Business

Personal News Aggregators Promise To Alter Web Use

A new breed of news aggregators could provide Web users with personal control over their content feeds and force portals and other e-commerce companies that rely on content to reach their audience to rethink their approaches.

While the jury is still out on the eventual impact of Web logs, or blogs, on Internet use, few analysts doubt that they have accelerated the democratization of the Internet by giving users a vastly wider array of choices from where to get their news and information.

Until recently, finding and reading appropriate blogs often meant extensive searching and clicking through a number of sites. However, news aggregators are beginning to change that by enabling users to create their own pages based upon informal news feeds from blogs and other sources.

Only the Beginning

The rise of aggregators such as Newsgator.com, Bloglines and Feedster have already begun to pressure traditional portals to open up their content. MSN has enabled users to choose from hundreds of news feeds, many of them nontraditional sources of information, placing the blog news alongside traditional fare such as CNN and Slate.

Aggregation is seen as a key for unlocking any revenue potential from blogs, because it will enable ads to be sold on them far more efficiently. In other words, just as consumers can’t track all blogs on their own, advertisers are hard pressed to so as well.

Portals have long viewed the ability to consolidate and control content an important part of their online roles. By simplifying the online life of users, they become favorite haunts that users return to over and over to view the latest news and begin their online excursions. That theory led to massive investments that resulted in sites such as Google News and the Yahoo equivalent.

E-Commerce Embraces Blogging

Just how disruptive the technology of blogging has the power to be has been underscored by recent developments as well. Already, podcasting, or the equivalent of radio-style blogging, has become an underground phenomenon. Also, Google just this week began to lay the groundwork for what could become a video blogging network.

E-commerce companies so far are eager to embrace the blogging trend. Amazon’s search subsidiary, A9.com, has launched an open-source, syndicated search approach that can enable blog publishers to have search, and paid search, fed into their sites.

Also, optimists say the blogging trend might actually lead to better e-commerce and improved portal services being targeted to users. Because blogs are inherently personal, they can help advertisers and retailers find and target users on a far more specific level than is currently possible, said Chris Sherman, associate editor of Search Engine Watch.

Sherman noted that when Ask Jeeves bought blog publishing software firm Bloglines, it was gaining access to a huge store of personal information.

“By knowing what blogs people access and publish, they can aggregate personal data to reveal consumer interest patterns,” Sherman said.

That in turn can allow the type of targeted ads and merchant offers that are more likely to result in sales.

Hedging Bets

Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li told the E-Commerce Times that blogs are similar to social networks, which many portals have bought into or formed on their own. Often, they’ve done so without knowing clearly where the business model lies.

“No one wants to miss a trend,” Li said. “There is a sense that over time, the revenue models will start to develop and these will be important investments to be a part of.”

There is widespread belief that consumers will continue to look to online news sites and portals to filter out the flood of information, a role that in fact might become more important as the sheer volume of information available grows.

Because blog aggregation and other technology is still relatively inexpensive to develop or acquire, the large Internet companies can essentially hedge their bets with blogging plays, Li added.

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