The Aggregator That Newspapers Like

upendra courtesy daylife The Aggregator That Newspapers LikeAt Daylife, a digital media services start-up, founder and chief executive Upendra Shardanand and his team of young engineers have a name for a new breed of journalists: RoboCop editors. These are the folks who have the skills of both a top-notch software developer and a tested newspaper editor. They can create Web pages within minutes, combining original content with links to breaking news from around the world, streaming videos and slideshows. They can drop in Twitter tweets, customized widgets and Google Gadgets with just a few point-and-clicks. Crazier is that when they walk away from their computers, those newly built pages will refresh themselves.

Talk about cyberpunks taking over the news!

Started in 2005 with a slate of top-notch investors—including The New York Times, Huffington Post co-founder Ken Lerer, Meetup’s Scott Heiferman and Craigslist’s Craig Newmark—Daylife began as an aggregator similar to Google News and Inform.com, but with some extra bells and whistles. News, photos, video and other content are gathered together with the latest technology, then tagged with detailed information like location and proper names. Even the tone of content is noted, i.e., something might be “snarky” or “positive.”

Last October, the company rolled out Daylife Select, a publishing product that Mr. Shardanand, 37, calls “the Huffington Post in a box.” With a paid subscription to Daylife’s aggregated database, one or two “RoboCop editors” can use the online software to create information portals with fresh content that would normally take teams of writers to scribe and developers to design.

Daylife’s clients include The Washington Post, NPR and the New York Post. Some publishers, like Newsweek, use their database for small projects, like their Threat Meter, which allows users to rate issues (such as terrorism, or real estate) on a colored scale and view articles with a negative slant on the subjects. USA Today’s Cruise Log section uses Daylife information to plump up hundreds of pages on different cruise lines, ports, styles and deals.

Currently, Daylife charges a flat, annual service fee—ranging from $3,000 to $30,000—for access to their database of content and technology. This fall, Daylife will release a new product that will make creating these kind of next-generation sites easier and even more customizable, Mr. Shardanand told The Observer.

But Daylife is also transitioning its focus from traditional media companies to brands and advertisers. Every organization seems to need an online presence that keeps up with the real-time Web. Hiring a blogger to write a few posts isn’t enough anymore (or perhaps not in the budget).

Whether a sports brand is looking for bios on baseball players or a pet store needs the latest articles on puppy nutrition, Daylife plans to be the go-to data aggregator for hire.

 

“IF YOU NEED more ads, there are places to go. But where do you go if you need more content?” said Mr. Shardanand, sitting in his office on Broadway near Canal, explaining the concept of Daylife. Mr. Shardanand has dark features, with wavy black hair that hangs in soft curls to his neck. He talks so fast that his words run into each other, as if his mouth can’t keep up with his brain.

“If you see a story about something happening in the Gaza Strip, wouldn’t it be great for people to say, ‘Who is that guy?’” added Mr. Shardanand. “What happened a week ago, a month ago, a year ago? How did we get there? It was taking that six degrees of separation and applying it to this concept of the news being Webified instead of these hermetically sealed packages.

“It’s not all about breaking news,” Mr. Shardanand continued, explaining Daylife’s name. “It’s about the day scale and the life scale—so you can have the long view and the short view.” It’s a metaphor for how media companies need to be looking at their technology strategy so they can survive in the new-media landscape, he said.

Daylife currently has a team of 26, mostly product engineers and computer developers, and has survived on $15 million in venture funding from The New York Times, two European venture capital firms, as well as angel investors (one of whom is Andrew Rasiej, co-founder of Personal Democracy Forum and partner with The Observer in the NYFI project).

“Until the end of ’08, it was really a slog trying to get people to—well, you know how it is,” Mr. Shardanand said, interrupting himself. “Publishers are stingy; they fear new things, and don’t work with start-ups.”

But more publishers are willing to experiment. The new NPR Web site launched this week is partially powered by Daylife content, for example. (The New York Times, for the record, doesn’t use Daylife’s services. It’s just an investor whose representatives contribute to “brainstorming” sessions, according to Mr. Shardanand.) He said Daylife’s profitability is “imminent.”

In Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 movie RoboCop (stay with us, here), the government created cyborgs to end crime in Old Detroit so they could build a new utopia. Perhaps RoboCop “writers” building information aggregators will be all that’s left in media’s post-apocalyptic future. Or maybe they just need to be armed with the latest technology artillery to fight for a better future.

greagan@observer.com