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Newsgrape — future of online publishing

20/03/2011

newsgrapeRecently I had an interview with Ilya Zheludev — the CFO at newsgrape.com

They are building a central place to share articles, providing a simple way to publish information in a group of people. This is a web-platform that revolutionize the way people share text on the web.

Enough of the common words, read the whole interview and direct introduction of the service below.

First of all, please introduce your project and tell us what it is all about?
Newsgrape is a new type of free social media website which brings readers and writers together in a not-yet seen environment. It allows writers to collaborate on online magazines of their choice, and in any language. Blogging was the first step in online self-publishing, but it is limited in that blogs are not homogeneous in style, and that unless one has a lot of followers, the published articles are not seen by anyone. In other words, unless a blog is popular, nobody is going to read it. This is where Newsgrape differs.

How it differs and excels the other article/news-aggregating projects? What are the main Newsgrape features?
Articles published in magazines on Newsgrape are distributed to our readers in two ways. Firstly, readers can ‘follow’ magazines, authors and genres in their own personalised section of the site called E-Go. Secondly, new articles gain favour throughout the site based on the opinions of readers. A complex patent-pending algorithm promotes articles throughout the site based on users’ opinions of the article. Without going into specific details, this means that a new article, by a new author, in a new magazine, can become the website’s headline in mere hours, attracting thousands of viewers to it — even if the magazine itself is brand new and has no subscribers. This in itself is revolutionary. It means that one doesn’t need millions of existing subscribers in order to make site-leading headlines. Our selection algorithm promotes articles based on users’ opinions of these new articles.

Articles can contain media and photos too — it’s not just about text!

We also have a Twitter equivalent, called Fastnews which will be released shortly. This works on the same principle, i.e., short messages posted on Fastnews can be seen by thousands of viewers, even if the original author of the message has no followers! Twitter doesn’t have this capability — with Twitter, one can only reach a huge audience if one already has a huge list of subscribers.

In effect, we’re giving the power of headline making to users, regardless of how many followers they have. It’s simply the quality and the interest of an article or Fastnews message that dictates how many viewers will see it.

Now, from the reader’s perspective, we also have some great innovations. I touched on the E-Go, and now I’ll explain more using an example. Imagine that you’re browsing the net, and you see a link from say www.reddit.com which sounds interesting to you. You click it, go to a new page, and read the article. At this stage, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, encouraging you to come back to this page — the vast majority of users will simply click the ‘back’ button, and will return to the original site where the saw the link, in this case, www.reddit.com.

Now, on Newsgrape, this won’t happen. Again, imagine you are browsing Newsgrape, and you see an article in an online magazine that you like. You click the link, and read the article. Now, you have 2 options: you can subscribe to the author, and you can subscribe to the magazine. This way, next time you visit Newsgrape, your E-Go section will be populated with new articles by that magazine and/or author which you just subscribed to. In other words, if you enjoy articles on Furniture, and have subscribed to furniture-related authors and magazines, your E-Go section will be full of articles relating to furniture — exactly as you want it.

Think of E-Go as magazine created SPECIFICALLY for you, which is tailored to your own wants, and nobody else’s. And all of this happens for free.

Furthermore, and this is very important: our writers, whoever they are, get up to 75% of the advertising revenue their own articles generate for Newsgrape, transferred into their accounts via PayPal. Thus, you can sign up and start authoring or co-authoring a magazine on a subject you’re passionate about. If you continue to write interesting content that gets a lot of attention, you’ll receive profits from this — and the more users that Newsgrape has, the bigger your profits will be. No other site out there offers anywhere near this level of profit-earning potential.

Registering takes 30 seconds. We collect NO privacy information from you other than your nickname, and a verification of whether you are over 18 or not. Giving any other info such as your name and location is up to you entirely. If you wish to leave Newsgrape, you can delete your account within seconds, and all your privacy data is deleted instantly. We don’t sell your privacy data, or let anyone see it. In fact, we don’t even see it — we do not care about your privacy data. All we care about is the provision of a simple, multilingual and beneficial service to our readers and writers.

Currently we’re in Pre-Beta, and there’s a waiting list to join Newsgrape. Anyone can sign up to this waiting list by visiting http://newsgrape.com/beta/ . Typically, users get granted access to the site within a week of joining the list, depending on demand.

We will never charge for the site, and the amount of features we’re offering is growing on a weekly basis.

How did you realize the idea of newsgrape and decided to create the startup?
Newsgrape is an iteration from a trial magazine that was started in Austria a few years ago. Called www.critics.at , the magazine showed us that web users are desperate for a homogeneous online magazine-style environment where they can self-publish. Users wanted the simplicity of a magazine, but the flexibility of blogging. Many users have a lot to say, but don’t know how to start a blog because of the web-coding skills required. With Critics, one didn’t need to have ANY web-coding skills. Newsgrape is an evolution of this — it’s a website that contains many such magazines, all available to users in a simple straightforward environment. Yes, one can customise the backgrounds and logos of the magazine, but this involves no web coding. And unlike tumblr.com , each magazine has generally the same simple and efficient layout — so users can jump from magazine to magazine, and understand exactly what and where they are posting, or reading.

