What Potential Does i100 Have for Advertisers?

Considering many think that launching free websites is the biggest mistake the newspaper industry ever made, it's interesting to see that the Independent's i has just launched....yes, you guessed it - a free website. But it's a free website with a difference.This is a free website where the readers curate the news - or, at least, decide which order it's displayed in - by 'upvoting' it.The List, on the left hand side, is the primary means to navigate the i100 site. As its name suggests, it lists the 'news' stories in an order determined by an algorithm combining the 'new-ness' of an article and how much it has been 'upvoted'. This is the main navigation for the site, although there is a colour-coded primary navigation bar which breaks the news down into categories - Discover, News, People, Videos, Sport, Tech, Offbeat and Ents.The main section of the site is a reading pane for articles. This endlessly scrolls - so as the reader comes to the end of the article they're reading, the one below it in 'The List' gets automatically uploaded.The 'news' items have been created in a format which reflects our social media driven world and aims to make them highly share-able. Items have short snappy headlines a la Twitter and are highly visual, a la Instagram. And not all of the 'news items' are news related - 'The nine optical illusions that will make your brain melt' sits alongside analysis on the MH17 crash.Users have to login, which they can do using a number of social options including Twitter, Facebook and Google+, before they can upvote, comment on or share articles. Once logged in, users will also be able to see how their connections have interacted with the site and, emulating the likes of FourSquare, will receive awards and achievements for how often they vote or share articles.The site will be available on a variety of platforms, including mobile and tablet, so there's a risk that those that make up i's c300,000 circulation will just logon to the site rather than pay 30p for their print copy. We think this risk is limited - i100's content is news-driven, but it's not news. Rather, it's a complement to the news - something they clearly hope i readers will go on to explore after they've finished reading the traditional paper.If they do, i100 could generate the eyeballs to become a success. But the real potential of i100's format will be realised if the readers get engaged with the content by upvoting, commenting and sharing - then possibilities open up for more personalised advertising targeted via the readers' interests, as demonstrated by the articles they've engaged with.At present, i100 offers advertisers banners and MPUs (embedded in The List) which can either be bought direct or programmatically as well as native formats embedded in articles. With the latter, the 'user-ranked' nature of the site dictates a more agile approach - sponsored content can easily become buried towards the bottom of the list so it makes sense for advertisers to see what's popular, judge whether it resonates with their brand and then sponsor the article if both boxes are ticked.Is i100 worth serious consideration for advertisers? First Direct clearly think so, as they have a sponsorship running until the end of this year - although they likely picked that up for a song. For those brands interested in a young, metropolitan audience, it has potential but there are too many unknowns at present - not least, how popular the site is going to be. The concept is so new that the i100 team won't be 100% sure how the content, both editorial and advertising, is going to be consumed by it's readers. Best to wait until those lessons have been learned before committing any spend to this interesting new concept.