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Hot on the Web

Online pioneer shuts down

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on May 30, 2003
(Issue 2122, Pest Control)

By the time you read this, one of the first online news outlets to make a splash will have shuttered.

While the San Jose Mercury News is widely regarded as an online news pioneer for its dial-up Bulletin Board System in the mid-'80s, it was the Nando Times that first gained a national following with a 24/7 online news report in the mid-'90s.

And while the dial-up Mercury News product ultimately failed, both as a business and a model, Nando is a victim of its own success – most major metropolitan newspapers, all the major TV networks, and the BBC and CCN all have fully staffed 24/7 online news outlets now.

Originally the online version of the Charlotte News & Observer (thus the Nando acronym), the Nando Times quickly morphed into one of the first news operations on the Web with round-the-clock updates – and nearly as quickly abandoned its metropolitan focus to cover national and international news with the same broad focus as the television network news.

Coming from a newspaper point of view, Nando also offered the kind of in-depth written new articles that have become a staple online. While CNN was still posting its short television news scripts online, Nando was running articles of the same length and depth of reporting you'd expect from your daily newspaper.

This combination of timeliness, in-depth writing and broad focus made Nando one of the top online destinations. It also demonstrated that the Internet was a viable method of distributing a news product – that on the Web, a small staff could offer a comprehensive, quality report.

An April 25 e-mail from Nando Managing Editor Chris Vaughn to all registered users (it always remained free, but the registration was used to build demographic data for advertisers) explained that the parent company, McClatchy, was repositioning Nando to support the local Web sites of the various McClatchy newspapers.

Vaughn's e-mail showed that right to the end, Nando is a trend-setter – in it, he said that all information from those who registered will be destroyed – not sold.

We can only hope that's another trend that catches on.

Another new model

While Nando rides off into the sunset, begins life.

Launched in mid-April, is an online community devoted to what it says.

Lest you think this is rather a niche market, consider this – according to the press release announcing the site's launch, there are esimated to be 30 million people in the U.S. and Canada of mixed race within 45 years.

Heck, in my family alone every one of my nieces and nephews is of mixed heritage – Mexican and Spanish and African-American (not counting our Irish, German and English mutt background).

The site is your typical community – conversation areas and online personals and e-cards and surveys and polls. It's laid out better than most, is easy to navigate, and loads quickly on dial-up (sigh). There is a free trial period before you have to subscribe, so you can check it out first.

Whether makes a go of things remains to be seen; there is such an abundance of free content and resources online that a subscription model may be a challenge.

But the fact that the founders think there is a market speaks to the resilient optimism of the online world. Even as dot.coms take a pounding in the stock market, here is yet another model ready to take a stab at success.