Washingtonpost.com jumps into open content in a big way

The open content models session at the Syndicate Conference in San Francisco gave us a sneek peak into the future of online publishing. Dave Panos of Pluck led a panel with Jim Brady of Washingtonpost.com, Andrew Eisner formerly of PCWorld and Amy McDonough of CNet.  

Jim's team has done some of the most forward-thinking work in big media publishing out there both in terms of what they're delivering and how they're approaching the problems of openness.  They have emulated BBC's Backstage effort, but BBC has the luxury of not worrying about revenue.  Washingtonpost.com is the first major media outlet to employ the open content model more broadly.  

Among the highlights:

They launched a web site called post/remix.  Here they have a blogger posting what they're doing and linking to their resources.  This will likelty serve as a gallery pointing to mashup examples they find.  You can get lots of different feeds here, and I imaging they'll expose APIs here when they have them.

Washingtonpost.com provides voting records of your local Congressman via RSS.  This is a direct hit to Congressional Quarterly's robust paid service and the CQ House ActionTracker.  You could, for example, see which politicians are voting to renew the Patriot Act. (update: the link to this vote is down as of this post.  update2: I had the wrong link.  corrected now.  thanks, Adrian.)

They're offering content licenses using something similar to the Creative Commons Noncommercial Share Alike license, though they should consider including attribution.  Jim details the usage conditions:
  • Your efforts must be for personal, and not for commercial, use. You may not sell applications that use or incorporate washingtonpost.com content.
  • You recognize that Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive retains all intellectual property rights in all washingtonpost.com content and you that acquire no such rights by participating in Post Remix.
  • Washingtonpost.com may incorporate your ideas into future projects it develops.
But what's the business model?  There are many opportunities in this model including:
  • Customer acquisition.  Distributing links to your stuff is going to yield new customers who might not otherwise know you exist.
  • Retention.  If you are the dominant source for a particular type of content, then people will come to you when they need that content or similar content.
  • Branding.  Your brand gets distributed with your links.  And the mashups may leverage your brand to validate the tools they create using your content.  Again, your brand becomes associated with the utility of the content.
  • Partner Loyalty.  Or perhaps it's more like partner lock-in.  Once a partner figures out how to do something successful with your content, the switching cost to another similar content provider will likely be too high.
  • Cost Savings.  Washingtonpost.com doesn't hide the fact that they intend to use some of the ideas the evolve from the mashup partners.  They get free product development this way.
  • Distributed Ad Revenue.  Washingtonpost.com does not allow anyone to make money from using their content, but they could.  If there was a partner doing something smart that they liked, they could run advertising on that site together and share the revenue.  This is how you break out of the online revenue cap problem that many online publishers are facing.
I have a feeling that if this works, we'll look back on what they're doing now in late 2005 as the key turning point for online publishing that made the medium truly successful rather than just a side project for struggling print operations.


Re: Washingtonpost.com jumps into open content in a big way
by Adrian Holovaty on Thu 15 Dec 2005 10:27 PM EST

Hey Matt,

Thanks for the nice writeup. I think this is the Patriot Act link you were looking for:


Adrian @ washingtonpost.com


Re: Washingtonpost.com jumps into open content in a big way
by Cody Simms on Fri 16 Dec 2005 02:51 AM EST

Another cool social media practice they are employing:
Check out any article and they have a Technorati-powered promo that shows various blogs that are linking to said article. Technorati stated that WaPo was at first nervous that this practice was driving eyeballs away from their site onto blogs, but in actuality, it is doing the opposite. By encouraging bloggers to link to WaPo (with the incentive being that WaPo might actually link back to them via Technorati), more and more bloggers are actually linking to WaPo articles. All in all, it is a nice virtuous circle they've got going...


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Washingtonpost.com jumps into open content in a big way