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Originally published Monday, August 15, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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High-tech playground for news junkies

A weekly column profiling companies and personalities. This week: CommonMedia.

What: CommonMedia, an online community for news, music, left-leaning politics and video.


What it does: CommonMedia's collection of Web sites acts as a platform to distribute free music and video for download, plus an online newspaper whose front page is determined by story selections of readers.

Who: Jeff Reifman, 35, former Microsoft manager, social activist and entrepreneur.

How it works: Reifman uses Web tools such as BitTorrent file-sharing technology to host digital-media files and make them easily downloadable. The site's music and video clips are from artists who share their works free.

More technology: CommonMedia also uses Real Simple Syndication (RSS) and "tagging" to let anyone find news and information on the Web, categorize it with descriptive words or "tags," and then add items to the CommonTimes database. Collectively they produce a kind of news service.

From the user's end: Users download a bookmark application on their Web browser. Bookmarking a page acts as a vote for a story and sends it to the CommonTimes database. People can also set up their own groups, such as the Zoka Coffeehouse Visitors, for sharing news and information on the site.

Sources: Half of the material comes from traditional media sources, such as The New York Times, MSNBC, BBC, Wired, The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer; the other half comes from blogs and independent Web sites.

Audience: "Early adopters of technology with an intellectual focus," Reifman says.

Why: "With corporate ownership of media, we have a problem with an information bottleneck," Reifman says. "I'd like to add value to the mix by distributing information that's harder to find elsewhere." He calls the site "a playground of media and high-tech ideas."

Challenges: Some features aren't easy to use for tech newbies.

Future: Reifman sees the Common Times model as a worthy challenger to Google News because it takes Web news a step further through the use of tags and reader selection. His site has had 2 million page views so far this year.

Funding: Reifman quit his job with nonprofit in April to work on Common Media full time, self-funding the project with about $15,000. "It has commercial potential, but I wouldn't want that to be a big focus," he says.

— Kristi Heim

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