For a couple of years now, the team at WotNews (formerly Plugger) have been using semantic technology to change the way people access and use news. They’ve done it through the self-titled site Wotnews and its Australian, UK and US sites, through the super-popular WeAreHunted and CelebrityHunted and through a leading edge Australian share-trading platform called Macquarie Edge.
The team has now decided to tackle one of the toughest questions in the realm of digital content at the moment – Is there a sustainable business model for news in an era when people don’t want to pay for content the way they used to and supporting industries like advertising and classifieds have been dominated by new, more efficient players?
Their new project, TeamStream, is a new service developed to try and answer that question,
I managed to catch up with TeamStream Founder and Lead Programmer, Stephen Phillips, for his first official interview on the service and to speak about the current state of the news industry, the challenges his team faced and how they plan on changing the way that value can be created around news.
So Stephen, thanks for taking the time to talk to TheNextWeb. Can you talk me through TeamStream ?
Hi Kim, well put simply, TeamStream is a better way for companies to read the news.
It provides a collaborative, team-based approach to news reading combining a proprietary semantic search platform with the latest in social technologies. To do that, TeamStream filters thousands of news sources in near real-time, letting users create custom channels ensuring they receive the news they need. The TeamStream platform then allows users to put the news to work within their organisation and seamlessly share, annotate, discuss and save it as they go. This process unlocks the collective intelligence within enterprise providing the social and technological tools to maximise its relevance, timeliness and value.
In all we use 3 different ways to create value around providing news:
- Aggregation (Distillation) – Using Wotnews’ proprietary aggregation platform, 1000s of news sources are aggregated into a single clean feed.
- Channels (Filtration) – Users can create channels in relevant interest areas.
- Human Analysis (Insight) – Users can share, annotate, discuss and save the news as it happens meaning others within the organisation can stay on top of the most important daily events.
How did you guys make the progression from WotNews to TeamStream?
Wotnews is a single user experience. Users can search and track topics in the news from a large variety of Australian news sources. The site has done extraordinarily well for us winning two Australian Web Awards this year for best news site and growing steadily to around 700k visitors per month and thousands of registered members.
At the start of the year we launched US and UK versions of the site to provide the same experience but with localised content. While the sites share the same functionality, they have distinct content sources.
During the year we also launched a music news site called We Are Hunted (WAH) and a celebrity news site called Celebrity Hunted based on the same Wotnews architecture. WAH has enjoyed amazing success and really opened up our tech to a global audience.
All of these sites are free to use and we plan to keep it that way.
A few months ago we commenced a development project to bring the content from these disparate sites together into a single service that we could monetize effectively.
What we noticed looking at the member activity across the sites is how many users from the same organisation were using our sites to track topics in the news. We could see a lot of duplicate activity and sensed that a lot of collaboration was happening, quite ineffectively via email, outside our system. We could see that there was an opportunity to provide tools to allow people from the same organisation to read and share news much more effectively. This would both save time and better capture the knowledge being expressed in a form that could be saved, searched and shared with others across the organisation.
So that outlined our goals for TeamStream.
And what are those goals?
- Bring all the news content together, searchable and trackable inside a single service. We are processing about an article per second each and every day.
- Allow users to create private teams so they can share and collaborate in privacy during the news discovery and analysis process.
- Expose a lot more of the analytics we have that have not been surfaced before. Give users the hard news metrics they need to benchmark and measure news activity. We think a lot of the media monitoring products are slow and over priced for what they do. We believe that TeamStream is a much cheaper, more effective media monitoring tool for small to medium sized organisations.
So in summary, the goal of TeamStream is to make your staff more effective news consumers. Simply, it provides a better way for companies to read the news. While it builds on the Wotnews architecture, it’s focus on community and collaboration make it quite distinct in it’s purpose.
The first task of bringing the content together was primarily a technical challenge given the volume of news to be aggregated and the requirement to deliver the news as fast as possible. We need to visit 10,000+ news publishers worldwide and retrieve and process their news articles within minutes of them being published. We have invested a lot of energy into this feature and we are told by independent sources that our delivery is faster than anyone else, even the big guys like Reuters.
