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Hypergene MediaBlog » Obits Go Meta

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Monday, 05 Jan 2004

Obits Go Meta

Obituaries are one of the most popular sections of any newspaper. They hold a strong emotional appeal for readers and can provide information that’s not easy to find in any other way.

Yet, many online sites treat their obits like any other news section. They post their paid and news obits dutifully and several days later, in most cases, the obits are either sent to the archives - or in the case of The New York Times outsourced to sites like Legacy.com.

Organized in the proper way with a few simple features (like searchable metadata) added, online obits can be turned into a useful service beyond their original intent.

For example, at my current employer, Ancestry.com, we’ve built a crawler that collects hundreds of recent obituaries from the Internet daily. It can even extract facts such as age, birthdate and other people mentioned in the obit. Customers can also set up e-mail alerts and be notified when someone from their town, company or alma mata has passed away.

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It’s not earth shattering technology. It’s not even an original idea. Yet, it’s useful for the customer. And it gets more useful everyday.

While different than sites like Metacritic.com, it provides another point on the trend line of services that not only aggregate but add value to information being produced by print media.

So what’s the big deal? Online newspapers continue to sit on a wealth of information but never seems to do anything smart with it.

A new focus on aggregating and organizing information with metadata properly designed for customers needs can create new revenue opportunities for newspaper and magazines.

Posted on Jan 05, 2004 | 12:23 am EST
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