Final Thoughts on NYT

I have been clocking in considerable time with nytimes.com over the past few months, and I feel like I have really gotten to know the site. Here are some nifty features that I’ve found:

Today’s Paper: the actual printed version online, not the flashed-up homepage.

Most Popular: see what stories are drawing the most attention. Pretty interesting!!!

Times Topics: search news by topic.

Times People: share articles and more Delicious-style.

Global Edition: includes more world news, although the US slant is still drastic.

Times Widgets: a library of tools, from financial data to film reviews, you can add to your website or blog.

Time Machine: an AMAZING tool that lets you flip though past issues of the NYT – all the way back to the first edition in 1851!!! It spans from the 1850s through the 1920s. I am not sure why it stops in the 20s. Maybe they are still adding??? You can look at the paper from when the Titanic went down or at the news from 100 years ago today. Obviously, this is an invaluable resource that standard papers just can’t offer.

I have become a loyal online reader. I have gotten into the routine of sitting down at the computer with my cup of coffee and reading nytimes.com each morning. It is reminiscent of the olden days when people use to sit down with those crumply, hard-to keep-organized things called newspapers, just more efficient.

I have set nytimes.com as my homepage, so I actually see it more than once over the course of the day. I don’t usually click into it after I read it in the morning, but every now and then there is breaking news that draws me back in. I like the feeling of being updated with the news every time I log on.

The site has recently been posting ads for an Adobe Air powered TimesReader 2.0 for $3.45 per week, but I think that I am fine with the free version for now. I might consider the paid version when I return to the States and rekindle my relationship with the iPhone, since the 2.0 version seems to been far better for reading on the go than the homepage. That is, as long as the free version remains free until December.

It seems that the company will unveil a new business plan very soon. Here’s a MediaMemo article on the possible directions NY Times could take when implementing a payment plan for online content. And just today they announced they’d added a “social media editor”.

I am excited by this new period in news. My prediction is that journalism – real researched, fact-checked, objective writing – will remain valuable.. I go to nytimes.com for my news because I trust it as a source, and I think that trust will most definitely retain its value – and maybe even be the hot stock of the future.

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Group Update 4

When coming up with the idea that eventually became UpUrAlley.com, I spent a considerable amount of time mapping out the brand, business plan, content structure, etc. and organizing it into a document that I could refer to throughout our group meetings.  I cut down the document considerably for the web treatment assignment, to try to fit it within the 500-word limit, but I have been constantly referring to my original plan as we’ve been building the website. I figured I would post it here in case anyone is interested in the thinking behind UpUrAlley and as an easy reference for the rest of the group.

AUDIENCE

Demographic Information

Age: College age (both undergraduate and post grad students), roughly 18-30

Gender: All

Occupation: Students at Melbourne University and RMIT

Race: Mix of both Australian and International students

-A 2007 study from the Victorian Government, Melbourne, states that in Victoria the nationality of international students is divided as follows: 25% India, 23% PR China, 6% Malaysia, 4% South Korea, 4% Indonesia, 4% Hong Kong, 4% Sri Lanka, 3% Thailand, 3% Vietnam, 2% Singapore, 2% Japan, 2% Pakistan, 17% other countries.

Although the statistics listed above are a bit dated, they are sufficient to support that the audience will be primarily Australians but with a substantial international presence.

Income: Most students are on a limited budget, but reports show that they still spending money on things other than school.

-According to the 1997 Australian International Education Foundation estimate, international students spend $280 per week ($14,560 per annum) on non-education related expenses.

Although no published reports have been reviewed, it is assumed that most students have income from full-time jobs, part-time work, and/or their parents, and while they may not have large incomes, the also have few financial responsibilities and therefore have the potential to spend a large portion of their disposable income on social activities.

Interests: The primary interests of students when they first arrive at school are finding rental housing, work, and getting to know the area. Students are a very social group, and although their specific interests may vary, most spend time hanging out at restaurants, cafes, bars, and movies. They are often in search of a good deal, such as happy hours and student specials, and almost always looking for places where other students are hanging out.

Overall Audience Numbers: All students at Melbourne University and RMIT are potential visitors.

-According to “International Students in Victorian Universities”, a report created by the Auditor General Victoria and published in 2002, in 2001 RMIT had 17,056 Australian students and 10,197 international students. University of Melbourne had 21,588 Australian students and 5,550 international students.

And trends show that the number of college students at these two universities increases each year. This means that every year new members will be added to the audience. It is also true that as students graduate, there is the potential to loose them as viewers, but hopefully after years of using the site, they will continue to use it as a resource for as long as they remain in the area.

It is safe to assume that since the audience is students, they will all have regular access to computers and be fairly savvy web users.

General Audience Notes: If more details audience details were necessary, data could be collected fairly easily by surveying people in the area to be covered.

