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Network18 Launches FirstPost.com; Review & Suggestions


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We told you it was coming…Network18* has launched FirstPost.com, an online news and views website that provides a unique take and commentary on news – across Current Affairs, Politics, World, Business, Investing, Economy, Ideas, Living, Bollywood and Sports. It marks an important shift for the Web18 division of Network18, away from the SEO centric aggregation abomination that is In.com, which is still doing SEO using our headlines (screenshot); and apart from the IBNLive blogs from journalists, this the groups first initiative that focuses on views on news.

It’s almost a blog. Remember this? The approach to news almost reminds me of (what I feel is) the best views-on-news property from a mainstream publication in India – India Real Time from the Wall Street Journal. FirstPost, given the breadth of content and writers, will give India Real Time a run for its money. It is probably not a co-incidence that former WSJ India Managing Editor Durga Raghunath had joined Web18 in November last year. A note we received from Web18 says “Built on the fundamentals of blogging and the quick post, user interaction, discussion and debate, Firstpost presents a digital newsroom powered by expert writer-editors across the country and the globe to capture what we think is a powerfully shifting news and media consumption reality.”

A First Take On FirstPost

– Social Media Trigger Happy Content: looks like headlines are meant to be twitter-and-facebook-worthy (they already are), looking to leverage user recommendations over SEO. This will help bring in quality traffic, instead of just hits. The content is tongue-in-cheek, and likely to make you click on it; very blog-like in nature; for example: “The Kanimozhi defence: I’m just a girl!“. A note from Web18 says that there will be opinion writing, both long form and short form content, focused on sharp take on news; we expect the headlines

– But there are lists as well – things like “9 things that could sway the market’s mood swings today“. I wonder if we’ll see the “top ten” lists phenomenon, which Indiatimes* was famous for, being repeated here. Generates a lot of traffic.
– Blogs: for som inexplainable reason, when the whole site is a blog, there are separate “blogs“. In India, the ‘blogs’ are still not an acceptable form of journalism – indeed, we tried to avoid the moniker until the ‘we are what we are’ phase last year. FirstPost still has separate blogs, which allow you to find content by specific authors, mostly from Forbes India writers – S Srinivasan, Seema Singh, Peter Griffin, Shishir Prasad, Indrajit Gupta… Interestingly enough, Anant Rangaswamy mentions here that he is no longer the Editor of Campaign India. There’s badminton champion Aparna Popat, Arjun Parthasarathy on financial markets, Kajal Tejsinghani on cooking…it’s a fairly long list here.

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– Curation of content: We didn’t notice significant external linkage of content – something which most mainstream-minded publications are still strangely afraid of doing – but a note we received from Web18 says that they do intend to curate content. We just hope they don’t mean in-dot-com-like curation and hot-linking, or for that matter, what the Huffington Post does. Read this and this.

– The Use Of Tags: I’m rather intrigued by the usage of hashtags on FirstPost. Structurally, tags are disjointed and not hierarchical, compared with categories, which form a tree-like connected hierarchy. Categories are easy to control. For example, while a category might be Elections, with tags, you might end up using Elections, Assembly Elections, Polls, and so on, because so many are possible. You might even forget which ones you use regularly, and so because there are so many possibilities, the discovery and repackaging combination of content over time becomes difficult with tags. At the same time, Tags work well for SEO, because they are keywords. Trending tags improve discovery, and find their way right to the top of the page.

– Editors’ Picks: This is a deployment that is again, quite impressive – there are daily Editors’ Picks (why right at the bottom), which allow you to discover what the Editor thinks is important for you to read.

– Wires: FirstPost, like many other Indian news sites, also has wire stories from the likes of PTI. This is usually meant to ensure that breaking news keeps getting published. Where this fails (it appears) is that FirstPost’s doesn’t appear to be working on top of each wire story, so the same content is being replicated across multiple sites. Compare this at First Post with this at the Indian Express.

– Mobile ready & WordPress: m.firstpost.com is live at launch, and this appears to be a WordPress launch

– Monetization: at launch, the site appears to be free of advertising, but ads will follow, we’re told.

What we’d like to see

We’re not trying to plug ourselves, but given how consuming and (from a journalists perspective) how intriguing it is, we’d like to see FirstPost (and any other content property, for that matter), do the following

– RTI: file Right To Information requests and get exclusive content, and responses for specific issues. It’s really easy, so much so that we’re filing RTI requests every week. If you need a template for filing RTI’s… ping us, and we’d be glad to help you get started.

– Data journalism: get Government data using RTI, and visualize it to point out specific issues. Some of it is being done by FirstPost already – this story on Delhi and Kerala being crowded uses Google docs for tables, but…no visualization of data.

– Bookmark Content: I had to use search to find this story again, published yesterday. With time, it will be next to impossible to find content that you remember reading on FirstPost, because, like with most news sites, there will be so much of it. Our recommendation – incorporate booksmarks, and allow signed in users to tag content for reading later. This works better for longform content, which people might want to return to read.

– Timelines: I’ve been thinking of ways of addressing the archival content issue at MediaNama, and while bookmarking is one option, it isn’t a complete solution. News websites today have a wealth of content, and while the ‘long tail’ discovery kicks in using search, search isn’t always the best tool for discovery. This is where timelines come in – for tags and categories, allowing users to discover archival content related to specific issues, companies, people, entities, over time.

– Issue based content discovery: this is where tags can come on – for example, a comprehensive coverage of the 2g spectrum scam, under one tag, can be quickly set up as a separate section and highlighted on the homepage.

Disclosures: Indiatimes and Web18 are advertisers with MediaNama.

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