Talk is Cheap: RemarQ Thinks It’s Profitable Too

USENET has long presented a confusing landscape to all but the hardest core of tech-minded Internet habituis, growing as it did out of the university and research communities searching for intellectual and technical exchanges of information and esoterica., formerly known as Deja News, and America Online Inc. were the first to funnel millions of Net newbies onto newsgroups. Their success spawned its own set of problems: clueless newbies with no sense of Netiquette along with spam meisters out to follow the money and the suckers no matter where they go.

The newbie netiquette problem was address by better FAQ pages and USENET veterans who adopted a new hobby of flaming netiquette violators into line. But commercial spam in the groups — especially the blizzards of sexually oriented messages — along with cross-posting abusers who send the same message to hundreds or thousands of news groups have squeezed the life out of many newsgroups and made finding useful information just too frustrating.

Into this breech comes RemarQ whose filtering, organizing, and familiar Web-based interface just might make Usenet a more useful place to visit.

“We think it simplifies the process and presents it in a format that users can easily grasp,” said Kevin Harvey, a partner with Benchmark Capital who, along with Eric Hahn’s Inventures Group has led two rounds of financing totaling $24 million. Others betting that RemarQ is building a better USENET include Stanford University, Attractor Investment Management, Bowman Capital Management, Capital Research Management, BayStar Capital and Pivotal Capital.

Originally called Supernews, RemarQ is another garage start-up operation bootstrapped from credit cards. Founders Bill Lee and Craig Wallace, classmates from UC Berkeley, say the company was profitable before any outside financing was obtained.

Unlike Deja.Com and new competitor Talkway who have designed themselves as discussion destinations, RemarQ syndicates news group discussion message to a network of partner sites including Excite, Lycos, InfoSeek, and iSyndicate.. RemarQ shapes its discussion interface to fit the look and feel of its partner sites and also regroups Usenet messages under more general topics such as arts & humanities, business & economy, entertainment and so forth.

According to the company, their system distills more than 1.5 million messages every day down to about 600,000 mostly by straining out spam and abusive cross posters.

RemarQ CEO Bill Lee says that they chose to syndicate rather than be another destination site.

“We believe that people join discussions to research purchases, ask for or offer advice and build relationships. For this reason, the most natural place to offer discussions is directly on their favorite sites when they’re already searching or navigating for specific topics.”

The revenue for RemarQ currently comes from sharing advertising and sponsorship revenues from its partners. In the future, the company envisions e-commerce links to sell products related to discussion group topics.

All of which goes to show that while talk is cheap on the Internet, it could also make for a tidy revenue stream as well.

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