The Star tries to cope with New Media with a daily dose of chilis


The Star is a venerable institution in Malaysia. It is today, if Unspun‘s not mistaken,  the nation’s largest circulating newspaper and at one point was so profitable that it was paying its employees over six months bonuses.

chilliThat, however, when times were fat and there was little to compete with the traditional media. These days, Unspun‘s been told that profits are down, partly because of the economic recession and partly because new media has cut into the authority, circulation and profits of the traditional media.

So how is a newspaper to cope with all these new pesky technology?

The Star has been refocusing its efforts in new media, going into web TV and other stuff on the Net. Its latest offering, launched at the begining of this month,  is The Daily Chilli, a web portal that The Star hopes would be able to see what it perceives as a gap between the political blogs and the electronic versions of newspapers.

It wants, according to The Star to be more breezy and provocative. How it does it is to rely heavily on photos and punchy short stories on news items that border more on novelty, a whiff of scandal, a hint of sex and a glimmer of celebrity. Stories are highlighted on the front page with a good photo and a short headline. Click on them and you go to the story.

The Daily Chilli also tries to be hip with a Just 140 section, that profiles the top and well-known Twitterers. This is one way to fish for links and mentions.

There’s also a Babes & Hunks section to provide eye candy for the Wandering Eye, both male and female. It is aimed at the younger age group.

Will it succeed? It remains to be seen but you can’t help thinking that for a site that is aimed at the younger, connected generation it could have got its new media links and connections managed better.

Unspun believes that The Daily Chilli has a Twitter account and is on RSS and it sould have a Facebook account. Yet the website itelf doesn’t have the icons and links to make it easy for you to subscribe and share the stories if you find them interesting. Also if they quote your blog they do not at the moment insert you link, making it difficult for anyone to know that their postings have been mentioned and continue with the conversation possibly at The Daily Chilli.All a bit ironic then for a site that professes to be more than just an electronic newspaper. Perhaps the team there could do with being staffed by younger people who are more attuned to new media instead of men over 40?

To be fair Star Group Editor Chun Wai diligently tweets about The Daily Chilli’s stories several times a day but this is not the same as the site having its own visible Tweets. Read the NY Times article below to see why sharing is important.

Still, it is a good start and a departure from the usual state of denial among traditional media journalists about the potential and impact of New Media. Looking forward to see how the Daily Chilli can morph itself into a spicier offering.

Share the Moment and Spread the Wealth

Any Web site that wants to spread its influence far and wide does so more effectively if readers send on their content to other friends. That is, hitting the “share” button.’);

THE blog WebDesignBooth.com is emblematic of Web sites these days in one respect: it seems to desperately want readers to share its insights with their friends.

At the top of each article on this online resource for Web developers are prominent links inviting visitors to post the story to Facebook and the bookmark-sharing sites StumbleUpon and Delicious. Just in case readers don’t get the message, at the bottom of each article is a handful of other icons, leading to Twitter, Digg, Reddit and several other social sites, along with a little inducement in a bright red font that reads “Sharing Is Sexy.”

Because the blog is new and has few readers, “I need these buttons to encourage referrers to share my articles with their friends,” said its creator, Dicky Lim, who is based in Malaysia.

That’s not to pick on Mr. Lim. Many sites are now festooned with an abundance of ways for readers to post content to their favorite social networks. The Web site of The New York Times, for example, offers links to post articles to Twitter and seven other services, including LinkedIn and Yahoo Buzz. The site of The Wall Street Journal has links to share its stories on Facebook and nine other services, including MySpace and Fark.com.

Your parents probably told you that sharing was simply the right thing to do. But on the Web The today, inducing people to share links has become big business, all about driving traffic back to a site and increasing ad revenue. Young companies like AddThis (owned by Clearspring Technologies) and ShareThis are the giants of this particular corner of the Web, syndicating their catalog of sharing buttons — at no charge — to major Web sites, and developing ways to make money by selling data about who is sharing, and how much, back to Web publishers and their advertisers.

Publishers, meanwhile, are devising ways to persuade readers to share more, in much the same way they use “search engine optimization” strategies so search engines will rank them higher in search results. A personal recommendation, they say, can be just as powerful as a referral from Google. “If a link is coming from a friend, you are probably going to trust it more than if it comes from Google, saying, ‘This is what you should visit,’ ” said Jay Meattle, founder of Shareaholic, a year-old start-up offering free sharing software that plugs into the Firefox browser.

That publishers are scampering to put their material in front of so-called influencers is nothing new. It’s just that the definition of “influencer” has changed radically in the last year or so.

In the last century, traditional media organizations hustled to get their product in front of the chatty elites; news magazines, for example, hand-delivered copies over the weekend to politicians and to other media. In the age of Twitter and Facebook, anyone can become a chatty elite, the social director of his or her own private admiration society. The hand-delivered copy has morphed into a Web article’s “share to Facebook” button.

Underscoring the trend, social networks are now an important source of traffic to many sites, in some cases challenging search engines as the top source of new visitors. For example, the leading referrer to PerezHilton.com, a popular gossip site, is Facebook. Nearly 15 percent of the gossip site’s visitors come from the social network, according to Compete.com, a tracking firm. Google ranks second, driving about 9 percent of visitors.

The new gurus of Internet sharing say that the easier they can make it for readers to share with their friends, the more they will do so. Illustrating this, Meebo, a Silicon Valley company that develops instant-messaging services, recently added a feature to a few of its partner sites that lets readers click on any element of the site — say, a photo or a headline — and easily drag it over to large Twitter and Facebook icons on the screen, thus sending it to their friends on those services.

Justin.TV, a live video site that uses the Meebo sharing tools, reports that its visitors now share its links about 6,000 times a day, up from 2,600 when sharing was not as simple. Traffic to Justin.TV has jumped 68 percent since it started using the Meebo tool 10 weeks ago, said Evan Solomon, Justin.TV’s vice president for marketing.

Tim Schigel, chief executive of ShareThis, which provides the sharing tools for sites like FoxNews.com and ESPN.com, calls this sharp increase in traffic “the flywheel effect.” When readers post a link from a ShareThis site onto Twitter, their followers often “retweet” the link to their own Twitter groupies. As a result, 18 Twitter users, on average, click on that link and visit the site. A single link to a story posted on LinkedIn, the professional social network, generates around eight visitors; Digg gets five clicks for every link posted to the site, Mr. Schigel says.

Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that companies are aiming to exploit the flywheel effect and increase sharing. Last week, AddThis, which offers sharing features on sites like CBSNews.com, CNBC.com and ABCNews.com, started remembering which social networks specific users prefer when sharing Web content. So if a reader posts a story from CNBC.com to MySpace, that social network will appear first among all sharing options when the same reader visits another AddThis site.

All of this raises a possible new source of friction on the Internet. Google and other engines have always frowned on the search-engine optimizers, who try to sway their algorithms into higher rankings for certain Web sites. Will social sites like Facebook and Twitter look askew at these new “social media optimizers,” which are deploying various tricks — some artful, others not — to have Internet users share even trivial bits of content? It may be. People, it seems, don’t keep anything to themselves anymore.

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