Monday, January 8, 2007

Out-Blogging Blogs?: Reed Business Information Launches Content Agenda

The announcement of ContentAgenda, a new Beta-version online publication from Reed Business Information, is perhaps not ground-breaking in the general scheme of online publications, but it is a very impressive stab by a major B2B media company providing coverage that probes deep into the style and substance of many of today's leading weblog news sources using a variety of mainstream sources and site-specific weblogs.

Shocker number one: News content is being sourced from a wide variety of non-RBI mainstream news outlets provided via Reed's LexisNexis division. Shocker number two: this third party content from LexisNexis is being provided with both banner and scraper ads and ads from Google's AdSense program. Semi-shocker number three: unlike most business-oriented news sites from major B2B media companies the design is genuinely good and appealing within its parameters, with excellent navigation throughout and a relatively uncluttered look and feel. Non-shockers: no comments on news articles - only on blogs, feeds are headlines-only, in testing thus far weblog content that's part of the native LexisNexis set via Newstex is not included.

There are a number of bloggers already providing content and bloggers are being actively invited to find a home at ContentAgenda, specifically those focused on "the new entertainment industry." ContentAgenda is clearly a shot at weblogs such as paidContent.org, which has built up both a strong core following for its primarily entertainment-oriented online media coverage via an expanding network of journalists supporting the ContentNext family of weblogs. With the successful string of ContentNext mixers recently the now-proven ability of this and other weblogs to develop their own events revenues must also be an appealing proposition to RBI and other B2B publishers looking to focus in on elbowing out competition for new revenue streams.

ContentAgenda is an interesting mix of mainstream news supplemented with weblog opinion that brings LexisNexis news content into a whole new repurposed editorial light focused on very specific industry topics. The news is timely and focused on three main categories - discs and downloads, policy and IP, content and commerce - and the weblogs seem to be fairly decent. Pulling mainstream news from across a wide range of publications is a huge plus, providing a relatively agnostic approach to news aggregation in an ad-supported environment that takes this kind of aggregation beyond search engines such as Topix that are good in their own right but lack human-powered editorial focus.

This is about as good a job at this sort of new-style online trade publication as you're likely to see out of a B2B media company. It's leveraging internal subscription database assets for a focused media publication in a whole new way that's exciting to see from the both the perspective of LexisNexis and from the news organizations that support it. It's in a way turning the LexisNexis database into an asset that can be positioned in a way similar to wire services such as AP that may provide news licensors new ways to position their content for very focused audiences and ad revenues that would be more difficult to attain through individual licensing deals.

The potential weak spot in this new concept is the division between blogs and mainstream news sources. There's a stubborn strain in mainstream journalism which seems to say that weblogs and other social media are fine for random rants and insights but not good vehicles for providing breaking news. This insistence on separating "real news sources" from weblogs is probably necessary in the short run to gain the confidence and comfort of the sources supporting a product such as this but in the long run it may tend to reinforce an artificial separation that could keep publications like ContentAgenda from finding an authentic voice that appeals to a very focused community. This is where publications like paidContent.org, which are built around a very person-to-person editorial style and a strong community spirit that drives editorial content through comments, may continue to hold a significant advantage.

For an early stab at a publication of this kind ContentAgenda provides an interesting mix of content and many very useful and polished features that should have a strong appeal to an online audience. For users frustrated with the limitations of search engines - including this user -
a well-focused collection of news and commentary from the widest range of sources possible can be worth its weight in gold. But as an alternative to well-focused weblog properties with strong professional communities tapping into them the going may be a little tougher for a while. Congratulations to Reed Business Information for taking a bold new stab in a very interesting new direction. We'll see how well it pans out, but for now I am reasonably optimistic about its prospects.
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