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NetNoir expands offerings

As niche sites proliferate online, Web veteran NetNoir is joining the trend with an expansion of its site and new business ventures.

    As sites appealing to niche markets proliferate online, Web veteran NetNoir is joining the trend with the creation of three new business divisions, a redesign of its Web site and AOL channel, and an expansion of its online shopping mall, in time for the holiday season.

    NetNoir has been offering content directed largely at an African-American audience since 1995. Since then, other sites such as AfroNet as well as Microsoft and Black Entertainment Television's joint venture MSBET have launched, looking to reach that same niche audience.

    With its announcements today, NetNoir is looking to capitalize on tremendous growth in traffic on the Net as well as on America Online (keyword: NetNoir). Last week, AOL announced its subscription base reached the 10 million mark six weeks before its New Year's target date.

    "A lot of the success stories online have been niche services," said Patrick Keane, an analyst with Jupiter Communications. "A few years ago, the Web was a playground for wealthy white guys, but that's not so much the case any more. It's definitely moving more toward a mainstream audience.

    "You're starting to see a shift away from just the early adopter market," Keane added. "A lot of that has fallen into specific niches."

    Among the changes to NetNoir is the creation of three new business divisions, which company president and chief executive E. David Ellington said came from client demand.

    "We've developed new skill sets and we're using them to create new revenue streams," he said.

    The three new divisions are NetNoir Multimedia Services, NetNoir Online, and NetNoir Market Research.

    NetNoir Multimedia Services provides consultative and production services to individuals, companies, and organizations in the areas of digital formatting, database development and management, and Web page design, development, and distribution. It also serves as a back-end content provider by creating private-label content for other black-oriented corporate Web sites.

    NetNoir Online is the division that maintains the company's original focus, creating black-oriented interactive content for distribution on the NetNoir Web site and its area on AOL. The content is also distributed under the NetNoir brand on other new media platforms such as Web sites and Internet service providers that deliver Net access through television, such as NetChannel.

    Ellington said his company has been approached by big players such as Hewlett-Packard and Kmart to build job areas on the NetNoir site.

    "Those companies are looking to reach the affluent black Web audience as a source of resumes to tap into that potential skill base," Ellington said.

    NetNoir Market Research provides research services and data mining to companies and organizations interested in reaching the African-American online market.

    Another change to NetNoir announced today is a redesign of its Web site and AOL home. Ellington said its area on AOL provides 75 percent of its traffic, with the other 25 percent coming from its Web site. He also said NetNoir is a majority black-owned business itself, though AOL owns a 25 percent stake in the company. NetNoir was the first company funded by AOL Greenhouse, Ellington said, but it now falls under AOL Studios Ventures.

    The redesign incorporates new departments including People & Culture (PEEPS), a community-building area offering chat rooms, message boards, and a Club NetNoir section with member photos; News & Information (NEWS), with daily national and international black-oriented news feeds, daily polls and surveys, and an events calendar; an entertainment section; and Business & Politics, which features networking opportunities, job searching, marketing opportunities for black businesses and products (NetNoir's so-called Black Pages), business chats and tips, and a political discussion area.

    Another feature for NetNoir's audience is a shopping area, on AOL only.

    With the shopping area, Ellington said, "Here you are in a position to support black companies and products."

    "NetNoir sells an array of goods through its online service on AOL, providing customers and businesses with real presence and real benefits," the company said in a statement. "Users can buy products such as African-American clip art, Kwanzaa gifts, designer ergonomic keyboards, gift baskets, Uncle Darrow's sweet treats, and special screen savers."

    Ellington said the store also will feature deals with online retailers such as Barnesandnoble.com to feature products made by and directed toward African Americans.