Over the last several years, online news outlets feared losing their audience to search engines. But despite their attempts to get back viewers, they may find themselves losing them to the most unlikely of rivals in the future. On Monday, privately-held Inform is expected to announce that it's signed on Answers Corp. (ANSW) as a new client. Answers is one of my favorite places for definitions and information about topics. Soon it could become one of the places I go to for news.
Inform, which started in late 2004 and has $15 million in funding from venture backers, essentially aggregates news and information from across the Web and makes the content it's gathered available to any publisher on the Web. Its clients can then make that content accessible to their readers and hopefully keep readers on their sites longer, and ultimately looking at more pages.
In the case of Answers, type in "Brad Pitt" and you'll see that there is a box with links to news articles about Pitt. Answers doesn't get paid for directing readers to those news outlets. But notice that there is a link to "other news, video and blogs." That link takes a reader to an Answers page with links to more news, blogs and videos related to Pitt. Essentially, that's a new page for Answers to put an ad on.
Answers is just one unlikely (if anything is unlikely these days) news source that can compete with traditional news outlets. Another potential kind of news provider is a social network. Though Inform doesn't have such a deal, I can foresee pages on News Corp's MySpace as new places to get news using integrated feeds from aggregators such as Inform.
I know, I know. You're probably saying, don't give anyone any ideas. But social networks are already testing ways to become news distributors. Facebook recently started enabling publishers, including MarketWatch, the publisher of this column, to make their stories easily shared within the Facebook network. (Try it with this column.) My Yahoo (YHOO) mailbox is also the place delivering news to me.
Like I said at the start, who isn't delivering news these days? To be fair to Inform, the company isn't trying to make life harder for traditional news media. In fact, it's done a good job in attracting traditional media clients. For the rest of column, read my Net Sense column on MarketWatch.