Wenner magazine to stage debut at hot Firefly site
Rolling Stone this spring finally makes its entry onto the World Wide Web with a site likely to employ sophisticated intelligent agent technology.
The Wenner Media magazine, which has remained on the Internet sidelines as hundreds of other music sites opened up, tapped Agents Inc., a Cambridge, Mass.-based MIT Media Lab start-up company, for the job.
ENTERING IN STAGES
Rolling Stone will roll onto the Web in stages. This month, its music reviews start appearing on Firefly, an Agents Inc. site that uses intelligent software to recommend music, movies and books.
By July 1, the full magazine will be online at its own address. Existing staffers will create much of the content, though the site itself will be housed on Agents Inc.'s servers.
Agents Inc. is "about automated word of mouth," said Bob Love, Rolling Stone articles editor. "I can't imagine something that would be a better fit for us."
Rolling Stone's only other online presence is on CompuServe; neither Wenner's Men's Journal nor Us is online yet, though both plan to go on the Web.
TORTOISE AND HARE
"It's sort of like the fable about the tortoise and the hare," said Kent Brownridge, Wenner senior VP-general manager. "Maybe we've been a tortoise in this case. ... But I don't think our lack of presence in the last two years adds or subtracts anything."
Rolling Stone probably won't sell ads on the site initially, Mr. Brownridge said, choosing instead to "build a great site first and then later figure out ways to sell it to people." He acknowledged, however, there are few other viable ways for the magazine to make money online.
That Rolling Stone chose not to go with an ordinary Web developer is noteworthy. Agents Inc. was founded with the notion that smart software could help foster online communities by matching up like-minded people.
HOW FIREFLY WORKS
Its Firefly site makes recommendations based on demographics and entertainment interests of its users. So if a 42-year-old male who likes the Beatles wants a new recommendation, Firefly can compare his tastes with his "nearest neighbors" (other users who have similar interests) and make suggestions.
The free service has already registered more than 70,000 users since it launched Jan. 29.
Agents Inc. is interested in more than just entertainment. It recently began taking ads on Firefly, offering marketers a chance to select discrete target audiences and giving users the opportunity to rate banners on their appeal.
Last week, the company gave its first "AdFly Award" to Bantam Doubleday Dell for creating the highest-rated banner, for Al Franken's "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot & Other Observations."
"What we are trying to do is really shake advertisers up," said Doug Weaver, VP-advertising and a former ad executive with HotWired. "If what you want to do is really micromarket and position your brand to individual users, we have the technology to do that."
Copyright April 1996 Crain Communications Inc.