E-FILES:The future of the web is no-cost

The Scoop news site gets a make-over.


The Scoop site is being revised and will soon be relaunched.

The site, established in June 1999, is a mixture of comment, news stories and a raft of press releases.

The site has between 11,000 and 20,000 hits per day according to editor/director Alistair Thompson. A complementary 100,000 free news mailers are also sent out each month.

The grunt behind the front end consists of Free-BSD (a BSD Unix operating system), Perl and XML. It will be using HTML-Mason (Mason is tool for building, serving and managing large web sites) for the new development.

The site is primarily used by people at work and is popular in Parliament and Treasury. Law firms, public relations companies, the media and large companies are also big users, says Thompson. He estimates nearly 30% of users are offshore, and usage spikes when there's any mention of the Lord of the Rings work in progress.

Scoop employs a half dozen freelance and part time reporters and has a Wellington slant on news gathering; that is, political.

It promotes itself as being based on "raw news, straight from the horse’s mouth with no dis-intermediated news".

Development of the site has been a gradual process. The software's had its third birthday and "keeps getting more complicated".

But on the plus side, he says, Scoop was early out of the blocks and has not had to play catch up the way a new venture now would.

He says one big trap for young players is to stop innovating. Another is to limit accessibility to a site by trying to force people to sign up. He estimates that will scare away as much as 90% of users.

"The only site it works for is the New York Times, which gets away with it because it is one of the first and one of the best news sites on the Web."

The future of the Web, certainly in relation to e-news, is more no-cost sites, says Thompson. "Thestreet.com is a site that for a couple of years had a $39.95 a year subscription cost - and now it's gone free. The future of the net is largely free."

Thompson says New Zealanders are more e-savvy than elsewhere in some areas. "In the media, communications and in politics the transition to electronic sources is well advanced."

He thinks Scoop and its predecessor have played a part in New Zealand's electronic education. However the e-zine segment of the market is lagging, he says.

"The mainstream net media are not particularly net savvy and don't understand the importance of relationships - which is a little sad. Possibly, this is the reason for the slowness in development of the e-zine sector of the market. After all, it is hard to get traffic if the biggest ISP and portal, Xtra, has a policy of not linking to any outside content sites."

Thompson therefore says the key to a successful e-site is the right attitude. "The net is all about co-operation and inclusiveness. The environment is getting bigger and better extremely quickly and there's room for everybody."

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