While the laboratory projects of Google and Yahoo! tend to generate lots of interest and media buzz, it's interesting to take note of some other worthy online lab experiments. I recently found out about Reuters Labs (http://labs.reuters.com), which demonstrates some new initiatives that the company is working on that are focused on new media and mobile technologies.
Reuters Labs is a test site that showcases some of the company's latest product innovations and developments and lets users discover, use, and comment on products and services still in progress. The site currently offers five services for users to try. Some are a little too trendy, perhaps, such as Reuters Newsbeats, which blends music and news in a new media form. (I found the music distracting, but that's just me.) It brings daily mixes of Reuters news direct to a Web browser or as podcasts to an MP3 player. The stories are read by an electronic voice (machine-reading software), which I also found a bit annoying.
The Audio service lets users get Reuters news in an audio format and listen to the latest stories on a PC or as a podcast on an MP3 player. The podcasting service allows users to subscribe to their favorite Reuters news channels—including Top News; Business News; World News; news covering politics, sports, health, technology, science, and the Internet; and "Oddly Enough News"—and automatically receive the latest stories as they break.
The Dashboard service lets users keep Reuters on their desktops with a collection of instruments designed to give easy access to news and information. The company's first offering shows news headlines from multiple categories along with a stock look-up. The Reuters News and Quote Lookup instrument displays the top 10 headlines for Reuters news channels, including Top News, Business News, Technology, and others. It runs as either an Apple Dashboard Widget (requires the Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger) or a Yahoo! Widget (requires free download for either Mac or PC). It will be interesting to see what additional "instruments" are developed.
Another Lab service called Affiliate Network lets Web sites (in the U.S. and U.K. only) add Reuters news videos for free. The news video player has up to 20 of the latest breaking stories from around the world, updated throughout the day. The player is Windows- and Macintosh-compatible, and the company said it takes just a few minutes to integrate into a site. Visitors can watch full news stories right in the context of a page; there are no pop-ups or software installs. Player features include fast forward, previous video, next video, play all, and volume control with mute capability. During the pilot period, the player is free of charge to any site and may contain advertising.
The Lab service that surprised me a bit is the Reuters Financial Glossary Wiki. It is designed to provide quick access to definitions of terms and concepts related to the financial markets. It is a community-created collaborative project based upon a published book written and edited by Reuters Editorial staff. Users who log in can edit, build upon, and add entries to the glossary. It covers foreign exchange, treasury, money and capital markets, mortgage-based assets, equities, commodities, sovereign and corporate debt, technical analysis, and macroeconomic terms.
A recent alumnus of the labs program is a Web-based financial tool called Reuters PowerScreener 3.0, which lets users quickly and easily identify strong investment candidates using more than 600 objective criteria. The subscription service ($39.99 per month) offers preset screens and customizable variables and works seamlessly with Excel.
And, if you haven't checked out Reuters.com lately, you might be surprised at the range of news content it makes available for free. The site has been expanded and enhanced and now offers news reports, photos, interactive video, newsblogs (by topic and journalist; http://blogs.reuters.com), RSS feeds for news and video, and e-mail alerts. It also offers Reuters Summits, which are events in which executives from top companies in an industry come to Reuters and meet with journalists who specialize in that industry. Reuters posts exclusive articles and video interviews that result from these meetings. Each Summit focuses on a specific industry, and there are 27 Summits scheduled for 2006.
Founded in London in 1851, Reuters claims to be the world's largest international multimedia news agency—with 2,300 editorial staffers, journalists, photographers, and camera operators in 196 bureaus serving approximately 130 countries. The company also claims to be the largest financial information provider in the world, offering a range of desktop and enterprise products. The venerable news service has always produced excellent content, but initiatives over the last several years are moving the company along to profitability and new growth possibilities in a fast-changing marketplace.