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Forbes.com draws on vast resources for Web special report

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In a first of its kind special report, Forbes.com covers the subject of communicating from the scientific, technological, social and cultural perspectives in an extensive online section that was launched Monday.

The hook for the section was the commemoration of 4,000 days of the commercial Internet, according to Michael Noer, executive editor of news for Forbes.com and the lead editor on the project. In 1974, the first banner ad, from AT&T Corp., ran on the Hot Wired Web site. “We’re saying that’s when the commercial Internet was born,” Noer said.

The Forbes.com section features articles from and interviews with such luminaries as science fiction legend Arthur C. Clarke, CBS news broadcaster Walter Cronkite, novelist Kurt Vonnegut Jr., primatologist Jane Goodall, magician David Copperfield, architect Daniel Libeskind, scholar/author/activist Noam Chomsky and about a dozen others. Forbes.com editors collaborated with colleagues at Forbes magazine to produce about 20 streaming audio interviews, five videos, five online slide shows, three online voting boxes, dozens of articles, one interview done via instant messaging (IM), an interactive quiz and the opportunity for readers to send themselves an e-mail message in one, three, five, 10 or 20 years from now.

“This was the first time we combined all our online and magazine editorial resources, plus big-name contributors, to take a big-bang approach to a single subject online,” Noer said, adding that the team felt it was important to make use of the unique capabilities of the Internet in presenting the report. “For example, the e-mail Time Capsule, the feature where a reader can send an e-mail to himself or herself in the future, is something we could never do in print, as is the IM interview with blogger Wil Wheaton.”

While this is the first online special report of this magnitude for Forbes.com, Noer said, “We will be doing more of them.”

Without the space constraints of a print special report, how did Noer and his team decide how big the report should be? “We tried to have something for everybody,” he said. “A lot of it was gut instinct, hitting the subject from many aspects so that we could attract people who were interested in science, media, science fiction, gaming, telecom. The way the Internet works, people are set up to find people or subjects that interest them, so we think we will find an audience that doesn’t typically visit Forbes.com,” he added.

In about a month, Forbes.com plans to repackage the audio interviews, which add up to roughly two hours of content, in MP3 form for users of portable digital players, Noer said.

Sprint, together with Nextel, signed on the primary sponsor of the special report. Citing strict separation of church and state, Noer said he had no knowledge of the sponsorship arrangement, but he did say the special report idea was generated and developed by the editorial team.

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