Wikio walks out to a sticky wicket

Wikio – which has launched a UK version – is a news portal featuring a search engine scouring press sites, the blogoshere and product listings. Think Google News meets Kelkoo meets Digg. But before I go on, at this point some disclosure is necessary: Ouriel Ohayon, editor of TechCrunch France [Update, Feb 2008: Ohayon is no longer editing TCF] and also a VC himself, is a shareholder and board member of Wikio, prior to which he reviewed Wikio here. However, I personally have no ‘interest’ in Wikio and since they have launched a UK version, the site seems worthy of discussion here.

Based in Luxembourg with a startup capital of 1.7mEUR Wikio has a team of 34 people (half tech, half infomediaries) located in various European countries, and claims over 5 million monthly uniques in continental Europe, according to Nielsen. Its blog service has a memetracker tracking blog discussions and a rather interesting Blog ranking. (This blog is number one but I do rather wonder about that. The position of a blog in the Wikio ranking depends on the number and weight of the incoming links from other blogs. Blogrolls are not taken into account and Wikio only counts links from the last 120 days. With their algorithm, the weight of a link from a top blog is greater than that of a link from a blog that is less well ranked. It doesn’t sound very egalitarian but there you go. I guess I won’t complain that TCUK is number one, but I’m surprised that some blogs I know are not on the list).

Wikio also has a Digg-like ratings systems which is obviously broader in its subjects. Indexing over 55,000 media sites, blogs, video 70,000 products, all in real-time, there is a heavy price comparison aspect to this. Click on a product and you get a Kelkoo-style list of stuff. You can also only vote for something up. You can’t vote it down.

I like the fact that Wikio has localised versions, so I can click on the US, UK, French or German site and get a different picture on the world (assuming one can). Wikio “Live” is pretty cool, though it turns over headlines way too fast.

Ultimately though, Wikio’s main pitch is that it is indexing news sites and blogs and majors on new product reviews.

The Kelkoo comparison is no coincidence. Founder Pierre Chappaz was previously the founder of Kelkoo, long since sold to Yahoo! who in turn is now trying to sell it off. And here is where the wheels start to come off the Wikio idea, especially in the UK market.
Price comparison and product review sites are now a dime-a-dozen in the UK. Experian is having problems with its PriceGrabber service and plans to sell it. Yahoo has been looking to sell Kelkoo, which operates in 10 European countries, since October last year. Pricerunner, launched in Sweden in 1999 and bought by ValueClick for £16m, seems to be losing momentum. Six year old is only staying in the game by runnning TV advertising on high rotation. The dominant player is Moneysupermarket which is the runaway market leader. It floated on the stock exchange last year for £800m. Wikio’s entry into the UK must therefore be seen in this context.

There are a few more issues.

When you click on a news link a new browser window opens with the story framed and Wikio’s ‘vote, send to a fiend’ bar still at the top. Very annoying. I know how to open a new browser window thanks, and at least I end up with the right URL in the address bar so I can bookmark it etc. This is a sucky way of operating – there’s no better way of saying it. It reminds me of horrible affiliate sites which send you in an eternal loop of new windows.

Although Wikio’s digg-like voting system is good it seems a way off mass adoption and the very ‘busy’ design of the site still feels like it’s not going to reach its goal of bringing RSS to the mainstream. (Despite it’s very non mainstream URL, UK startup remains a more mainstream interface to RSS, although it’s still only in private beta).

Wikio is clearly more of a news hub on acid. There is a serious amount of features to this site. The trouble is, it doesn’t seem distinct enough right now and it’s strategic positioning seems flawed in 2008.