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Paying for the Publishing Revolution

CHICAGO -- Publishers that rely on advertising revenue must scramble to monetize RSS feeds, a panel of experts told Search Engine Strategies conference attendees here on Thursday.

Jeremy Zawodny, search evangelist with Yahoo and a member of the Web Feeds, Blogs & Search panel, called blogging a micropublishing revolution. "The cost of publishing is approaching $0 at this point," he said.

While a lot of bloggers write about politics, news and their personal lives, Zawodny said, a lot of people write product or company-oriented blogs offering either complaints or endorsements. These blogs often generate lasting traffic for the blogger.

A variety of tools have made it easier to blog and opened the spigot. MSN Spaces was the latest, and it's a consumer-oriented, point-and-click interface designed for mass appeal.

These blogs challenge businesses that aren't paying attention or geared to respond quickly. For example, when bloggers linked to a video showing how easy it was to pick a Kryptonite bicycle lock, Kryptonite didn't respond for several days. By the time it did, the story had become one of the most blogged-about, surpassing the infamous Howard Dean "scream."

Publishers, marketers and ad technology providers are still looking at how feeds and blogs will change their businesses.

"We'll see the monetization of paid feeds with advertising, as RSS-focused metrics and analytics tools emerge," said Chris Sherman, associate editor of Search Engine Watch.

Search consultant Amanda Watlington said publishers and advertisers have a strong incentive to pay attention to this changing paradigm of how users receive and manage the information torrent. "Infovores" are high consumers of content. For advertisers, they're also the prime cut of consumers, she said, in terms of age and household incomes.

Michael Gorman, senior vice president of marketing services for Digital Impact, said Digital Impact still is studying the impact of RSS on the e-mail marketing business. "There's a tremendous amount of traffic that hasn't been monetized yet," he said.

His company sees the challenges and opportunities in RSS as related to those of delivering information to handheld devices, because in many countries mobile phones are the main platform for Internet access. Digital Impact is an e-mail service provider that recently acquired MarketLeap, a search engine marketing company.

The question, Gorman said, is, "How do you have a single environment that handles marketing to all the different devices and platforms? XML is not a panacea."

Search technology providers and marketers have a symbiotic relationship. The search providers must deliver a combination of good search results and usability to lure users to a spot where they can be shown ads and links to e-commerce opportunities along with search results.

Increasingly, those searches may not start at a search site; thanks to desktop search tools and browser toolbars, queries can be entered from within applications, documents or the Windows task bar.

"People search from where they are," said Tim Mayer, director of product management for Yahoo Search . "It's quicker and easier. Distribution and accessibility are important."

Sherman said that while desktop search is below marketers' radar, the stakes for search providers are huge.

"We're seeing an attempt to make a universal window to let you search any kind of info regardless of where it is. Whoever wins that or becomes dominant will have a huge advantage," he said. "Who controls desktop search controls what is displayed first, whether it's shopping, an ad or the information on your desktop."

Michael Palka, vice president of search for Ask Jeeves , believes that search providers will compete on features, but also on the quality of search results.

"Freshness is very important for the Web," he said, "now that so much information is going up every single day." To meet that demand for freshness, Ask Jeeves has upgraded how often it crawls the Web.

Mayer said that MyYahoo Search Beta, its personalized search service, lets users block sites from showing up in future searches.

"If you block search results, they should get better over time," he said. "I don't think people should block if it's irrelevant to that specific query, but you should if it's invaluable content or a site you don't want to ever see. We want to get rid of sites that annoy you."

Justin Osmer, product manager for MSN Search , said that offering the company's home-grown search technology in beta form will help identify what features and attributes users want. Microsoft is late to the search party and racing to catch up.

"Once we go final," Osmer said, "we will be able to innovate on top. The first point of competition will be delivering the customer experience, making sure people find what they look for."

For all search providers, Osmer said, "You're only as good as your last query or search result. Consumers will vote with their mouse."

Search Engine Strategies, Search Engine Watch and internetnews.com are owned by Jupitermedia.