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NAA Task Force Unveils Online Classified Standard

The Newspaper Association of America's Classified Advertising Standards Task Force has introduced a common format that allows classified ad publishers, advertisers and online enterprises to readily exchange and publish classified ads.

The task force that developed the standard is headed by Jack H. Stanley, The Houston Chronicle's senior vice president/operations and technology. NAA is currently holding its Newspaper Operations SuperConference in Orlando.

"This is a very exciting development for online classified ads, especially those published by newspapers," said John F. Sturm, NAA president and CEO. "The ability to exchange hundreds of classified ads online brings a dramatic leap in service for the reader and value for the advertiser. The online classified ad standard will give newspapers a new level of search sophistication, as well as creating expanded potential for new and existing revenue models."

While classified advertising looks similar in many publications, each handles the ads a little differently. There are no uniform rules for what information should or should not be included about any given product.

With the advent of the Internet, however, many publishers, including newspapers, offer their classifieds on the Web. Many of these publishers are seeking to aggregate their ads with those of others in order to offer advertisers and readers a wider reach. To share ads and make them searchable, a common format and structure is needed so they can be easily added to a database, regardless of their origin.

"Adopting a standard format for processing ads unleashes the enormous power of classified advertising in hundreds of newspapers across the country," said Eric Wolferman, NAA's senior vice president for technology. "Reaching agreement on this standard so swiftly is a remarkable achievement."

The standard addresses classified advertising from the time it is placed -- either through a traditional ad taker or directly from the advertiser electronically. Standard information sets, global tracking numbers and common descriptions of the data will allow easy sharing and organizing of classifieds in any medium or classified network.

The four basic components of the system are a standard data format, a standard transaction format, standard text-formatting tags and standard shorthand. Version 1.0 of the standard addresses the standard data format and standard text-formatting tags. Later versions will address the other components.

The standard is represented electronically through a document type definition, or DTD, which has a set of elements, or fields, which describe the product being sold. Some of the fields--such as name and other contact information--are required elements, and many more are recommended.

The DTD is built using the XML markup language, and is free and available for download from NAA's Web site. NAA is a nonprofit organization representing more than 1,700 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada.