Buzzwire Launches User-Driven Mobile News Site

2/23/09Follow @wroush

A growing number of online media companies offer mobile-friendly versions of their articles or videos, often resizing or stripping down the material to make it more easily accessible on smaller screens, and at lower bandwidth. But if you’re a cell phone owner who wants to spend a few minutes scanning mobile sites, there’s a problem. While there are services that aggregate specific types of mobile media, such as Veveo’s vtap for videos, there’s no central place to scan all of the most popular mobile content.

Today, however, Denver, CO-based Buzzwire is launching just such a service. The 20-employee startup, which obtained $4 million in venture funding from Boston’s Spark Capital and Matrix Partners in 2007, is rolling out a new community-driven website at m.buzzwire.com that collects mobile-friendly content from around the Internet, including sources like CNN, The Boston Globe, ABC.com, Slashdot, The New York Times, and People. It’s “something that hasn’t been done in mobile—a kind of mashup of Digg and Yahoo Buzz,” says founder, chairman, and chief product officer Andrew MacFarlane.

Some of the stories and videos listed on the site are selected by Buzzwire’s editors, and others are sent in by users—but all of it’s been vetted to make sure that it’s easily accessible from the user’s mobile device. The service is similar to Digg in that many of the stories are contributed by readers, and it’s similar to Yahoo Buzz in that stories are ranked according to how many people are clicking on them and sharing them. It differs from both Digg and Yahoo Buzz, however, in that users can’t actually vote stories up or down—the rankings are calculated by Buzzwire’s own algorithms.

Buzzwire's new community site on the Apple iPhoneWhen Buzzwire launched in 2007, it was tackling a very different problem: delivering actual streaming audio and video to cellular subscribers’ phones. And that’s still part of the company’s business—AT&T, Verizon, and Alltel use its platform, among others. But the new mobile content aggregation site “is what we meant to do from the beginning,” says MacFarlane. “We are big believers in the mobile Web. Ultimately, mobile devices are going to vastly outnumber PCs in terms of how content is addressed on the Internet, and we’re just trying to design a service that makes finding good content as easy as possible.”

Readers will like the service because the ranking algorithms will generally favor the highest-quality content, and publishers will like it because it will drive more traffic to their mobile sites, MacFarlane says. “This year 60 to 70 percent of publishers say they’re trying to figure out how to adapt content for and attract traffic to their mobile websites,” he says. “This is a place where users can go to find what’s interesting, we’ll send the traffic off to the original sources.”

Publishers can keep the cycle going by including buttons on their mobile websites that allow users to automatically share their favorite content at Buzzwire. MacFarlane says these so-called “Buzzie” buttons are “the first sharing buttons in the mobile world”—TV Guide Online is one of the first publishers to adopt them. But even if a story doesn’t have a Buzzie button, readers can send a link to Buzzwire via e-mail (to post@buzzwire.com) or text message (to the short code BUZZ9 or 28999).

Buzzwire earns money on the new portal through the advertisements interspersed with the story listings. The mobile advertising business is in turmoil, with many companies in the space hard-pressed to recruit as many advertisers as they or their publishing partners would like. But for the service’s introductory “beta” period, Buzzwire has struck a deal with a single advertising agency, New York-based Deutsch, to fill up all of the available ad inventory on its mobile directory. So for now, Deutsch clients such as DirecTV, Kodak, and the Michael J. Fox Foundation have exclusive advertising rights at m.buzzwire.com. And after the beta period, according to MacFarlane, the company expects to work with other agencies and advertising networks to create “rich video advertising” tailored for specific types of mobile handsets. (Publishers can usually charge advertisers a higher rate for video ads than for typical text or display ads.)

Buzzwire gained a high-profile leader in December in the shape of CEO Greg Osberg, the former president and worldwide publisher of Newsweek and Newsweek.com and the former president of sales and marketing for CNET. MacFarlane, who had been CEO prior to Osberg’s arrival, continues to direct the company’s product strategy. He says the company has between 20 and 30 employees, all based in Denver. (Buzzwire had a Boston office until summer 2008, but closed it to cut costs, MacFarlane says.)

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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