'Economist' buoys Web push

NEW YORK: The Economist is set to kick off its third online debate this week as it works to expand its Web site into a quasi-social networking tool to harness the prestige of its readers. The Oxford-style debate, called Debate, will center on education before it moves on to other topics.

NEW YORK: The Economist is set to kick off its third online debate this week as it works to expand its Web site into a quasi-social networking tool to harness the prestige of its readers. The Oxford-style debate, called Debate, will center on education before it moves on to other topics.

"The debate [series] is our first effort at taking a technology and using it in a way that we hope expresses the brand and the brand values," said Ben Edwards, publisher of Economist.com.

Later this year, the company will relaunch a "version two" of the product with better technology and more user features. The aim, Edwards says, is to "elevate the whole way you use the comment into a more formal, structured conversation between people."

Traffic is being drawn to the site from home-page and newsletter links, targeted blog outreach, and PR outreach by the invited guests themselves.

The company wants to expand the project this year, both size-wise and with enhanced features like user-profile pages.

The debate series, featuring two experts posting arguments on designated topics, with separate comments from readers, initially launched last November.

The debates have drawn around 100,000 page views, but the company views them as a branding exercise rather than "a volume play," Edwards said.

The Economist is focusing on making the site a more welcoming place for readers.

"You can imagine how Debate would function as the front end of an effort to encourage people to profile themselves," added Edwards.

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