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Bringing Rich-Media RSS to Masses

Upstart Moqvo Goes up Against Yahoo, Google Content Aggregation Plans

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- John Detwiler wants to make Moqvo, the latest player in the RSS aggregation field, the TiVo of the internet -- but he's going to have to go up against some of the biggest names in media, namely Yahoo and Google, to make it happen.
Moqvo wants to re-create the TV experience on the web.
Moqvo wants to re-create the TV experience on the web.

In front of a flat-screen TV connected to his razor-thin laptop, Moqvo's co-founder, who positions the site as a "social media center," begins a tour of his competitors, browsing through sites such as My Yahoo, NewsGator and Google's beta version of an RSS reader.

"[They're] all a text-based user experience," said Mr. Detwiler, who then went to his site and launched into his pitch as to why a little company with a dozen or so programmers in a one-floor office in Columbus, Ohio, can beat the Googles and Yahoos of the world as RSS emerges as the next big technology twist to the web.

Offering channels, not text
Unlike his competitors' text summaries and links, Moqvo offers "channels" with content such as New York Times podcasts and Comedy Central video clips. Users subscribe to an RSS feed by dragging and dropping a "channel" into a user's personalized page.

"RSS may stand for Real Simple Syndication, but it's not simple," Mr. Detwiler said. "Our whole premise as more video and audio goes to the web is to ask, 'How can we re-create the TV experience?' Ours is an RSS feeder for the masses."

Allen Weiner, media research analyst at Gartner, said Moqvo has wisely created an interface that caters to the novice, instead of trying to please the tech-savvy.

"The challenge is how to make RSS work for the masses that suits the way they normally look at content," he said. "There are lots of RSS readers out there. The difference is all of them require some basic understanding of RSS. But a lot of people see that button and say, 'What do I do with that button?' No one has made it simple yet."

Despite Moqvo's graphical advantage, though, Mr. Weiner said the race to create a dominate brand in this space will be fierce -- as competitive as the browser wars of the mid-'90s with the stakes just as high. After all, the entire idea behind an RSS aggregator is to cut down on browsing and while giving a user access to all the information on the internet -- keeping them essentially in one place and creating a captive audience to sell to advertisers.

Podcasts and video
For a Moqvo user, the New York Times podcast is just a click away. And if that user switches channels and clicks on CNN, they remain on the Moqvo site and click a play button to hear the latest news from the cable news channel. To build scale and live up to its social media center concept, Moqvo also allows users to create an address book of e-mails to easily send content to friends.

There's no way to legally disrupt the advertising already embedded in RSS feeds users choose on the site, so Moqvo runs banner ads above the channel interface and sometimes plays an ad prior to launching content to take advantage of the eyeballs the site aggregates. But the site is thinking beyond banner ads and believes marketers should, too.

"Why wouldn't P&G want to sponsor a baby channel to promote Pampers?" Mr. Detwiler said.

With a staff of just 20 and $1 million seed money from angel investors, Moqvo has traded a one-third equity stake with Columbus-based Ten United, an independent advertising agency, in exchange for brand development, creative and media services.

"There are only a few competitors out there now, and the chance to get out front first and build a brand is still there," said Rick Milenthal, chairman of the agency. "We took a chance because of the site's potential as an advertising channel."

Beta version
After months of research, including multiple focus groups, a beta version of the free site went live at the beginning of June. A private-label version of the site is also being offered as a way for brands to create RSS-based sites -- and as a way for the upstart to start making money.

Meanwhile, Moqvo is actively seeking a partnership with a major media company to back further development of the site, Mr. Detwiler said.
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