What to make of the whole community thing on the Internet? On the one hand, news mogul Rupert Murdoch shells out $550 million for a noisy...

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What to make of the whole community thing on the Internet? On the one hand, news mogul Rupert Murdoch shells out $550 million for a noisy online teen mall called MySpace.com.

On the other, the Well, a hallowed name among virtual communities, has been on the block for three months and apparently has yet to find a buyer.

Now comes Gather, a new service (www.gather.com) that seeks to bring together (“aggregate,” in the lexicon) bloggers. The idea is to tap the exploding blogging community not only for breaking news, but for expertise and commentary in niche topics such as fly-fishing or fuel cells.

Where Boston-based Gather separates itself is in providing a value proposition beyond getting a date. It wants to share advertising revenue with content providers based on their popularity.

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If you’re a hottie and bring readers to MySpace, you get the satisfaction of a fat ranking. If you’re a good writer or photographer, Gather will award you redeemable points similar to credit-card rewards.

You could do much of this on your own through a number of tech tricks. But most Web users would rather not deal with technical challenges, Gather founder Tom Gerace said.

So you get a disconnect: 20 million bloggers posting 1.2 million entries a day, 1.1 million of which are under-read.

“The challenge isn’t getting people to publish,” said Gerace, a seasoned Web entrepreneur. “The challenge is helping people find really great content.”

Some of this is highly serendipitous.

Gerace uses the example of last summer’s London bombings, after which cellphone videos were the best early source of information. The problem, Gerace said, is “How do you find Bob’s cellphone?”

If Bob posted on Gather, and users flocked to his video, it would quickly show up on Gather’s instant-ranking system. The same goes for a tsunami or Hurricane Katrina blog or video (audio and video are not yet postable on Gather, but will be accommodated in a planned January upgrade).

Points also accrue for consistency: posters with punditry skills or valued expertise. Besides elevating the good stuff, Gather’s rating system devalues spam and inappropriate postings.

Gather will need at least 1 million regular subscribers to support its business model, said analyst John Blossom with Shore Communications. Its true strength is in community as content, he noted.

“Rather than aggregating the content as the value point, it’s the community itself that represents the most important aggregation,” he said. The rewards structure and insulated feedback loop could protect Gather against poaching from bigger services like Yahoo! and MSN.

As news shifts from print to online, community-based services are all trying to crack the same nut: doing for news what eBay did for yard sales, Yahoo! did for forums, Amazon.com did for books, Match.com did for dating, Slashdot did for geek-think and so on.

There’s a huge tail trying to wag a dog here. Gather.com thinks it’s the right dog.

Seattle freelance writer Paul Andrews has written about technology for more than two decades. He can be reached at pandrews@seattletimes.com.