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CyberSites Makes Layoffs, Refocuses on Self-Publishing

The words "refocus" and "model" used together in a sentence don't instill quite the amount of terror in Net professionals today that they do in "traditional economy" workers. But some Internet companies these days are finding that it's necessary to downsize employee pools to make themselves leaner and meaner.

That's exactly what Internet community company CyberSites Inc. decided Friday when it made an undisclosed number of layoffs. But Eden Greig Muir, co-founder and chairman of CyberSites, said the layoffs were really just part of a larger story.

"We've been an Internet community site for several years," Muir said. "The new model is a community-driven, self-publishing engine. It's a much more efficient model."

Founded in 1995 by Muir and Rory O'Neill -- both professors at the Graduate School of Architecture at Columbia University -- CyberSites operates the VinesNetwork, a network of distinct theme-based interactive communities or "Vines" (Vertically Integrated Network Environments) covering areas from history to science fiction to pets. Each Vine utilizes CyberSites' proprietary software, which includes IM, bulletin boards, chat, surveys, daily hot topics and contests, who's online and free services. The company focuses on creating comfortable, interesting and enjoyable communities which in turn allows for targeted advertising and the sale of genre-specific products.

CyberSites currently hosts and maintains 10 "live" Vines: AncientSites.com for ancient history enthusiasts; TheHomeVine, a home-themed community; TheTeleVine, a television-themed community; TheReadersVine, a book-themed site; TheMusicVine, a music-themed community; TheComputerVine for computer enthusiasts; TheSciFiVine for Science Fiction fans; and TheHistoryVine for history buffs. TheMovieVine will soon be launched.

CyberSites said that members are "on Vine" an average of more than two hours per session and have generated more than 575,000 pages of unique content.

Under the new model, the Vines will become areas where members can self-publish formal articles. Muir explained that authors will get paid for articles based on the amount of traffic the articles generate and will be able to track their "royalties." The tracking system will also allow for top 10 lists of the most popular articles on each Vine.

"We're launching [the self-publishing engine] with cash prizes for people that get published in the top 10," Muir said. "We think it's the best thing we've seen on the Internet for self-publishing."

Muir conceded that there are other ratings sites out there -- like Epinions.com -- that generate revenue for users, but added, "There's none that wraps it all up with a proper kind of community environment."

Members will also be able to generate revenue for themselves through product sales. "There's built into this new environment a way to sell products which isn't up yet," Muir explained. "The tab is up but it's not activated yet in most areas. Members will benefit from commission on anything that is sold on a page they created." He added that members will be able to select the products that appear on their pages.

So far, self-publishing seems to be a hit with members. "AncientSites, which has over 100,000 members, has just been introduced to its new authoring area," Muir said. "We're seeing amazing articles on ancient history. We've only launched these sites in the last week."



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