There’s nothing else like it out there.

What are the future plans for developing?
Newsgrape is currently in a closed pre-beta phase. It’s taken over a year of extremely hard work to get this far, and we launched on the 9th of Feb 2011. What you see on the website right now is the very basic implementation of Newsgrape. The payment system I mentioned earlier isn’t up yet, and neither is the FastNews. These are key features which will be available this summer. Right now, users can write and read magazines, message each other, write lengthy comments to the articles (and many do), and collaborate with others on magazines. But this doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t join now. In fact, those who are serious about earning good money from Newsgrape should sign up now and start writing — because once we launch the payment system, those with many magazines and articles already will have a clear advantage.

We have a huge host of features for the future. To name just a few: users with existing blogs elsewhere will be able to automatically integrate them into Newsgrape, thus generating incomes from articles from their own blogs, and Newsgrape too — thus increasing their earning capacity. FastNews, our revolutionary micro-messaging system that we think offers a better service than Twitter does is launching soon. We also have plans for mobile-clients for android, iphone, ipod touch, ipad et cetera. We also have plugins being launched so that current blogging platforms can be easily integrated with Newsgrape. We’re also launching a professional service, which will allow established publishers to put their material on Newsgrape as well as their own sites, thus increasing their earning potential too. And on top of that we have a list of many products for the late future which will revolutionise online text and article publishing even further — I can’t talk about these right now, but all I can say is that online publishing is going to be improving very rapidly thanks to Newsgrape.

At this point I should mention that the entire Newsgrape engine has been written with scalability and expandability at its core. There’s a reason it has taken us over a year of insanely hard work to launch the pre-beta — it’s because our plans for the future are integral to our business model, and this must be accommodated for in our programming.

Did you invest much in the project? Do you have any ideas on how to gain profit from newsgrape or maybe it is now profitable? Tell us how kickstarter helped you with fundraising, was it the only one project for fundraising?
Newsgrape was originally funded via personal loans. Our income currently comes from online advertising. At the moment we’re using Google’s advertising platform, but soon we’ll be launching our own advertising platform — much like Facebook did.

Kickstarter was extremely beneficial for us — we managed to raise over $16,000 from the site from the generosity of others who believe in the concept. We raised more money than we had originally expected to get from Kickstarter, and we are one of the first companies, if not the first company on Kickstarter that’s not American.

We have passed the critical seed stage, and now have a product that’s up and running and attracting a lot of media coverage as our userbase grows. The next step for us is a growth investment, and those interested in investing in Newsgrape should contact me, the CFO, on iz@newsgrape.com .

How many people were there when you decided to launch the project and how big is your team now?
When the idea was being put together, there were only three team members: the two co-founders Felix Hausler and Leo Fasbender, and the Senior Programmer, Gabor Guzmics.

The team has since grown 7 full-time members: Ilya Zheludev (that’s me), the CFO. Bernhard Vallant our new CTO, and Sean Mc Allister and Klemens Mantzos our wiz-kid programmers. We also have a team of programmers who work for us on a freelance basis.

Our team has strong ties to Russia. Leo, one of the co-founders, grew up in Moscow and his family is still based there. I was born in Moscow, but moved to the UK when I was very young — a lot of my family is still in Russia however.

Interestingly, our team is from all over the world — and this is representative of our appeal. The site is multilingual, and isn’t targeted at any particular country or language. Our appeal is global.

As the site grows, the number of team-members we have will grow accordingly. At the moment it’s a case of funding — the more growth investment we can get, the quicker we will be able to implement our new features.

How big is your community now?
Our community has around 1,000 registered users from all over the world. We offer a big range of writing languages, and users can both read and write articles in any language of their choice. We have users from the US, UK, Western Europe and Russia. We’re keeping the amount of users we have under full control, and let in batches of users every 3-4 days — this allows us to make sure that our servers can handle the load and that our product is being delivered the way we want it to.

And of course, what are your future plans?
Our plans are simple: to be able to implement the big array of features we have in store for Newsgrape. This is conditional on us receiving sufficient growth funding — the sooner we have that, the sooner we can start churning out new features. We’re also very keen on getting new users to sign up and join the site. We want people to write more collaborative magazines with one another, in any language they wish.

Newsgrape is the future of online publishing, and we’ve received great praise from the media. We want people to sign up to Newsgrape, and start reading and writing. We have no limits on the articles and genres people wish to write about — anything goes, and our user-driven algorithm will make sure that the articles and magazines available on Newsgrape are of a high quality.

And the sooner that individuals sign up to Newsgrape and start writing, the much better the chance they’ll have of earning a great income from Newsgrape once our payment system is launched.

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