AOL Canada relaunches front page

New AOL Canada front page

AOL Canada has launched its new portal front page, which I previewed a couple of weeks ago.

Pepsi is running full takeover ads on the new page, including the left and right gutters.

Media in Canada has a good rundown of the new design which, unfortunately, is not reflected in the rest of the site – at least not yet.

Another problem with the design: clicking away to a story, then back to “Home” often takes the reader to aol.com rather than aol.ca.

Iran coverage boosts CNN’s iReport traffic

Andy Plesser of Beet.TV quotes a statement by CNN that page views for its user-generated iReport site reached one million on Monday, driven by coverage of post-election protests in Iran.

To put this in perspective, iReport (which was launched in February 2008) averaged 316,000 page views per day in 2008 (9.6 million per month) according to Nielsen Online data reported by CNN. The main news site, cnn.com, averaged about 35 million page views per day, according to comScore numbers quoted by TechCrunch in November.

Plesser says that over the past week, “some 5,000 Iran-related videos and photos have been uploaded to iReport” and that “about 150 of these citizen contributions have been used on the air or on CNN.com after being vetted and verified by the network.”

In a video interview Wednesday with Plesser, iReport senior producer Lila King talks about how the network uses multiple iReports to corroborate information, and how iReport has become part of its world news coverage.

AOL’s new Canadian portal puts it all together

Click here to watch a promo for the new aol.ca design - will open in a new window

AOL Canada is redesigning its portal, aol.ca, to offer Canadian visitors the same improvements introduced to aol.com last September.

The changes, which AOL says are “coming soon”, look good. They extend the portal concept beyond content and services provided by AOL, enabling you to manage a wide range of online activity from what the company obviously hopes will be your homepage.

At aol.ca, you’ll be able to:

  • preview e-mail from other providers such as Yahoo and Gmail without having to leave your AOL homepage
  • preview updates from social networks including AIM, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter
  • customize the left-hand navigation column by adding links to any sites
  • read content from other sites and services, via a built-in RSS reader
  • customize themes, to change the page’s appearance

AOL, which is being split off from Time Warner Inc., is working hard to be the ultimate online destination. That’s a huge change from the company’s origins as a dial-up internet service provider which sought to keep its customers inside the proverbial “walled garden” of its own content.

Bloggers help Globe & Mail create Toronto hub

Globe and Mail Toronto Hub announcementOne of Canada’s two national newspapers, the Globe and Mail, is going after Toronto readers with help from local blog site Torontoist.

In an announcement on the Globe’s website late Friday night, Toronto editor Kelly Grant [pictured with the announcement] said the newspaper had created an online Toronto hub that would include material from Torontoist, in addition to features such as a Toronto traffic page incorporating Twitter feeds.

The Globe would also increase its city hall staff from two to four.

Torontoist editor David Topping described the agreement as a content-sharing partnership, but didn’t say whether Torontoist would publish Globe and Mail content in return.

The arrangement doesn’t appear to be content-sharing in the usual sense, but rather link-sharing. So far at least, if you click on a Torontoist story from the Globe and Mail site, the story opens on Torontoist, giving the blog site a nice traffic boost.

NY Times considers another run at paid web content

New York Times

When it comes to funding online news, most ideas revolve around either wringing more dollars from advertisers, or somehow convincing consumers to pay for access to content.

The New York Times continues to explore the latter approach, despite the disappointing returns from the Times Select pay wall which was dismantled in 2007 after two years of operation. [For more on Times Select, watch this video interview with former Times VP-Digital Vivian Schiller.]

Writing in the New York Observer today, John Koblin quotes Times executive editor Bill Keller as telling staff this week that the company is consider two options:

  • Allow users to view content freely, then charge if they go over a certain limit
  • Invite users to contribute voluntarily through a NY Times membership – the benefits of which could include access to special online content

Jeff Jarvis lampoons the first idea, pointing out that it (like other content payment ideas) discourages readers from doing exactly what websites want: spending more time on site, and viewing more content.

