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Editorial: On Attempts At A Fan Following & Yahoo India’s New-Found Content Focus

Update: via our discerning readers @codelust and @arjunram, we’re introduced to the “ten ways’ phenomenon: Indiatimes, Yahoo, Sify, Rediff, AOL, MSN.

Earlier: With newswires accounting for much of the content on Indian horizontal portals, what really differentiates horitontals in India? Is usability and site design enough for you to choose one over the other? Or is it content: is there a specific story or report that you remember from, say, Indiatimes, Rediff and Yahoo, or even Sify, MSN and AOL.in? In most cases, the content mix is the same, right down to the bikini babes section. Sure, they all have some amount of original content, but for years now I have had no major reason to pick one over the other, apart from perception.

The thing that strikes me most about these portals (at least, the first three) is that at their level of traffic and pageviews, getting 5-10 million pageviews a month more or less probably doesn’t make much of a difference: what matters is how their brand is perceived by users and media planners in comparison with other close competitors. Harping on Comscore numbers, however little they themselves may know about how the numbers are arrived at, is another means of changing a media planners perception. But what matters more, in my opinion, is how often they are talked about in a positive light, and who is talking about them.

Changes in design are important for a change in perception; for example, I think better of a more readable TimesOfIndia.com, and wish that the EconomicTimes.com follows down the same path; I prefer Rediff Money over MoneyControl because of its ease of use. But above all, it is quality content that matters most to me. Quality content generates positive word-of-mouth, sometimes creates a fan base of influencers, and helps build a perception of a space that matters to its readers. This what Cricinfo has: a cult following built on great content and opinions that cater to the connoisseur. Of course, there are sites like Rediff (Hrithik Roshan) and Big Adda (Amitabh Bachchan) that have tried to feed off a star’s fan following, but I’m not sure if this kind of fan following will extend to the website itself.

So what has Yahoo India attempted, of late, to create a fan base?

Content: With Prem Panicker at Yahoo! India as Managing Editor, there appears to be an attempt towards changing the perception of Yahoo India as a site which doesn’t just regurgitate newswire stories. Last week, Amit Varma, novelist, and the author of the popular blog India Uncut, announced the launch of Yahoo India columns. There was no press release, no big launch, but the word spread across Twitter and Facebook. Columnists include bloggers and journalists who have a following of their own, with great quality content, and often inform their followers about the new posts. These then get retweeted.

The idea here is to give Yahoo India a resonant and engaging voice, Panicker writes, adding that he some day intends to create a crack team that produces compelling original content: content which people recall having read at Yahoo. The columns that I have read so far, from Varma, Jai Arjun Singh and Deepak Shenoy, have all been very interesting. All three have on their own blogs, written posts that you remember them for. Apart from this, Yahoo India also launched Yorker, a daily chat show using CoverItLive, featuring Cricket experts, as well as former Cricketer Aakash Chopra. This doesn’t appear to have too takers, judging by the comments on some of the sessions. Cricinfo, though, appears to be (unnecessarily) worried about Yahoo, taking a dig at Yahoo’s official status for the T20 World Cup in its media kit (pdf, see slide 5).

— Communities: Yahoo also recently held offline Flickr events in three cities – Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. Flickr users that I’ve met in the past have strong affinity for the site, and though this was perhaps the first “official” set of meets in India, users and groups have been meeting offline for quite a while. Yahoo should look to encourage these meets: look at how Twitter initially built a strong fan base, and Tweetups brought with them a sense of comfort and familiarity to interactions with other users, and the Twitter brand itself.

Whether these work or not with advertisers and media planners, only time will tell. Question is, what are the other portals doing in order to create memorable content and engagements?

P.s.: Meanwhile, we still get pointless updates from Yahoo, stating “Fans across the global enjoying their passions (sic) Yodeling with Yahoo!” Frankly Yahoo, no one really cares about your yodel. Focus on the content.

Disclosures: Yahoo India was recently an advertiser with MediaNama. Some of the Yahoo India columnists are friends of mine.

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