WSJ, InfiniteAgent Launch News Bot

  |  May 8, 2003   |  Comments

WSJOnline looks to sell subscriptions -- and includes in-line ads.

Dow Jones & Co.'s Wall Street Journal Online is launching its news instant messaging bot, powered by InfiniteAgent.

The bot, dubbed "WSJOnline" and available on America Online's AOL Instant Messenger network, gives current news headlines and summaries, and stock quotes, when users send it an IM. Users can navigate through menus to sort headlines by region or section, and can click on the summaries to open the stories on the site -- but only if a user is a paid subscriber to the site, that is.

In addition to news and stock information typical of other bots -- like ActiveBuddy's recently relaunched SmarterChild -- the WSJOnline bot has one unique feature: in-line advertising.

"It's our goal to be the news information provider of choice on any platform that our subscribers want to get the news," said Michael Henry, director of online sales at the Journal. "We know that instant messaging is starting to take off in the workplace, and a technology solution came our way and we found out that there were a couple advertisers interested in supporting it."

Ads consist of one- or two-line text and hyperlinks, under a small banner labeled "advertisement." New York ad technology player DoubleClick is serving the ads, on which IBM thus far is the sole advertiser on the service.

The effort marks one of the first uses of instant messaging communications as advertising inventory. Until now, marketing efforts generally have leveraged IM by creating branded chat and information bots -- like Keebler's RecipeBuddie, for instance.

Henry said that in addition to Big Blue, "we have other [advertisers] lined up, but IBM has it locked up for the launch period." He declined to go into detail about specifics of IBM's buy -- but said that the ads weren't being sold on an per-impression (that is, per-view) basis.

"It's probably something that eventually can be sold on impressions," he said. "There's probably lots of ways that we can do to break down the inventory and do targeting. But we haven't really explored that -- we're waiting to see what usage is."

Aside from carrying ads, the WSJOnline IM service also is intended as a way to promote the Online Journal's subscription-based Web site content.

The new service taps into one of the fastest-growing channels of communications. Dow Jones officials said it was attracted to the medium because of its high penetration in the workplace (to the chagrin, at times, of corporate IT staffs and compliance officers) and research conducted on its subscribers that determined that readers were eager to receive news via IM.

"The explosion of instant messaging in the enterprise, combined with the instantaneous nature of the medium, makes IM a natural platform for delivery of The Wall Street Journal's news," said Todd Larsen, president of Dow Jones Consumer Electronic Publishing. "This new service will benefit our subscribers by extending their access to Journal news and information into an emerging medium many of them are using daily. We also hope to attract new subscribers by giving IM users an introduction to Journal content and driving them back to our paid Web site for full articles and in-depth coverage."

The effort comes about following an agreement between Dow Jones and New York-based InfiniteAgent, a unit of Internet development shop Ailiant, in 2001.

"No one's ever done anything quite like this," Henry said of the delay in launching the product. "It took some experimenting with how it would work and how the technology would interface with our servers. And it took some time for conversations about the relationship with AOL, and for figuring out what our communications strategy would be."

WSJOnline also marks the latest chapter in the effort by companies to find ways to turn instant messaging and bot technology into a revenue-generator.

In addition to powering a slew of branded chat bots, New York-based ActiveBuddy recently began charging for its SmarterChild bot, which offers news, weather, sports information, and games from Reuters and other sources. Unlike most publicly accessible IM bots, ActiveBuddy charges an annual fee for use of its service.

Vendors also are seeking ways to turn the technology underlying bots into a business tool. Firms including ActiveBuddy, Sprint , Conchango, Cobra Technologies, Vayusphere, and Instant Technologies offer pre-made bots -- or kits to create them -- that link to corporate databases or enterprise applications. Using one of these bots, an IM user can then interact with corporate systems via an IM interface, through natural language or text menus. Such implementations could be useful for users on legacy systems or mobile devices. Other bot-like systems could incorporate presence- and availability-detection to, say, proactively warn system administrators of problems.

Christopher Saunders is managing editor of

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