Readers’ inner dialogue is not hard to imagine: ‘Uh-oh, should I read that next story – and see that ad and maybe find something worth linking to and bring in other readers? It might start costing me. I’d better conserve my Times characters; they’re adding up; already read 20,000 of them. I think it’s time to go elsewhere now.’

The second approach is hard to imagine taking hold – although at least in the United States there is a tradition of voluntary financial support for public broadcasting from individuals and institutions. And really, isn’t membership-based access to content just another way of saying “paying for content”? The challenge for the Times will be to make that fly in a way that Times Select couldn’t.

Koblin says Times execs will make a decision by next month.

Newspaper group will stop ’shovelling’

MediaNews Group plans to reduce the amount of content from its 54 daily newspapers that it makes available for free on the papers’ websites.

The move was announced Wednesday and reported today on sltrib.com, a MediaNews website, which quoted company president Jody Lodovic:

“The strategy is about creating a different audience online and not about shoveling that day’s [newspaper] content online for free. It’s about creating options for people getting their news in different ways.”

The Tribune said no launch date or pricing had been announced.

…Lodovic painted a picture that he likened to how telephone and cable television companies “bundle” their services into packages with different levels of access. Bundles could be structured in numerous ways — newspaper delivery three days a week and electronic delivery during the rest of the week; combining print and electronic editions with access to a paper’s archives; free Web sites that summarize daily news, while referring readers to the print product or another Web site, where fees might be collected to gain access to deeper information; sites aimed at target audiences, such as young readers, pet lovers or parents.

NFB puts Canadian films online

Canadians miss out on some of the great online video options available south of the border (e.g. hulu. com, abc.com), but this week brought something to ease our frustration.

The National Film Board has posted 700 films on its website where they can be viewed in full, for free.

It’s a great move, considering the tremendous quality of the work and the modest exposure it tends to get.

Most are documentaries, and the NFB says it will be adding more films every week.

On launch day last Wednesday the website’s servers were overloaded, but things have reportedly settled down now.

The NFB is using the open-source Pyro video player API for Flash, from Turbulent Web Development in Montreal.

Publishing goes high-tech

Research and development departments are not something one generally associates with newspaper companies – even those that have remodelled themselves as multi-channel news companies.

But at the New York Times, Nick Bilton leads a team designing technologies “that will become commonplace in a 24-48-month time frame.” Another sign that the Times is investing now for a post-print future.

Emily Nussbaum, in a January 11 piece in New York Magazine, provides a glimpse into Bilton’s research lab as well as the organizational attitudes and decision-making that enable nytimes.com to produce such ground-breaking features as the US Election Word Train.

Read this article for inspiration.

The Editor as Content Strategist

One of the best things I’ve read over these recent holidays as been the Content Strategy feature published in mid December by A List Apart.

I particularly like Kristina Halvorson’s summary of content strategy as a discipline. Her suggestions are just as useful to editors at online news services as they are to information architects, marketers and others involved in the broad field of web content strategy.

Halvorson writes:

At its best, a content strategy defines:

  • key themes and messages,
  • recommended topics,
  • content purpose (i.e., how content will bridge the space between audience needs and business requirements),
  • content gap analysis,
  • metadata frameworks and related content attributes,
  • search engine optimization (SEO), and
  • implications of strategic recommendations on content creation, publication, and governance.

She goes on to describe various content-related disciplines need to support a Content Strategy, namely Editorial Strategy, Web Writing, Metadata Strategy, Search Engine Optimization, Content Management Strategy and Content Channel Distribution Strategy.

Lucky is the organization that can afford individual experts in each of the above areas. But all are essential and, as Hallvorson argues, ripe for greater recognition in the web publishing world:

Dealing with content is messy. It’s complicated, it’s painful, and it’s expensive.

And yet, the web is content. Content is the web. It deserves our time and attention.

For those of us leading online news services, content is where it all begins. Without a clear and rational content strategy, no amount of marketing or Web 2.0 enabling has a chance of success.