Monday, November 14, 2005

Gather.com Introduces Powerful New Tools to Build Valuable User-Generated Media

The official launch of Gather.com was announced today, ushering in a powerful new set of tools to help individual authors to mingle their content with professional publishers in an online system designed to reward authors for their content's popularity and quality. Publishing via Gather is about as simple as any well-designed weblogging or social content interface, with the plus of easy-to-use keywording and categorization tools. But the real fun of Gather comes into focus once you hit the "publish" button. Your content is integrated into the Gather publishing community, which includes content both from individual contributors and content authored by contributors to public radio stations. Articles in Gather are sorted by highest user ratings, most read, favorite topics and by the pick of Gather editors. Publishing allows authors to accumulate Gather points, similar to frequent flier miles that will be redeemable for additional Gather services or for goods and services via participating online merchants. Popular content that's rated highly gets more points for participants, so there's an incentive to publish in the portal first.

The initial Gather.com site's content is colored by its use of public radio content as the anchor for attracting like-minded authors and readers to this online community, which is not a bad thing if you're an advertiser trying to reach the generally upscale and more female adult demographic found in this audience. Not everyone out there will be interested in the exploits of FarmGirl Susan, but for those that are in this mix it's an attractive range of content. Obviously this is a general technology that can be used to develop content for many kinds of specific communities, as well as to provide content that can be syndicated into other content channels looking to attract communities sharing affinity with their own content. From that perspective think of this initial introduction of Gather as a high-quality demo of what could be used for a wider variety of audiences. Also valuable in this community is the ability to view social networks of people who are authoring in the Gather environment, so that you can figure out how to get intros to authors and comment posters in the Gather community. It's probably the most effective integration of social networks with high-quality content out there today.

While Gather is not a true replacement for weblogs that offer individual authors the opportunity to develop their own independent authoring persona and publishing brand value, it is a well-designed alternative channel for weblog-like content. Gather can give talented independent authors an opportunity to be discovered and ranked by a broader audience base than is generally found in the somewhat closed community of webloggers sharing links. It avoids the "impresario" approach of talent development taken by recently acquired Weblogs Inc. and allows authors to gain financial benefits as their content rises in user esteem: the audience itself becomes the impresario. Not everyone is cut out for tweaking their content for search engines and trackbacks to gain ad dollars, so this offers less entrepreneurial authors not concerned with content ownership issues a middle ground that can build some brand value while broadening their exposure. Gather would benefit from recognizing that general technology for publishing community-building is only as good as the communities that it attracts and work actively to create additional Gather-branded communities that look and feel like distinct gathering places. With a reseller/affiliate program Gather could provide an attractive piece of infrastructure for magazine publishers looking to do the same with their audiences in an easily managed environment. But for now Gather represents an interesting and powerful new example of how well-packaged user generated media can form a powerful publishing resource that appeals to authors, audiences and advertisers alike.
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