Newspapers and Home Pages: Getting Personal

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Business 2.0’s Erick Shoenfeld writes an exclusive on his blog on the next version of the Pageflakes personalized home page. It looks to be a compelling and elegant product that should meet the rising demand for personalized features online.

It also has a nice set of widgets that can be personalized and planted on other Web sites blogs or social networks to gain stickiness and viral marketing. This is in line with (or inverse to) Facebook’s astute strategy to break down its walls to the widgetization and third-party application development that will add value to its network.

Personalization is quickly becoming a tenet of whatever is the amorphous concept of “Web 2.0.” (My favorite quote of late comes from Tim O’Reilly: “If a company advertises themselves as ‘Web 2.0’, that means they’re probably not.”) Though the term is vague and often peppers the marketing-speak that clouds realistic analysis, it has taken some realistic form to signify social features, Ajax functionality, media-rich capability and personalization. Just be wary of the term Web 3.0 that is starting to rear its ambiguous head (though some claim that this has legitimate connotation to the “semantic Web“).

Anyway, there are only a handful of personalized home pages out there, such as Netvibes. These join the longstanding My Yahoo!, which is a great tool (full disclosure: I’m a dedicated user) and frankly an under-marketed asset by Yahoo!. Still it holds the lion’s share of RSS subscribers. Both Pageflakes and Netvibes meanwhile have sleek interfaces and lots of personalization tools to bring in news feeds, weather, sports, even e-mail and IM, through their own Web-based clients for each.

Newspapers: Time to Get in the Game

As we point out in a White Paper that will be released this week on newspaper online strategies, the opportunity exists for newspapers to maintain their readers that have migrated online by building these types of personalization tools on their Web sites.

Though the pulling in of content (even from competing papers) goes against the walled garden mentality that has ruled their offline model for over a century, this can create stickiness in a set of features that keeps readers coming back to a home page that has utility in a one-stop shop for national news, weather, sports and e-mail. But, importantly, it also maintains the local relevance of hometown paper. The New York Times (My Times) and LA Times (MyLATimes) and a few others have started to do this to a certain degree.

Bring in local news, classifieds, directory content, video, hyper-local social aspects and high school box scores, and you just might have an edge on the online pure-plays. The best part is that this brings the comprehensive experiences available with online news aggregators and personalized national news feeds, with something that the Googles and Yahoo!s of the world can’t replicate: local flavor and trust.

The trust issue is clear in the branding that newspapers have developed for decades in their local markets. If they can just back this up with solid online functionality a la Pageflakes, they have a clear marketing advantage over a company that sounds like a new kind of breakfast cereal. True, they don’t have the technical chops to pull it off, but I can think of a few companies that do.

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