Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Web Site is the Machine: Answers.com Finds Powerful Context via The New York Times

Answers.com has a wealth of reference content aimed at both consumers and professionals that has brought it a solid audience and strong revenues. Nevertheless it lingers oftentimes in the shadow of Wikipedia's growing online following - in spite of incorporating Wikipedia as a key source in its own product. How to get more visibility and contextual value for the product? Having links from Google's search results page on an experimental basis hasn't hurt (look for the "definition" link up on the right hand side), but something more was needed to accelerate growth. That something is coming in the form of an announcement of a new deal with The New York Times that brings Answer.com's "one-click answers" to New York Times news viewers - without the hassle of a user software installation.

From any online NYT article (NOTE - not on headline pages) any reader can point at a word, press the ALT key on their keyboards and while doing so do a mouse click. Up will pop a NYT-branded window into Answers.com reference content (demo) that applies to the selected word or phrase. This elimination of the user software download enabled via a simple piece of code added to content pages makes this a completely natural function that adds immediate value to the site's content. In doing so both the Answers.com brand and the site's brand gain prestige and value also. That's important from the Answers.com perspective because their database contains many branded content sources that deserve the recognition that high-quality content partners can provide. From the New York Times perspective it enables their content to be seen as a more high-quality source of reference for people who like to dig into topics.

This is but one completed deal for Answers.com but clearly the simplicity and elegance of the solution are going to make this a popular option amongst destination content sites, most especially sites oriented towards news and research. What's missing is some compact little icon equivalent to the little buttons now prevalent on Web sites equipped with RSS feeds that will alert users to the availability of the feature. Will this little graphic become as prevalent on sites as much as RSS buttons? Perhaps not, but with the simplicity of implementation and the power of contextual content becoming ever more important in content product development there's reason to think that Answers.com may be on to a solution that will have very broad appeal. In having done so they may have created a content contextualization tool with far broader potential for marketing content than even their current plans encompass.
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