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Communities drawn to good content

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Suzie Daniels, Head of Business media, CNET Networks
Digital publishers should not lose sight of the fact that professional editorial (or ‘head’ content) remains their “centre of gravity”, and is the main reason why users want to be part of their community in the first place, according to Suzie Daniels, head of business media for CNET Networks, speaking at an AOP forum, ‘Building communities around content’, held on 16 January.

Daniels described how CNET Networks, which publishes ZDNet, Silicon.com, Builder UK and Atlarge.com, had based the recent relaunch of ZDNet on principles of Architected Participation espoused by web 2.0 guru Tim O’Reilly: aiming to engage the thought leaders and influencers within the user community.

She described the process of change management involved in redeveloping the site for user-generated content, particularly the importance of getting the editors and journalists on board: “As a digital-only publisher, our main investments are in technology and people. And if you get the people bit wrong then you have no business!”.

ZDNet editors are expected to blog on the site as a matter of course, and are not allowed to hide behind the brand but are required to use their real names: “Users expect transparency and honesty,” she said.

“We are in the era of the software developer again,” said Daniels, “As a content business the editors have always been the ones who must be obeyed. We’ve had to re-engineer our business so that software is at the heart of our organisation.”

Stephen Taylor, regional vice president and managing director for Search and Search Marketing at Yahoo! Europe
Stephen Taylor, regional vice president and managing director for Search and Search Marketing at Yahoo! Europe, said that “the nature of word of mouth recommendations is changing with new technology platforms – people are looking for influencers, but they don’t necessarily need to rely on their social circle anymore.”

He spoke about the challenge that prompted development of Yahoo! Answers: “Enabling users to share knowledge with their community to create a better search experience”.

Yahoo!’s strategy has been to encourage more compelling content that is user-generated, and then build that into the development of other products to improve the proposition.

Taylor added that the product has been good for business too: since introduction to Taiwan in the later part of 2005, social search has enabled people to find things not easy to get through traditional search and had increased Yahoo! market share by roughly 50 per cent to 71 per cent of the search market.

Henry Yates, chief executive
Henry Yates, chief executive described the rationale behind the launch in August 2006 of student networking site Univillage. Having spotted the social networking trend in early 2005, the development plan involved establishing a market presence and technology platform, and delivering a local media platform for students.

An Opinion Panel survey in October 2006 showed that in just two months Univillage had managed to establish a presence among its target community second only to MySpace. Thirty-seven per cent of first year UK students had used Univillage in the past month, compared with 60 per cent having used MySpace, 21 per cent using Facebook, and 20 per cent using Bebo.

Yates sees the site’s success as being driven by its focus on localness, which its competitors lack: “Students can find all the great music gigs on the site, but they’re not in LA, they’re in Newcastle.”

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