The Story of SoiTu.es: Community + Technology + Editorial

Following is a preview of Latino Link: Building brands online with Hispanic communities and content from Paramount Books.

How can we develop great content online for the Spanish-language world in the years ahead? Much like the Madrid-based blog networks in my previous post, we can answer this question by looking to one of the leaders of publishing in Spain: Gumersindo Lafuente, who founded SoiTu.es, a truly innovative content portal, previously ran the newspaper site ElMundo.es and as of January, 2010 became a co-director of ElPais.com.

Mr. Lafuente feels that news organizations must do a better job of integrating information and technology to figure out new ways to distribute and consume content. This is why he hired programmers to work in-house to develop SoiTu’s own back-end systems including their content management system, ad server, and UTOI, a Twitter-for-journalists that could scan text, suggest tags and create a better way to organize journalistic information. From the readers’ perspective, SoiTu offered search tools by keyword, theme and date and fully integrated social media style commenting, encouraging users to register on the site.

SoiTu-Widgets
Here, you can see SoiTu’s weather, lottery, soccer and skiing widgets that they developed for consumers to use in iGoogle, Apple’s dashboard, on blogs or wherever you want to include the code. (However great RSS is, Mr. Lafuente admits that the vast majority of users don’t set up a custom RSS page on Google Reader.)


Even though the site was shut down in October of 2009, you could compare SoiTu.es to Apple’s early PDA device, the Newton. While neither the Newton nor SoiTu live on today, the Newton forecast Apple’s iPhone, and future publishers and content companies will copy SoiTu’s innovations. Let’s take a look at a few examples here.

SoiTu-Navigation
First of all, SoiTu’s color-coded navigation created a unique identity for each content channel.

SoiTu-ElSelector
Second, SoiTu developed “El Selector de Noticias,” or “The Selector of News,” a community-powered feed where SoiTu users could share and recommend articles from 3rd party sites. You could describe it as a more user-friendly version of Yahoo’s Delicious bookmarking service combined with Twitter. What was the benefit for SoiTu in offering links to competitive sites? It built trust in their brand via their community members, encouraging them to visit the site again and again.

SoiTu-I-Love-Publi
Third, their “I Love Publi,” or “I love advertising” blog covered advertising, design and media trends. It attempted to integrate advertising into the community-oriented site instead of maintaining the usual editorial vs. advertising mentality within media companies.

Most importantly, SoiTu.es established a media brand across the Spanish-language world based upon the meaning of SoiTu, or “Soy Tu,” literally “I am you” in Spanish, whereby they created a community of pro-sumer reader-contributor-promoters of their site. Instead of Fox News or CNN, for example, feeding news to its viewers, SoiTu’s community developed content, shared it with friends and fostered new readers and fans. Mr. Lafuente remembers Gabi Campanario, an illustrator based in Seattle, who scanned illustrations from his moleskin notebook, explaining what he drew in accompanying articles. After gaining a following on SoiTu, he later started his own community site with other illustrators from around the world who wanted to share scans of their moleskin notebooks with readers.

Might this example of scans from moleskin notebooks forecast how the web will evolve in the future, as more of a community-based and visual experience with less textual information?

Unlike the mass media, which covers scandals, accidents and gossip, SoiTu focused its content channels around areas of interest such as movies, music, sex, trends, digital life, health, food, gastronomy, design and architecture. Over 150 writers from around the Spanish-speaking world including Latin Americans and Spanish-expatriates contributed to Vida Urbana, or “Urban Life,” writing about daily living, fashion and leisure trends. Writers, architects, students and professors pitched their story about their corner of the world to the editorial staff of Vida Urbana who would then approve and edit the stories.

SoiTu took some great chances with their editorial efforts, especially “Hartos del Coche” or “Sick of the Car” (in English), since the auto industry advertises extensively online. The channel documented how citizens can enjoy cities on bikes or in-line skates and reduce air pollution and traffic. Without cars, we can live a more sustainable, healthier existence and enjoy greater mobility.

According to ComScore, as much as 49% (November, 2008) and as little as 22% (September, 2009) of SoiTu’s visitors came from Latin America. Mr. Lafuente noticed that both at SoiTu and at ElMundo.es when you launch an editorial product or tool for Mexico, for example, the traffic there would immediately spike without any advertising promotion or support.
SoiTu-MediaTrend

The big challenge in building up an audience in Latin America is selling the advertising inventory there. Mr. Lafuente does not see it as a profitable option and whoever can do that is very ambitious. (I will count myself as one of the ambitious ones then.) He says the Hispanic and Latin American markets are very complicated and countries like Chile and Peru, for example, are very different. In addition, even though Spanish companies like Zara, Santander, BBVA, Endesa and Repsol have expanded throughout Latin America, they do not advertise globally.

On the other hand, the movie industry launches films globally on the same day in order to avoid problems with piracy. Warner Bros., Universal and the other film studios were forced to develop global advertising, marketing and communication programs to fight this issue. For that matter, any virtual or intangible product like music, film, travel reservations and now books (with the Kindle) all must consider global sales strategies and advertising plans because of the World Wide Web. Unfortunately, many of the professionals in the media business lack creativity, good planning and intelligence overall says Mr. Lafuente, and so the Internet advertising system doesn’t work very well.

In the end, SoiTu successfully built its ad sales revenues to almost $1M USD in 2009 and was on track to become profitable in 2011. But when their bank representative changed, they lost their financing and BBVA decided to close the site down. SoiTu was a great experiment, mixing communities, technology and editorial with new design templates. Fortunately, the editorial and publishing companies that will succeed in the future can follow SoiTu’s lead.

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