Competitors

Possible Competitors: Housing sites like realestate.com, job-search sites like seek.com, and social event sites like thatsmelbourne.com.au are potential competitors for the housing, job, and social event sections of the site, respectively. EZ Street will set itself apart from housing, job, and social event sites by offering information about all three of these categories in one location. Also, because the site will be highly focused geographically, it will offer more in depth information that sites that cover Melbourne, Victoria, or Australia in general.

The sites’s most direct competitor may be lygonst.com. Currently, this site provides limited information on accommodation (hotels), restaurants, and attractions on Lygon Street, although there is a note on the homepage that the site is undergoing “radical changes”. Even if the quantity and quality of the content on the site improves, the audience will remain different: lygonst.com is focused on tourists, ezstreet.com will be focused on students.

Effect of Competitors on Audience Size: Initially, established housing sites, job-search sites, and social event sites will have a huge impact on the audience. It will take dynamic, useful content to draw users away from other sites, but the benefit of getting all of this information in one place combined with the community aspect of EZ Street will lure a loyal local set of users.

Visitor Estimates

• Unique Visitors: There is a potential for 50,000 unique visitors (based on the number of students at the University of Melbourne and RMIT).

• Total Visitors: It is expected that the number of total visitors will be significantly higher than the unique visitors as the site is designed to be a place that users visit regularly, say daily to a few times per week. Even if only half of the potential audience visits only twice a week, that’s still millions of viewers per year (2.6 million).

CONTENT

Site Overview

• Site: ezstreet.com/ EZ Street

Site Summary (including general ideas, feature ideas): A guide to everything happening on Lygon Street that caters to the exact interests of the student user with information about what’s happening right where they live, work, and hangout while building a sense of community that allows users to mutually benefit from adding to and taking from the site.

Content Overview

Staff Generated Content: Initially, a handful (10-15) of short (25-50 words) and medium length (250 words) stories will be commissioned to get some content on the site. After a user base has been generated, there will be no staff content.

• User Generated Content: After users have been established, all of the content will come from the users. Almost all of the content will be in the form of short, casual posts added by users (say a post on a flat for rent, a shop that is hiring, or a group of footy fans that are meeting at a pub).

Each month there will be one paid user story that looks at one of the site’s categories in detail. As users add posts, they will get “credits” for contributing content. All posts will be reviewed and rated by other users and a post’s rating will translate into additional credits for the person that posted it. At the end of each month, the user with the most credits will be asked to write a 250-word story on a specific topic (say the rental situation in the area or the best deals on winter coats) and will be paid either in cash or in credits at a local restaurant, bar, or shop. This feature will not only encourage contributions but will also serve as quality control.

“Need-Based” Content: The site’s “Live” and “Work” sections will be considered the “need-based” content. It will extremely valuable to new users, but will have only occasional value to other users.

“Want-Based” Content: The “Play” section of the site will be non-essential information, but will be the type of posts that attract frequent visits over a long-term period (like bar reviews and information about happy hours).

Frequency

Expected Visit Frequency: Weekly, with some visitors visiting multiple times a week or even daily

Frequency of Content Updates: It is reasonable to assume that in time users will post new content daily

Future Ideas

Expansion: This site could easily be expanded to cover other streets and other university areas. There is enormous potential in the Melbourne area. It is likely that there is potential in other parts of Australia and beyond, although at this point no research has been done on potential competitors in other areas.

Innovations: Initially updates will only be accessible online, but this site has great potential for mobile updates, which could be a feature that users pay for.

BUDGET

Summary

Revenue: Revenue would come from selling ad space to local businesses, including restaurants, bars, retail shops, movie theatres, etc. Not only are there a lot of business on Lygon Street, but business in the vicinity would also be interested in advertising to our audience. Initially, ads would need to be inexpensive, but as the number of users increase, the price of ads could increase, too.

Businesses like Safeway, Cinema Nova, Readings, Tiamo, Grill’d, and other Lygon Street shops could easily benefit from advertising with EZ Street.

There is also potential to create revenue via paid subscriptions to email and mobile updates, but this revenue would come down the road.

Expenditure: The most expensive period for this site will be the start up. To launch the site, a staff of writers and at least one designer would be necessary but after the site is established, one full-time web editor and one full-time sales person should be sufficient. As innovations are introduced, additional staff might be needed.

Each month, there will be an expense for the paid user story. It might be possible to get local businesses to sponsor this with gift certificates to their shops.

Budget Outline

Expenditure

Item Cost

Web Editor                                                $35,000 per year

Freelance Startup Content                        $1,000 (2000 words at $.50 per word)

Freelance Designer                                    $5,000 for three months part-time work

User Content                                                $1,200 ($100 per month)

Total Expenditure (1st year):            $42,200

Income

Item Income

Advertising Level 1:                                    $24,000 ($100 per month, with 20 advertisers)

Advertising Level 2:                                    $24,000 ($200 per month, with 10 advertisers)

Subscriptions:                                    N/A first year, but potential future revenue

Total Revenue (1st year):                        $48,000

Based on the above, the site should break even towards the end of the first year, and start to see profits as the number of advertisers increase.

