It's no secret that publishers have yet to figure out the best way to leverage the marketing power of the Internet. The Web remains something of a technological piñata for the industry: it has the promise of yielding great rewards if only someone could find a way in. thinks it has.

Established in November and now with a membership of just over 5,000, the Boston-based dot-com is a mix between a lifestyle portal and a content aggregator. Offering users the opportunity to publish their own content and then rate that of other members, Gather's founders hope the site will give users something that the blogosphere-at-large does not: a built-in audience. With far-reaching categories that run the gamut from World Travel to Literature, the writing on Gather includes everything from recipes to book excerpts. Tom Gerace, Gather's founder and CEO, said "seeks to do for user-driven media what eBay did for user-driven retail." Noting that the blogosphere is overcrowded, Gerace hopes Gather can offer something for the published author, the hoping-to-be published author, the casual blogger and the engaged user: a preexisting community of interested readers. "The key thing about Gather," Gerace said, "is that you can publish anything you want and we will make it widely available."

While much of Gather's staff comes from outside of publishing, the company has hired former B& executive Carl Rosendorf as president and COO. Rosendorf's appointment is a move Gather publicist Lisa Hurd-Walker (herself a former staffer at Barefoot Books) said demonstrates the site's dedication to the book space. "Developing relationships with publishers is one of our highest priorities."

Gather is funded in part by American Public Media Group, a company that produces 22 national radio shows airing on public stations throughout the country. Gerace intends to exploit the connection by promoting Gather on APMG broadcasts with the hope of bringing public radio listeners (known for being dedicated bibliophiles) to the site.

Houghton Mifflin, the first publisher on Gather, sees potential in the site. Taryn Roeder, assistant publicity manager at HM, thinks Gather could be a spawning ground for new talent as well as a place to attract new readers. "We're always trying to reach public radio listeners," Roeder said, "and this seems to be where they're going online."

In Roeder's view, Gather has the potential to do for books what MySpace did for music. MySpace, which is currently the 19th-most-trafficked site on the Web, according to Media Metrix, evolved from an underground community site into one of the premier places for record labels to generate prerelease buzz for new albums. Because MySpace also featured blogs by established artists, Roeder thinks Gather could promote writers in a similar way. Houghton has already encouraged some of its authors to join Gather—one of them is Kristin Henderson, who penned the February title While They're at Warabout the wives of military husbands fighting overseas. Since Gather features profiles in which members list the details of their lives (photos are optional), Roeder hopes that this community aspect can get her authors the kind of traction there that musicians have gotten at MySpace. Henderson, for example, will be posting blog-type entries on Gather while she is in Iraq on an upcoming assignment (she writes for theWashington Post Magazineand other publications).

HM is also sponsoring a short fiction contest through Gather. Users will submit their work for publication consideration, and the house's short fiction editor will be one of the judges. In addition, HM is hoping to draw attention to some of its publishing brands. By posting excerpts on Gather about nature and word etymologies from the house's Peterson Field Guides and American Heritage Dictionaries, respectively, the hope is that site members will stumble onto the content and then be drawn to the books. Although Gather doesn't currently have partnerships with any online retailers, HM has placed hotlinks sending users to its own Web site.