The second task of building a closed network for users is less technical and more of a user experience challenge. Luckily several sites have established proven models for doing this effectively. We borrowed a lot of ideas from Twitter, LinkedIn and Spotify. The key idea is to make it as easy as possible for users to find other news readers inside their organisation and share and comment on what they are reading. So we adopted the Twitter ‘follow’ model to make this happen. Users can follow each other and read what their colleagues recommend and comment. Users can follow individual publishers to receive all the news they publish. And finally users can follow and create custom news channels to track specific topics, people or organisations in the news. These custom news channels are very powerful. You can setup a custom boolean search expression combined with a bunch of filters to get exactly the type of news you are looking for.
The custom channels provide the basis for the third key TeamStream feature, rich News Analytics. Once you create a channel, TeamStream collates rich analytics similar to a media monitoring service. You can use these numbers to benchmark news activity across time and export the data for internal anlaysis alongside internal metrics such as media spend.
For most users the collaboration features will provide the most value. For marketers and PR users, the analytics will provide the most value.
And what about Google and it’s renewed efforts in the News space. Are you worried about that?
We love that Google continues to innovate the news experience. Their new Fast Flip product and their new news customization features are great examples of continuous innovation. While the publishers are focused on charging for content, it is the aggregators who are trying to innovate, experiment and actually improve the news experience. Trying to take it to a new level that people will actually pay for.
A lot of people comment to us that we must be crazy to be in the same space as Google. Everyone knows they have more money and smarter techs than nearly anyone else, but we don’t think that matters. The great thing about the web is that it is a battle of ideas and execution, not money. If it was, the big companies would always win, but they don’t. A solid idea and a small group of talented developers prepared to innovate aggressively can compete with any company in the world.
Google News is a great single user news experience. Wotnews is our competitor in this space. And we think our Australian site, in Australia at least, is a superior product mainly due to our local knowledge. They are much stronger in the USA but we are growing fast.
TeamStream’s competitors are companies like NewsGator. They have been going great guns recently with their Microsoft SharePoint integration. That is the market we are going for. We think our product is faster, simpler and more web-like in its execution. We also have the advantage of essentially free marketing to the near 1 million business news readers who visit our network of news sites each month.
It seems that the idea of paywalls or some other sort of paid service is becoming popular again in the eyes of large news organisations . How will that affect TeamStream?
We really hope that the publishers will start charging for news content soon. They should be rewarded for the value they create just like everyone else. It makes it difficult for news aggregators like us to charge for something that is essentially free. Once the publishers start charging, aggregators will be able to develop new payment models to share in the value. With We Are Hunted we have been fortunate to work with the guys from Spotify and have seen how they are transforming the music space. After a decade of mostly failed monetization efforts, the Spotify model of flat monthly subscription for all you can eat music may save the industry.
We think that news publishers, instead of calling aggregators names, should be working together to develop an open model for syndicating content and thereby creating a new marketplace for the next generation of news apps to emerge.
If the big publishers start doing what the record labels are doing right now, and start licencing news aggregators to resell their premium content for flat monthly fees, I believe we will see an explosion of new models for enhancing the news experience. This will save and grow the industry into the future. The lesson from the music industry is for publishers to not try and solve the problem themselves, but create a marketplace for the web entrepreneurs to innovate and solve the problem organically for them.
We are talking to publishers now trying to get them to let us sell premium versions of their content. We will continue to move in this direction aggressively. Once the paywalls go up, we want to be in a position where we have some of the world’s largest companies paying us a monthly subscription to consume news. We will then be in a strong position to charge extra to sell premium content.
And what are you guys are planning on charging for the service?
In December 2009 TeamStream will come out of its Beta phase and launch as a monthly subscription based service.
Pricing will depend on team size though the overall cost will be less than $1/user /day with additional discounts for larger networks.
Cool, well thanks for your time, I appreciate it, and all the best with TeamStream
No problem. Hopefully we’ll have lots of good news for you in the near future