Yahoo! Local: A New Kind of Community Online Guide Partnership

By: Steve Outing

I've been writing recently about some of the local online community guides that are emerging -- America Online's Digital Cities, CitySearch, Microsoft's "CityScape" -- each attempting to partner with local media. A common thread that runs through these deals with publishers is that the media partner contributes local content, and earns revenues from an advertising stream shared with the partner company. (See my previous columns on Digital Cities and CitySearch for examples, available by clicking on the Archive link at the end of this column.) For the publishers involved, this is an additional online venue on which to place their content.

Now comes Web directory Yahoo!'s local community guides, the first of which was launched last week for the San Francisco Bay Area (California). It's at Yahoo! also is hunting for media partners in a number of cities for which t is creating similar local online community guides. But unlike the other deals mentioned above, media partners with Yahoo! local sites get no money, typically -- but they do get a potentially big boost in traffic to their sites.

In the Bay Area site, the primary media partners are KPIX television, which provides news, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian alternative newsweekly, which provides entertainment listings and political alerts.

Selecting the 'best'

Yahoo!'s director of online communities, Ellen Siminoff, explains that the local city guide sites will, like Yahoo! itself, link to every Web site in the area. But it also is choosing what it considers the strongest media partners in each local market and making them "premium" providers. This means actually hosting some of the media partner's content on Yahoo! servers, or mirroring the partner's content.

Typically, Yahoo! will host on its servers some of the premium partner's content -- often "teasers" or highlights which link directly to the media Web site. Or it may host a "mirror" site for some of the partner's Web content. Siminoff says this is being done primarily to assure that the media partners' servers are not overwhelmed by large numbers of Yahoo! visitors.

Siminoff emphasizes that Yahoo! remains true to its mission of providing a directory to everything that's on the Web. What it's doing with its premium media partner program is creating a community guide and news service -- at very little cost to Yahoo! -- such that a local Yahoo! site, aided by its premium media partners, will be able to compete with local CitySearch, CityScape, AOL Digital City, or telco offerings as they launch locally.

For the media partner, the big benefit is the increase in traffic to its own Web site. Siminoff notes that for KPIX, its site's home page saw an increase of 30-50% in traffic on the first day of its affiliation with Yahoo! SF Bay. (This figure did not include visits to KPIX content residing on the Yahoo! servers).

This potentially large boost in Web site traffic was what attracted Bay Guardian online director Jim Abeles to doing a deal with Yahoo! Despite no money involved in the deal, Abeles says he's convinced that Yahoo! SF Bay will bring his site a lot of new traffic and increase his ability to attract advertisers. While not able to quote a figure, he says that his first-day traffic boost attributable to Yahoo! was excellent. And he's already seeing a positive impact in his staff's ability to sell ads for the Guardian site.

As a result of the deal with Yahoo!, Abeles dismissed a potential deal with AOL's Digital Cities, which is setting up a San Francisco operation. He also got out of an ongoing deal with Microsoft's Music Central Web site, which he said wasn't performing and was bringing in "practically nothing." Abeles says that the other deals he's been offered by other online community guide companies didn't offer enough revenue to warrant the work involved in supplying them with content. The Yahoo! deal takes very little work to feed content, he says, and benefits the Guardian Web site rather than that of another company. (That is, traffic goes to the Guardian Web servers rather than those of someone else).

Exclusivity issues

Media partners of Yahoo! do get some degree of exclusivity, in that other premium providers won't include the same type of content. The Guardian's premium entertainment listings won't compete against that of the San Francisco Chronicle, for instance (except that the Chronicle's Web service will have a standard link within Yahoo! SF Bay). The Guardian provides a feed of entertainment listings for pages on the Yahoo! servers, with Guardian logos on each page and links to the Guardian site.

Siminoff says Yahoo! requires no exclusivity on its deals with local media, though each deal is different. However, for practical reasons it may get it. Abeles says he's unlikely to want to go to the trouble and expense of feeding multiple local online partners. If this deal benefits the Guardian's own Web site enough, other companies wishing to sign up the paper as a local content provider may have trouble. Abeles says he's committed to trying out Yahoo! for a year to see how it performs for the Guardian.

While no money is changing hands, there are some promotional aspects to the deal. Yahoo! co-sponsored a booth and parade float at yesterday's huge Gay Freedom Day celebration in San Francisco, for instance.

Yahoo! local sites are coming soon in New York and Southern California (to cover Los Angeles and San Diego), and in several other U.S. cities which Siminoff declines to name. A Japanese Yahoo! local site already has launched, and Europe and Canada sites are under development. The non-U.S. sites will operate with a similar strategy of signing up premium local media providers, and will be created for entire countries as well as major cities.

Potential media partners should contact Siminoff, who says that publishers must prove that they have the best content in their area in order to be chosen to participate in the local Yahoo! sites as premium providers. They also must have robust servers capable of handling large traffic loads, she says.

Contact: Ellen Siminoff,
Jim Abeles,

Alternative papers' content: What's it worth online?

Andrew Sullivan of eLine Productions in San Francisco (which is responsible for the San Francisco Bay Guardian Web site, among others) has written an outstanding essay, called "Why MSN and AOL Are Mining Alternative Content." I strongly recommend you read it. Here's an excerpt:

"The reason that Alternatives (and publishers in general) are falling for the content myth is that they are stuck in traditional models of 'table of contents,' brand recognition, and distribution, and have serious problems exploring their value beyond these categories. They view the Net as but another point of distribution for their 'product,' never realizing that most of the models that fostered success in print are out the window in the online environment, and that most of their value in going online has little to do with their content and a lot to do with their position within a local context. And that position is their unique ability to collect dialogue. These papers have serious contacts and are uniquely positioned to reflect the flavor of a particular area ... but none of their success online will be tied to their content."

Movin' On

Ed Vasquez has been named as public relations/investor relations manager for ClariNet of San Jose, California. ClariNet publishes e.News, which it calls "the Internet's largest electronic newspaper." The privately held company publishes personalized Internet news products on the Web and Usenet. Vasquez has been a journalist and PR consultant, most recently for BJS Electronics.

San Diego SPJ online judges

In a recent item, I listed two judges for the Society of Professional Journalists San Diego Chapter new media awards. It turns out that there were two other judges who should be acknowledged: Jim Griffin, director of technology for Geffen Records, and Mark Loundy, Southern California telecommunications chair, National Press Photographers Association.

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