Your Headlines on Thousands of Personal Web Pages

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By: Steve Outing A couple of weeks ago, GeoCities and TheGlobe.com made simultaneous announcements that I view as significant, although they didn't get much play. In a deal with iSyndicate of San Francisco, the two largest national online community sites said that they would soon begin to allow Web users who create free home pages on their sites to include ? for free ? headline content from a variety of content providers, including wire services, print publications' Web sites, and Internet news services.

The idea, which will be implemented on GeoCities next year and at an undetermined time on TheGlobe.com, is that individuals who create personal or hobby pages will be able to include professional content on their pages. The high school student who has created a page celebrating pop star Madonna could choose to include the latest headlines and photos from The Associated Press and other entertainment wire services linking to new stories about the artist, for instance. All at no charge.

Content included in this service and to be available to personal Web pages includes headlines for top news; sports news; financial news; the day's top photographs; comic strips; weather forecasts for hundreds of cities; and syndicated columns.

Not all of the free Web sites created on GeoCities or at TheGlobe.com are just hobby sites. Numerous one-person publishers run sites that are commercial entities, tiny they may be. Joe's Madonna Worship Page conceivably could get as much traffic ? indeed, even attract some advertising ? as a Madonna fan Web site developed by the star's music publisher. Joe will get a free enhancement to his pages once the service is fully built out, offering the Madonna fans who visit his page a helpful directory of Madonna in the news. (At rollout next year, GeoCities members will be able to include on their sites headline feeds from various content providers. Later in the service's development, they will be able to offer keyword headline feeds, such as Madonna news.)

Headline service

According to Allison Hartsoe, co-founder and vice president of production for iSyndicate, the recent deals are good news for content publishers, quite simply because they provide additional traffic to their content. Joe's page, from the example above, will carry headlines only, not actual news stories about Madonna. Once a visitor to Joe's site clicks on the headline, "Madonna Fires Another Nanny," the full story will come up in a GeoCities-branded environment; Joe's local page branding goes away.

For a content publisher, let's say Tabloid.net (one of the participants in the GeoCities/TheGlobe.com-style deal), it will get a clickable logo on top of the story that links to the Tabloid site. "Joe's page" users who click through on the headlines on Joe's page are exposed to Tabloid content, perhaps for the first time, and Tabloid gets a new potential regular reader of its overall site.

Hartsoe explains that the program is funded by advertising, so it's more than just a way to drive additional traffic to content providers. In the GeoCities model, GeoCities sells and places an ad banner on top of the branded news pages, and keeps that revenue; iSyndicate sells ads for another ad slot on those GeoCities news pages (placed to the side of the news articles), and shares half of those revenues with the content provider.

For the wire services and syndication companies participating in the program, the motivation is a bit different than for other content providers. The AP and the syndicates don't want or need consumer traffic to their central Web sites, but rather view this as an opportunity to earn revenue from advertising attached to the content they own or promote.

A thousand points of entry

The question comes up in examining this model, "Why would a major commercial content producer want to have its material on hundreds or thousands of personal Web pages?" The answer, says Hartsoe, is that it's beneficial to have thousands of entry points to your site rather than demanding that every reader enter through your site's home page. "Wouldn't you rather have 100 gateways to your content than just one?" she says.

Not all publishers can bring themselves to see that point of view, holding on to the notion of wanting complete control over their content ? even their headlines. Hartsoe says most publishers who have been working and doing deals in the Web environment for a while are quickly comfortable with the personal Web pages model, while some more traditional publishers remain stand-offish.

Most content providers won't make their entire news feeds available, and Hartsoe encourages publishers considering being content providers in the GeoCities-style deals to choose relevant content on topics that would have interest to niche audiences. The sports Web site might provide football headlines for use on fan personal pages; the health news site might offer headline feeds on a selection of personal health topics but not the entire content of its site, for example.

