Newspaper giants buy into Tribe

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Searching for the best house music in Pittsburgh, the most affordable neighborhoods in Denver or for a reliable house painter in San Francisco is now easier than ever, thanks to online social networks such as Craig's List, Friendster, MeetUp and Tribe.

These highly engaged, self-perpetuating online networks attracted the interest of KnightRidder Digital and the Washington Post Co., and both have invested in, a San Francisco-based peer-to-peer social network.

KnightRidder Digital sees online venues such as Tribe as a way to reach broader and younger audiences who use the networks the way their parents used a newspaper's classified ads. "We sense that there's this emerging market ... that people use other people in order to connect with listings and clearly, a big part of our revenue is classifieds," said Hilary Schneider, CEO-KnightRidder Digital. KnightRidder Digital is in 28 markets and has a total audience of 8.4 million. It has also achieved scale via the Real Cities Network, a collection of 100 Web sites it sells to national advertisers.

Launched in July, Tribe invites people to build a variety of social and career networks, or tribes, to help them accomplish their goals-short-term and long-term. Once a person joins Tribe, they invite their friends to join as well, and each member is linked to the members who invited them. A person can send out the call to her tribes to help find a plumber, a job, a running partner, the best place to find Mexico's Oaxacan cuisine in New York or a 1965 VW bug. A recommendation from someone in a member's tribe gives a marketer a way to tap into the power of word of mouth that then travels through the 45,000-member universe.

Currently, Tribe has more than 7,000 tribes, racked up 20 million page views in October, up from 5 million in September (according to the company's internal log numbers). It had 144,000 unique visitors in October. Half of Tribe's traffic comes from Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. Typical Tribalists are highly educated urban dwellers ages 20 to 40.

your own network

"Your tribe is a place where you can bring your off-line relationships. You can create tribes or socially networked groups around your existing interests and then leverage the network to get things done," said Mark Pincus, Tribe Network's CEO and founder. "It's like creating your own customized broadcast network." He said that while a few online ad sales networks approached Tribe, the service is free and carries no advertising. Tribe plans to test for-pay and ad-supported models in early 2004.

Ms. Schneider said she is exploring a business model that would integrate self-published Tribe referrals with KnightRidder content such as movie and restaurant reviews. "The first revenue engine we'll have is around the listings," she said, adding that KnightRidder will build a prototype and conduct focus groups. Her company would cross-sell Tribe and classified listings would be priced according to the ad's length, and whether it included video or photos.

"Tribe enables us to potentially expand our reach within our market to customers who aren't traditionally newspaper readers," said Ralph Terkowitz, chief technology officer, Washington Post Co. He believes that Tribe will enable his company to develop online directory products and classified listings based on the social network model.

"Craig's List comes closest to what we're doing, in terms of a community coming together to do classifieds, but there's a vacuum today in the local Internet, there's no community," Mr. Pincus said.

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