Unleashing the Power of WORLD-OF-MOUTH

Article excerpt

Can peer-to-peer technology boost site traffic, enhance customer relationships and create a greater online experience?

NAPSTER NAYSAYERS TAKE HEED: LIKE IT OR NOT, THE music-file-sharing maverick may go away, but its legacy is going to change the whole Web experience for everyone.

"You've been able to e-mail an MP3 file to a friend for many years, but it wasn't until Napster allowed you to exchange MP3 flies with people you didn't even know existed that peer-to-peer became a compelling technology," says Jeff DeBalko, president, IDG Global Communications, the technology provider for International Data Group. "The publishing model is changing. Originally, everybody thought publishing is just moving online-and that's the big change. That's not the big change."

It's too soon to tell if peer-to-peer (P2P) will be the Internet elixir publishers are hoping for. It must overcome security and bandwidth issues to really be considered a viable business technology. But as a way to foster community in the loose sense of the technological definition, it's already catching on.

DeBalko believes that the most successful interaction in any business is the personal, one-on-one relationship, whether it's at conferences, seminars or meetings. "Taking that successful model for peer interaction and applying technology to it is what's going to drive success with online communities," he says.

P2P technology can be defined simply as two people with similar interests communicating, says DeBalko. E-mail, chat rooms, discussion groups and all sorts of Web interactivity can be understood as P2P applications. "The concept of community, of connecting people to resources, information, knowledge and education, is really where the publishing model is going," DeBalko says. "The server-centric model is very limited because people have to interact in a certain way. Rules have to be set centrally and content has to be made available centrally. People exchange information in different places and different ways, in different groups with different dynamics. P2P allows you to replicate that on the Web."

Many magazine publishers have been employing various kinds of P2P features on their sites for years, and noticing significant benefits, such as increased site traffic. "One of the great advantages that the Web offers is this immediate peer-to-peer contact in a way that you just don't have with a magazine subscriber and a newsstand buyer. The/re pretty remote people," says Deidre Depke, a senior editor at Newsweek and editor of the magazine's Web site. "Web readers become involved with Web sites. Interactivity, the P2P stuff, makes you feel more a part of the product and only increases the allegiance that the users have for the site itself--and the chance that they'll become regular readers."

Media Metrix reports that msnbc.com had 9.9 million unique visitors in April. The Newsweek site, Newsweek.msnbc.com, gets about 12 percent of the total msnbc.com audience.

The interactive features on the Newsweek site include polls, live votes, chats and its main attraction, "Live Talk," a weekly feature connecting readers to the writers and reporters of the main stories in the current newsstand issue. In addition to boosting traffic, the interactive features are used by Newsweek to gauge public interest in certain topics that can drive the editorial direction of the magazine, Depke says. "I get a lot of questions every week from editors and reporters who ask what kind of reaction a story got," she says. "When we're trying to figure out if this is a good story versus that, or trying to gauge interest out there, it's a really good resource for a magazine."

Hispanic Magazine also offers its Web users various interactive features, from chats to personals, all to foster a sense of community, says Paul Garcia, Webmaster for HispanicMagazine.com and its main portal, HispanicOnline.com. "The dot-coms are just headed out and more community sites are what's coming in," Garcia says. …