Who is more deluged by the flood of content news than content industry professionals? Reed Business Information (www.reedbusiness.com) has initiated a beta service called ContentAgenda (www.contentagenda.com) that can help eliminate some of the time spent immersed in news flows. The site combines news aggregation, commentary from industry experts, original reporting, and user-generated content from blogspace features. Another Reed Elsevier Group company, LexisNexis (www.lexisnexis.com), supplies ContentAgenda's news aggregation with items extracted from about 4,000 to 5,000 sources via the LexisNexis Publisher service. Editors at ContentAgenda evaluate the news flow and blog submissions, as well as moderate discussions.
Past experience has shown that changes in technologies used by the entertainment industry can determine the prevalence of technology used by the information industry. As Kevin Davis, vice president and general manager of Online at Variety Group, to which ContentAgenda reports, points out, "Digital entertainment is now mission critical for not only the entertainment industry, but for the consumer electronics, mobile, broadband, and telephony businesses as well." ContentAgenda will focus on all aspects of digital entertainment, including how it is consumed, monetized, and discussed in the marketplace and the nexus of entertainment content, technology, and business. Coverage will include emerging platforms, digital rights management, mergers and acquisitions, government policy-making, financing, and regulatory and legal issues.
According to Davis, ContentAgenda has spent "tremendous time and effort working in the development team to refine the search for the right articles." Finding the right sources involves an ongoing effort to refine the news aggregation, operating under the mandate, said Davis, "to make sure what we are telling our readers makes us THE place to go for digital entertainment news. If we want users to go to the cost of switching information sources, we need to have everything they need to have."
The site arranges its news flows in three categories: discs and downloads, policy and intellectual property, and content and commerce. Paul Sweeting, editor of ContentAgenda and editor-at-large for Video Business, claimed that the new service would offer a unique "B-to-B" source with a "broad scope of news and information" and "the critical perspective and analysis to fit the pieces together." The service will also offer user-configurable newsletters and alerts and RSS feeds. Registered users can select topics for inclusion in custom newsletters as well as the frequency and format of delivery. The newsletters will cover both news stories and blog posts. A "whitepaper brokerage" service called Download can disseminate and retrieve scholarly and commercial reports.
Though encouraging all users to submit comments and responses to news stories, blogs, and other site content by clicking the "Post a comment" icon at the bottom of an item, not all comments will appear on the site. Discussion forums on ContentAgenda are moderated by editors for originality and civility. Some contributors, such as prominent content industry bloggers, have received formal invitations to join the ContentAgenda community; the invitees may have biographic information and even photos attached to their comments. Bloggers can initiate blogs on ContentAgenda or link their blogs to the site provided the editors approve.
Though RBI publishes some of the leading sources for media and entertainment news, including Daily Variety, Video Business, Broadcasting & Cable, and Multichannel News, Davis assured us that no priority would be given to RBI sources over other news stories emerging from the LexisNexis aggregation. According to Paul Sweeting, editor of ContentAgenda , the way LexisNexis Publisher works with ContentAgenda is that the companies have "set up a number of topics incorporated in a half dozen canned searches that run automatically. The results are pulled in and combed throughout the day. There are different configurations of sources for different topics."
The full LexisNexis Publisher service draws on more than 20,000 news sources and more than 4,000 legal sources. Users can customize newsfeeds and distribute them to intranets, extranets, or the open Web. However, the number of sources available for open Web posting, such as that used in ContentAgenda, drops precipitously. Within that lowered count, the number varies further depending on the choices tapped for different topics. Sweeting estimated that overall ContentAgenda uses about 4,000 to 5,000 news sources.
Once users click on a heading, they go to the full text stored on LexisNexis' servers and find content formatted according to ContentAgenda's design. They do not go to the original publisher Web sites. Full text should remain available for about 60 to 90 days. Embargoes set by publishers and feed delays can make the service erratic in delivery time. Sweeting commented that it can be something of a shock to go through feeds and "suddenly find a news story published 30-60 days ago." Within LexisNexis itself, a series of initiatives have pressed the service to reduce turnaround time to a minimum of 1 hour, according to Deborah Silcox of LexisNexis.
One of the advantages to LexisNexis Publisher is its tracking rights and royalties for publishers and insuring copyright and license protection for users. However, that does represent an expense for RBI. According to Davis, "LexisNexis is not a free product. We pay for content."
When it comes to promotion and marketing of ContentAgenda, Davis indicated that the service planned to launch advertising in RBI publications and Web sites. "It's an amazing benefit to be part of RBI with the number of brands and publications [it has] in this space and the opportunities for cross-promotion with sister publications," said Davis. I asked Davis whether some of those sister publications—most of which have very active Web sites of their own—might view ContentAgenda as cannibalizing their user base. He didn't exactly deny the possibility but stated, "Today's end-[users are] extremely savvy. We can't stop them from going elsewhere. It doesn't make sense to be protectionist or to exclude linkages."
Now in beta, the new service, which launched on Dec. 20, 2006, seemed to raise minimal interest among bloggers, as judged from the half page of search results on Technorati for the name. However, John Blossom saluted it as "a very impressive stab by a major B2B media company." Blossom particularly appreciated the breadth of sources the LexisNexis aggregation service provided and the "relatively agnostic approach to news aggregation" and the application of "human-powered editorial focus." On the other hand, Blossom still thought that services like paidContent.org would hold their own, building on strong community presence.
This is not the only RBI effort to supply new, sophisticated, business-to-business Web services. Late last year it introduced the Zibb search engine (www.zibb.com), which taps content from more than 200 RBI publications, including directories, newsletters, and trade press, plus additional B2B Web sites and blogs. All the sites tapped by Zibb (still in beta) are filtered and organized with a tiered taxonomy. A natural language technology company, Teragram Corporation (www.teragram.com), provides the software that gathers appropriate content, categorizes it, and assigns metadata tags.
Though Teragram is not involved directly with ContentAgenda, Zibb will figure largely in the future development of ContentAgenda, according to Davis and Sweeting. Davis told us to expect that shortly after ContentAgenda comes out of beta, it will have a full "powered by Zibb" implementation in place, similar to that now available on Variety.com. Sweeting confirmed that LexisNexis Publisher would "still be a player even after Zibb is on board." Sweeting expects that Zibb will be used to find and fetch Web content as well as search through the ContentAgenda site itself.
Describing the experience of building the new portal, Sweeting said, "We are learning as we go along. As an editor I believe it is critical to make the portal as useful as possible to readers and users." He admitted that adding Web sites and blogs could increase the difficulty of handling all the content. "Quantity will be an issue. I don't know all the ways to deal with it yet. The site is still in beta for a reason."
The business model for the new service depends primarily on advertising. In the future, they may add an ecommerce store, according to Davis, which may or may not include sales of RBI periodicals, but revenue is "principally advertising and sponsorship." The "download whitepaper service" to publishers could also involve connecting sponsors with users.Though RBI has set no firm date for when ContentAgenda will leave beta, estimates indicate it should be around the end of 1Q 2007 or the beginning of 2Q 2007. In the meantime, the service is gathering feedback.