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Answers.com Buttresses NYTimes.com Reference Content
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Posted On September 25, 2006
Among the most popular of newspaper Web sites, NYTimes.com (http://www.nytimes.com) offers its readers an extensive range of background material. Now it has added a selection of sources from Answers.com (http://www.answers.com), the collector of authoritative, branded, traditional reference sources which identifies itself as "the world's greatest encyclodictionalmanacapedia." Readers have three ways to reach Answers.com and other affiliated reference content on NYTimes.com: 1) Times Topics, 2) a pull-down selection at the search box on the home page, and 3) an Alt-Click on any term in an article. The last approach uses Answer.com's 1-Click Answers technology. Details on the business arrangements between the two companies were not available, but Answers.com indicated there was a revenue component in the deal.

Founded in December 1998 as GuruNet and renamed Answers Corp. in October 2005, the company launched a free, open Web strategy with the launch of Answers.com in January 2005. Answers.com boasts answers covering 3.8 million topics, all based on authoritative content from more than 100 reference sources, including the ever popular Wikipedia. On Sept. 12, it broke its own record and carried more than 4 million queries in a single day. In its arrangement with NYTimes.com, editors at The New York Times have selected 18 to 20 sources, usually the most traditional of the traditional, i.e., encyclopedias, dictionaries, factbooks, etc. The sources do not include such digital staples as Wikipedia. Robert Larson, vice president of product management for NYTimes.com, saluted Wikipedia, but still expressed reservations. "It's an amazing resource, but at any given moment, it might be incorrect," said Larson. "On the other hand, if readers do a reference search on our site, we do link to Answers.com, so users can reach all the information on their network. We don't want to be completely closed."

After opening complete access to Answers.com last year, the company has pursued other distribution outlets on leading portals and search engines ("Powered by Answers.com"). Some of the arrangements are formal, such as the reference search on Amazon's A9 service, the homeworkNYC.org from the three New York public libraries, Firefox, Opera, and Info.com. It also has informal carriers. Jeff Cutler, chief revenue officer for Answers.com, led me to a Google Web search. Up on the top of a search results page ("next to where you see 10 of some ridiculous number," as Cutler described it), appears a link to "Definition." In the past that link took you to Dictionary.com, but now Google connects to Answers.com for people who need a quick background on their request terms.

The arrangement with NYTimes.com offers three access points for Answers.com content:

  • Over the next several months, according to Larson, NYTimes.com will integrate Answers.com content into Times Topics, multimedia background sheets currently numbering more than 10,000. When you read an article and see a name, place, or organization hotlinked, that indicates a link to a Times Topic, which may cover text, photo, or video archive content from The Times itself as well as other licensed content. The NYTimes.com editorial staff is working through the Times Topics, culling relevant content from Answers.com sources. (For an example of what it will show, go to http://www.answers.com/main/NYTimes.jsp; for an overview of Times Topics, go to http://topics.nytimes.com.)

    According to Larson, Answers.com is also hosting the digital version of The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge, a desktop reference factbook published by The Times' News Services division. He indicated that the hosting means that the "infrastructure is in place" for the Times to integrate this source into Answers.com's offerings, but no final agreement has been reached on such an arrangement.

  • Readers can Alt-Click on any term appearing in a NYTimes.com article to trigger 1-Click Answers. Answers.com grabs the term and usually the rest of any phrase, e.g., the full name of a person or place, and provides a pop-up window with a collection of diverse reference material. Users need never leave the NYTimes.com site and the NYTimes.com site need never lose a reader using this approach. Content returned will include encyclopedia entries, definitions, and background about people, history, technology, culture, and other topics in more than 20 categories. Users interested in this 1-Click Answer service for use on their own computers can download software from Answers.com, available for Windows and Mac computers as well as mobile devices.

    This approach guarantees fuller access to Answers.com content. Larson told me that editorial policies at the NYTimes.com dictate restraint in hotlinking, lest the article become unreadable. (Wikipedia entries with what can seem like every other phrase linked come to mind.) This also leads to a certain discrimination. For example, if a movie is based on a book, the author of the book may not be hotlinked to a Times Topic, while the filmmakers may be. On the other hand, if an article appears in the Book section, the author may get the nod and any mention of the filmmakers drop out. Using the Alt-Click approach on any word in an article will retrieve Answer.com content, if available.

  • Go to http://www.nytimes.com. See that familiar ornate script proclaiming The New York Times? Right underneath comes the date and the last update time and underneath that, a black line. Now underneath that line, there it is! A box of blank white space followed by a smaller box with the words "NYT Archive since 1981" and a familiar pop-down arrow. Got it? OK. Now click on the arrow and you will see six entries. The last reads Answers.com/Reference.

    Not exactly an easy find. This route will take you only to what the NYTimes.com has elected to use from the totality of Answers.com content. In many cases, for example, where the Times Topics already supply sufficient content, this may mean zero search results, even when the full Answers.com service (and Times Topics on their own) may have good content to offer.

How will NYTimes.com's readers learn about this service? Larsen pledged that they would "try to educate users as to functionality and make it more obvious." At present, plans are not finalized, though they do plan to send out a message in their newsletter to users, include it as part of the article pages' list of article tools. They may also add a message at the bottom of article pages where they currently link to related searches. Said Larson, "We will make a real effort to make sure our readers know this service exists."

Jeff Cutler told me that the current arrangement represents one of the first distribution arrangements with a media outlet for Answers.com. The company is in discussion with other publishers now, though he could not provide any specific names at this point. Though Answers.com does not currently receive content from NYTimes.com to add to its collection, that may change. Cutler said that the company was currently "looking at a news strategy" that would address users' needs for current information. Cutler expected the relationship with NYTimes.com to provide a bridge for their users to come to the whole Answers.com service, via links in each information packet that Answers.com provided NYTimes.com.


Barbara Quint was senior editor of Online Searcher, co-editor of The Information Advisor’s Guide to Internet Research, and a columnist for Information Today.


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