Mainstream Media Warms To 'Web 2.0'
This month, for instance, WashingtonPost.com began including links allowing users to bookmark their page on Del.icio.us, a popular "tagging" site, as did press release distribution site PRNewswire.com. Another press release site, PRWeb.com, began incorporating "trackbacks," which allow readers to see what blogs are linking to individual releases. The New York Times Co. also recently purchased BlogRunner and its site, AnnotatedTimes.com, which aggregates New York Times articles with blog posts that link to them. BlogRunner's founder, Philippe Lourier, is now a full-time employee of the Times Company.
Some social media evangelists applaud the trend, saying that readers commenting on, sharing, and excerpting from content will bring publishers traffic, and deepen consumers' experiences with their media.
"It's a great thing. Large media companies are starting to realize that they don't own all content, and that part of their job is to start conversations," said online media expert Jeff Jarvis. "News organizations are starting to realize that part of their obligation is to present the world, and not just what they write."
But there are costs to publishers, including the potential loss of control over content, as the new features also create millions of new consumer-editors and ombudsmen, who scrutinize the product and publish their findings instantaneously.
Del.icio.us links are only the most recent step that WashingtonPost.com has taken to enable their readers to share opinions about their content. In September 2005, the Washington Post began including links to Technorati searches for all their articles, which allow users to find which blogs are linking to various WaPo stories.
"We've been trying to do things in the last year that are different from our competitors. [Del.icio.us] is a good company, and a good concept, and it's popular among the demographic that we need to attract," said Jim Brady, WashingtonPost.com's executive editor. "We're actually talking about social networking as one of our focuses this year. If we can get our readers to interact with each other, that's a win for us."
Brady said that WashingtonPost.com's goal is to extend the time users spend with their copy. "The model of today is--somebody comes to us from Google or a blog or an RSS feed--the goal for us is to turn the entire experience into 'Read our take on it, and if you want to read other people's take on it, that's great too, and if you want to add your own take, you can drop it into the comments or write about it on your blog,'" he said. "We're trying to lengthen the interaction between reader and content."
But the additional consumer feedback poses challenges for the Post. Last month, the newspaper shut off comments on its blog for several weeks, in the wake of reader posts attacking the ombudsman for a column about lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Last week, the newspaper turned the comments back on.
The New York Times Co. is working with Lourier to explore a variety of Web 2.0 revisions to its Web properties, according to Martin Nisenholtz, the Times' recently appointed senior vice president, digital operations, who spoke with OnlineMediaDaily at the Media Dealmakers Summit earlier this month in New York City. "It creates this nexus of content and community which we think is very powerful," Nisenholtz said of the annotated Times site. "We are taking that and we are adding that back into our Web site."
Steve Rubel, senior vice president with PR giant Edelman, said media companies are simply following the consumers. "The consumers are using the tools--it's not all the consumers, but it's some of the most influential consumers in the world," he said. "In the end, it's just like adding an 'e-mail this' button, except on steroids. It will allow the content that's on these sites to be spread more easily, and discussed. It's a win for everybody."
Ultimately, Rubel said, media companies are chasing traffic and visibility, and realize that to get it, they have to let their readers talk back. "It's traffic, it's visibility, and it's a bit of hipness, too. They recognize that they have to be multidirectional, not unidirectional. They have no choice."