature is particularly nice, allowing a user to search for programming specific to the neighborhood he/she lives in.

The Phoenix newspapers opted to launch their online ventures with a niche service strategy, first creating the dining and golf guides. The services on the Web and AOL are in their early stages and will evolve into a more broad-based regional online attraction, according to senior editor for information technology Howard Finberg. By being on the Web and on AOL's legacy service, the papers reach the greatest possible audience.

Arizona Central can be found on AOL at keyword ARIZONA.

Weekly World News

Now if you want to read about the "3-headed man and the 3-breasted woman" who are about to wed, you can do it without the embarrassment of buying a copy of Weekly World News at the supermarket checkout. This America tabloid showed up on AOL recently, offering a good dose of the bizarre and titillating. The tab's "Page 5 Girls" are online, sure to be a popular feature with the young readers who seem to hang out at this site (judging from the letters and discussion forum areas, where many of the contributors appear to be school kids).

Discussion forums are an important part of this service, but the conversation, as you might expect, is pretty juvenile. WWN editors monitor the forums, presumably to filter out obsenities, but not bad taste.

Weekly World News can be found at keyword WWN.

AOL clings to old model

America Online continues to be the only online service that is sticking to its proprietary technology and is not reaching out to incorporate the Internet into its core being. While AOL is, of course, adding Internet functionality to its client software -- including allowing users to access the World Wide Web -- it is not heading in a direction where Web users armed with Netscape will be able to access content on its legacy service. (AOL has an Internet services division and is marketing its Global Network Navigator, or GNN, brand for Internet users.)

While other online services court publishers as "partners," AOL clings to the publisher-as-content-provider model. That's partly the reason that only a dozen newspapers have presences on AOL, out of a total pool of more than 400 U.S. newspapers currently online. Many publishers don't like its revenue sharing model, where the publication gets a minority share of user fees for time spent in a publisher's AOL area.

Yet, AOL's argument -- at least for now -- seems to hold true. The huge numbers of AOL subscribers mean that a publisher will get more dollars in hand by taking a smaller portion of the AOL revenue pie than they would with another online service that offers a higher percentage. AOL publishing affiliates are receiving real revenues from AOL while bringing in little or nothing on their Web ventures.

Many analysts are concerned that AOL will be in trouble in a couple years if it sticks to the proprietary model. In the meantime, affiliating your publication with AOL can make sense as you take advantage of the revenue opportunities presented by AOL's phenomenal growth rate. But you're best advised to operate simultaneously on the Web, as the New York Times and Arizona newspapers are doing. Long term, I believe the open platform holds more promise.

Movin' On

Two new vice presidents have been named at ClariNet Communications, publishers of The ClariNet, which the San Jose, California, company calls "the Internet's oldest and most popular electronic newspaper." Walter Feigenson has been named vice president of marketing, and Douglas Miller is the new vice president of software development. Feigenson previously was director of marketing at Jandel Scientific. Miller comes from SuperMac/Radius.

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