It's a Wiki, but Pretty

American Express Launches Well-Designed Consumer-Engagement Sites

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- American Express Publishing, known for its high-end expertise on travel and luxury matters that are beyond most people's direct experience, is about to start up new wiki-based sites that let the public contribute. But AmEx, whose priority on design can be seen in titles such as Travel & Leisure and Food & Wine, may have found a way to avoid some unfriendly and inelegant aspects of sites such as Wikipedia. It wants its wiki to be pretty.
The company will begin early next month with a site for Executive Travel SkyGuide using a platform developed by Seattle's Wetpaint that will allow visitors to post reviews and articles alongside staff writers' content.
The company will begin early next month with a site for Executive Travel SkyGuide using a platform developed by Seattle's Wetpaint that will allow visitors to post reviews and articles alongside staff writers' content.

Ease for the consumer
"With the old wiki sites, every one was different and the rules of editing were different," said Mark Stanich, chief marketing officer, American Express Publishing Group. "If you were really intense you could get on there and go crazy but it wasn't really user friendly. This is really like using a word-processing tool. The ease of it to the consumer is important."

The company will begin early next month with a site for Executive Travel SkyGuide using a platform developed by Seattle's Wetpaint that will allow visitors to post reviews and articles alongside staff writers' content.

"The most important thing is that users and readers can share a platform with the published authors," said Ben Elowitz, CEO, Wetpaint. "The traditional magazine has a very, very small section called 'Letters to the editor.' This is the first time that sites can allow users not only to comment on articles but actually write articles."

Mr. Stanich called it a step beyond straight blogging, message boards or web-based groups. "We're seeding it with a lot of good archival things or points of view to riff on," he said. "That's what makes it new to us."

Two schools of thought
The effort, which AmEx hopes could turn profitable by year two on ad revenue, also weaves together two threads of thinking about modern publishing. Publishers frequently argue that magazines' editing and expertise are more important while more and more information floods consumers from all sides. Time Inc. Chairman-CEO Ann S. Moore, for example, has said that her company's core competency is editing. But there's a strong countercurrent of pressure to provide ways for readers to engage the very websites operated by media companies.

Launch advertiser Tourism Australia hopes that latter tactic -- soliciting consumer voices -- will make its campaigns more effective.

"The key for us is that word of mouth has always been the No. 1 motivator for travel anyway," said Michael Londregan, VP, Tourism Australia, Americas. "People's opinions seem to matter so much more than my opinion. This is sort of a cool way of us helping some people to get some good advice that isn't just delivered in ad-speak."
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