Few topics are hotter in the future-of-news world than aggregation, except perhaps for the ongoing quest to find a way to make money off of news online. So when a startup combines both, like Ongo is doing, people are going to pay attention. The service, launched this week by eBay/Skype/PayPal alum Alex Kazim, offers aggregated news from several major news outlets for fees starting at $6.99 a month. Kazim told paidContent that he’s targeting users who graze among numerous news sites and value a sharp user experience more highly than the content itself.
The instant reviews weren’t exactly enthusiastic. Mashable’s Lauren Indvik said that Ongo’s slim selection of news outlets will likely leave users getting only a fraction of their daily news via Ongo — something they may not be willing to pay for. (Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson of the Financial Times made a similar argument.) Zee Kane of The Next Web said Flipboard, Feedly and Google Reader all provide similar services, and they’re all cheaper and better. Lost Remote’s Cory Bergman compared Ongo with Hulu’s model, but noted that Hulu’s product (entertainment TV) is scarcer and more highly demanded than Ongo’s product (online news).
GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram had the harshest criticism, arguing that no one who knows how to use RSS will have any reason to use Ongo. “Ongo seems like yet another Hail Mary pass aimed at trying to rewind the clock and impose scarcity on media content, and one that will likely fail just as quickly as others have,” he wrote.
But there is one group of people who have quite a bit of faith in Ongo — newspaper executives, particularly those from The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Gannett, all of whom have invested in the company. The Times, of course, is planning an online paid-content plan of its own, which The Wall Street Journal reported it will begin rolling out next month. According to the Journal, the Times’ current plan has an iPad/web bundle costing more than twice as much as a website subscription alone, leading Reuters’ Felix Salmon to wonder why the Times seems to be planning on pushing readers away from its iPad app.