Group Update 3

We’re still plugging along on UpUrAlley.com. I spent most of the day adding content to the site and blog. I think it’s really coming along, if I do say so myself.

Since our site is location based, we’ve used Google Maps to create personalized maps of the places we are mentioning. The tool is super easy to use and it creates a visual that is both very relevant and kind of attractive. To check out our maps, visit our blog. To create your own, visit the My Maps section of Google Maps. And to embed it into a website or blog, simply click the Link button on the top right and copy and paste the HTML.

Another nifty tool we are using is the “User” plugin on WordPress. This allows us to go an make tweaks as ourselves instead of all of us sharing the administrator handle. It also plugs in bylines, which is a bonus.

Murder and Prostitution Find Their Way Into Online Community

As I have mentioned before, one of the websites that I use(d) the most is Craigslist. Recently, Craiglist has come up against some interesting and serious issues: murder and prostitution.

The company is in a legal battle over pornographic pictures and prostitution ads on its South Carolina sites, and recently a woman was murdered when she responded to a Craigslist posting (the accused is being called “The Craiglist Killer — a PR nightmare to top the Dominos YouTube debacle).

As online communities begin to face the same problems as off-line communities, I wonder if there is a need for regulation of online activities. After reading the chapter from Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture, I was all “let the creativity flow, man,” and I was outraged to think that the media could be stifling us without our knowledge. BUT at the same time I am not totally opposed to the idea of the government openly restricting online activity. I see the need for protection in the web world — both for individuals and companies.

Here’s an article on state regulation of MySpace and a more informal story on state regulation of online communities in general. And here is a paper on social self regulation and Wikipedia.

When I sat down to write our code of conduct for UpUrAlley.com, I kept these articles in mind. In the end, I decided really I just hope people will treat the people in their online community the way they would treat people in their actual community. And personally, I’ve always thought the golden rule way a darn good way to the gauge the acceptability of behavior (for proof see UpUrAlley’s Code of Conduct). Maybe it’s just that simple???

Group Update 2

19 May

UpUrAlley.com is live!!! Please check it out and let us know what you think!

Our site is alive and kicking thanks to some hard work this past week and a long group meeting this past weekend. Of course there is still lots of work to be done, but we came up with a plan for that this weekend, too. We’ve divided up the content and code writing, and we should have even more to show off in the next few days.

We spent a lot of time on Sunday discussing what is feasible. We have dedicated numerous discussions to our business model, and so we have a very solid idea of where we would like this site to go as it grows. Trouble is finding that sweet spot just after we’ve nurtured it enough for it to grow legs and just before we take on more than we can successfully cultivate within the time we have.

One whistle we know we want is a sidebar of info from Tweet Grid, a nifty little guy that feeds Tweets on your topic of choice into your website. I am working on setting up an UpUrAlley account now. More on Tweet Grid soon …

Note: This post was intended to go up on the 19th, but it seems the gnomes that live in my computer had other plans for it. I just noticed today that it never turned up on the front page, so here it is.

Google Goss

In delayed follow up to our class conversation on Google Earth, here’s an example of a company that is making good use of the tool. The link leads to a story with links to Google Earth so that you can get the idea even if you down have Google Earth. If you have Google Earth, just follow the highlighted links.

And here’s a story on a company that’s giving Google Earth/Google Street View a run for their money — at least in the creative department.

And finally, Google decides that it will stick to being where we go to link to news and not actually create the content (buy a newspaper). Here’s the story and an interview with Google’s Schmidt.

Group Update 1

Our group has come up to full speed. After a couple of weeks of casually discussing possible directions we could go in, we got together for a few hours — armed with an agenda — and  and banged out the hosting, content, and structure plan for our site. Now we are ready to really move.

We are going to start by focusing on the homepage and the more straightforward sections of the site. A couple of sections, specifically the job and rental posting areas, are sparking a debate on whether we should sell the spots to boost our revenue plan or offer them for free to fuel user-created content. We discussed competitors and the models they use, but there’s a real variety out there. For example, MediaBistro.com charges for all of its job postings, while Craigslist.com has paid job postings in some cities and free job postings in others. Craigslist also charges for a rental posting in some cities and lets users post free housing ads in other places. All of the housing postings on Domain.com.au are paid spots.

At this point, we are thinking we might try paid job postings and free rental postings so that we can see how the two options behave once they are live.

Another on-going discussion has centered on image usage issues. We are covering some businesses on Lygon Street, and many of the restaurants in the area have websites with nice art on them. Trouble is, we are not sure what sort of copyright issues we need to watch out for. We are assuming we would need clearance from the companies to use images from their website on ours, so we have decided to take our own pictures at least for now. I am looking into Australian copyright laws … but until I have slogged through the facts, I am off to grab some snapshots!