The current list of participating content providers includes, most notably, The AP; Universal Press Syndicate (for comics and columns); United Media Features (comics); Business Wire (press releases); and an assortment of niche news Web sites and Internet wire services, such as E-Sports, Internet Wire, The Industry Standard, and CMPNet. Missing at this early stage of this new content syndication strategy are regional and local newspapers, though iSyndicate is eager to add them as content providers.

Hartsoe envisions personal Web pages on which the owner might be interested in providing local headlines or weather forecasts about the town where they live now or grew up. Imagine an individual's page read mostly by far-flung family members, in which local news headlines are included and seen by the page's readers, who may have an interest because of family ties or because they used to live in the city. Or the Green Bay Packers zealot who on his Packers page includes headlines from the local paper's Packers coverage.

"We want badly" to add newspapers as content providers, Hartsoe says. A major investor in iSyndicate is Scripps Ventures, the venture capital arm of newspaper and media company E.W. Scripps, which invested $3 million in the first major round of funding for iSyndicate. She says newspapers, in particular, have a tremendous opportunity to leverage their content in the new channel of personal Web pages.

Revenue prospects

In terms of financial prospects for being a content provider to personal Web pages, don't expect an immediate return, since it's likely to take a while before ad sales start to turn upward. Hartsoe says that the best prospects will take a few months, as the service matures and ads can be targeted. For instance, a thousand personal NFL team adoration Web sites represent in aggregate an audience of football fans who will see a news service's football coverage; that's an attractive (if unconventional) audience to certain advertisers. A Denver newspaper with strong coverage of the Super Bowl-winning Denver Broncos should consider syndicating its articles about the team and making its headlines available for the thousands of fan sites, for instance. Hartsoe says iSyndicate staff will help publishers determine which components of their content make the most sense to syndicate.

(It's worth explaining here that the iSyndicate model also sells syndicated content to Web sites and Internet publishers. What we're talking about for personal Web pages in most cases involves only headlines from a content provider being published on individual home pages. Of course, some of those tiny Internet publishing operations also might purchase syndicated content, though that's unlikely to be a significant market.)

This is an interesting model, and it demonstrates how much the content industry is changing when it comes to the Internet. It wasn't long ago that some news publishers were intent on controlling their content and how it is used by others on the Internet. Lawsuits, such as the one filed in the Shetland Islands of Scotland by two rival publishers, have been filed against those who appropriated headlines from another news site for use on their own ? the plaintiffs contending that their headlines are their intellectual property and not available for free use by other publishers or individuals.

Now the tide may be turning, as publishers begin to realize that it can be in their best interest to enter into a syndication deal where they actually allow anyone ? down to the individual level ? to incorporate their content into Web sites.

Larger trend?

Others in the field of "community publishing" also are looking at the iSyndicate/GeoCities model as the beginning of an important trend. Bruce Milligan, vice president of marketing for Koz, a developer of Internet publishing tools that specializes in community publishing applications and services for news publishers, says his company is looking at doing something similar.

Koz' Soccer Online service, for instance, is a network of soccer organizations and participants that facilitates everyone involved communicating around daily happenings in the soccer community, at the local level but also at regional and national levels. A likely scenario is that this service, which is licensed by news publishers as part of their overall community publishing effort, also will include national and international soccer news feeds as part of the service. Ergo, your 6-year-old's soccer team Web page may also include the latest news about World Cup action.

Contact: Allison Hartsoe, allison@isyndicate.com

Correction

In my previous column about New Mass. Media's "insta-communities" concept, I made some factual errors. (If you read the column after midday on Friday, you saw a corrected version; this note is for the benefit of those who read the earlier version.) New Mass. Media Inc. is the parent company of the Advocate*Weekly alternative newspapers. (I had it backward.) Also, I said that all the insta-community Web sites were based first on repurposed print special section content. In fact, two of the sites ? NudeBeachGuide.com and Inside Out ? were not based on print content, although the rest were.

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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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