Take a look at the following table from March 2009 (the data is a bit old but still relevant):

Top Global News Sites, by Unique Visitors: March 2009
Rank Site Unique Audience YOY Change
1 MSNBC Digital Network 39,900,000 9%
2 CNN Digital Network 38,724,000 4%
3 Yahoo! News 37,902,000 16%
4 AOL News 23,604,000 1%
5 NYTimes.com 20,118,000 7%
6 Fox News Digital Network 16,791,000 48%
7 Tribune Newspapers 16,513,000 16%
8 Google News 13,668,000 18%
9 McClatchy Newspaper Network 12,508,000 20%
10 ABCNEWS Digital Network 12,189,000 4%
11 Gannett Newspapers and Newspaper Division 11,609,000 (-11%)
12 USATODAY.com 9,961,000 (-7%)
13 CBS News Digital Network 9,599,000 (-7%)
14 washingtonpost.com 9,367,000 5%
15 BBC 9,022,000 61%
Source: Nielsen Online

As the data shows, hundreds of millions of people around the world read news online. However, while the internet has provided an effective way for people to consume news, it has not provided an effective way for people to engage about news. Given that there is a clear need for this (as my previous post emphasizes), and given that hundreds of millions of people consume news online, Voci.us has incredible potential.

However, potential is only a measure of what’s possible, not of what we will necessarily accomplish. What we will accomplish will depend on our strategy and implementation.

In determining our next steps (strategy, implementation, business model, etc.), one of the key questions we need to answer as a team is whether or not we plan to develop relationships with news sites. The importance we place on news partnerships will have significant implications on the direction we choose to take going forward.

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In my opinion, partnering with news sites (and having our links below their articles) is crucial to the success of Voci.us. By evaluating the alternatives it becomes obvious why:

If readers won’t be able to reach Voci.us by clicking on a link at the bottom of an article, how would they reach the corresponding Voci.us comment page of the article?

1) One option is to have them copy the news link from the browser and paste it onto our site. They’d press submit, and it would take them to the corresponding comment page.

2) The other is to allow users to drag a bookmarklet from our site to their browser, which they’d be able to click whenever they come across an article they want to discuss.

In my opinion these two alternatives are not viable. Here are several reasons why:

1) Both of these alternatives require readers to know about Voci.us before they come across an article of interest. If readers don’t know about our site, they clearly will not copy and paste the news link to Voci.us. They also will not have dragged our bookmarklet onto their browser. In other words, they’ll read the news article as if we do not exist.

2) Even if readers have heard about Voci.us before reading an article of interest, many would likely forget about it as they’re reading the article. It is much easier to remember that something exists when it is right in front of you.

3) For those who have heard about Voci.us and who have not forgetton that it exists as they come across an article of interest, many would simply be turned off by the inconvenience.

4) Another reason these alternatives are not viable has to do with expansion strategy:

When Yelp first launched, it focused on saturating the San Francisco market before expanding elsewhere. Had Yelp opened the site to all markets at once, its initial users (they’d be scattered all around the country) would not find much content about local businesses, and they’d likely never return. Facebook had a similar strategy, saturating the Harvard market and then the ivy leagues before moving onward.

For us to expand successfully, we cannot open up to the whole world at once. If we initially allow users to copy and paste news links from any site across the internet (or click a bookmarklet on any site across the internet), users will end up on empty conversation pages, and will likely never return. I believe we need to initially focus on one news site (or very few) before moving onward to others. This will have the additional benefit of allowing us to learn more about our users and perfect our site before expanding further.

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One might ask why a news site would be willing to partner with us? This is a question we will not be able to answer until we talk to them. However, here are several hypotheses:

1) We would bring new readers to their site. For people to use our service, we’d need to advertise their news site (since our site would revolve around their articles). I believe small news sites would find this valuable.

2) We can share ad revenue with them. But aren’t news sites struggling with ads? Why would our ad revenue interest them?

Because we’d get a ton of pageviews. Unlike social networking sites such as facebook, news sites don’t get a whole lot of page views. While facebook can easily get hundreds of pageviews from a user flipping through photos in a single sitting, news sites would be lucky to get half as many pageviews from a user in an entire week. While users would browse through a news site to consume content, they’d use our site to socialize. This would result in many pageviews, which I believe news sites would be happy to benefit from.

3) We would be able to provide news sites with demographic data on their readers. Right now many news sites don’t know much about their readers. By asking users to sign up through facebook connect, we’d have valuable data that a news site would love to know.

4) We would emphasize that they can cancel their partnership with us if they choose.

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Voci.us has incredible potential. In order for us to achieve this potential, however, we must talk to news sites and understand how we can potentially provide value for them.

-Dan

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