Wednesday, April 30, 2003

A Media Management Center and Readership Institute poll of 4.500 newspaper readers has delivered some bad news to the industry: the younger generation is not finding much "stickiness" in their media, and older generations are only modestly impressed by some industry improvements. This generational aspect to the content industry is oftentimes ignored in professional circles, but it's a key element that drives user behaviors in all environments. When studying professional content users, make sure to understand how the attitudes of people raised on electronic content may shape your own content deployment plans - and help you to create your own "buzz".

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

The long-anticipated settlement that government regulators have wrested from U.S. investment banks is in, and the I-banks are now required to provide objective research to their clients. This is going to take some culture change, according to a New York Times article. It would seem that the bank-supplied research was largely regarded as a joke inside these firms, even though its value was consistently touted by securities sales reps. It's not something that should be entirely surprising, but it's a parable worth bearing in mind for companies of all kinds that are trying to establish content streams for their own customers. Content is oftentimes the cornerstone of building business relationships, relationships that are not easily repaired when trust in that content - and its producers - is broken. As it is, the I-banks have now set the stage for other content providers to take center stage in the race for trustworthiness- and profits.

Monday, April 28, 2003

A CNET News article highlights how Ford learned from the stampede on its corporate Website in the wake of the Firestone tire blowout fiasco. Since the patterns of inquiry were radically different from what usually was requested, Ford found themselves scrambling to analyze reports from their AskJeeves search manager to figure out how they could have information in place to respond to changing query patterns extremely rapidly. Out of crisis was born a good habit: they continue this practice even today, so as to better understand customer needs and to have their Web site respond to them very dynamically. Being able to understand usage patterns and to have highly contextual content respond to those needs as automatically as possible is a key element in creating content value that moves beyond searching to "finding".

Friday, April 25, 2003

A nice article on practical applications of portal technology to support clients' content needs in InternetWorld highlights how CIGNA keeps its support costs down on supporting benefits recipients with portal capabilities. CIGNA puts clients in control of their own information, and gives them additional content that will keep them focused on their relationship with this supplier. As we say, the leading publishers of today are the institutions that are loaded with the technology to publish at an individual and institutional level to the highly focused audiences that they serve in their client bases, their supply chains and their staffs. Creating valuable content not only holds down costs, it builds relationships and knowledge of individual interests that can help market their services - and focus users on information that will heighten those relationships.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Google's acquisition of Applied Semantics highlights the synergies that they bring to Google's advertising efforts, but the general news media seems to miss the other key element of AS's strengths: enterprise sales. Google appliances and the like have had limited success in the enterprise sphere, where being able to understand content in context oftentimes requries sophisticated analysis of documents for relevance that cannot be determined from web links that oftentimes don't exist. Applied Semantics focuses these capabilities and document summary capabilities on both enterprise content and news content. This acquisition provides and instantly recognizable brand name to leverage for enterprise sales.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

ClickTracks, a company that uses Google's Content-Targeted Advertising to promote its Web site clickstream analysis tools, has used their own capabilities to analyze how effective the new service is...and the results are not promising, from their perspective. One of the key problems seems to be that many of the sites into which this new Google capability is inserted do not provide content that's contextual enough to their own products to attract people investigating the purchase of their products. Many sites in which the ads are placed are just not the kinds of places that people visit on the Web when they're ready to buy. It's an important lesson to bear in mind about contextual content in general: just because a machine says that something is contextual doesn't mean that a person sees that context in light of their immediate needs. Factoring in and analyzing individual motivations is a key component of making contextual content successful.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

While content springs from all sorts of channels, by far the most popular electronic channel is still...email. Not that we love it, but it's there, as Sir Edmund Hillary once opined about Mount Everest, and that's perhaps its most important positive attribute. It's an interface and a metaphor that even the most technophobic people can master at some level. Along comes Kubi Software, which has invented some neat collaborative tools that drop in to Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes and provide simple, intuitive ways to introduce content sharing and team documents into an interface that is already familiar to millions. At first whirl, it appears to offer a lot of the collaborative upside of Groove Networks without a lot of heavy and intricate software. An interface's value to an individual is sometimes as important to content value as the content itself; oftentimes simple and familiar channels are the best.

Monday, April 21, 2003

The search battles continue to heat up, in order to make our Web worlds more human-scaled. SurfWax, a small startup, is attacking the enterprise search market, while Convera, Verity, Google and other continue their push. Jeeves is hitting back with enhanced capabilities and iPhrase provides more sophisticated analysis of queries to target people's real content and service needs. Will we ever get to the point where ordering sophisticated content will be as simple as picking up a phone to order a pizza? Not today, but intuitive content location and purchasing continues to makes strides.
It was not so long ago when content services such as Bloomberg and Reuters were the darlings of financial traders and professional investors, in large part because of their ability to provide messaging capabilities that linked buyers and sellers of securities. But with an expanded network of secure messaging and collaboration capabilities, Communicator Inc. is providing both personal and vendor content via its channels that circulates content both inside these firms and between them. As outlined in an Instant Messaging Planet.com article, their service is becoming fairly pervasive. Chalk up yet another example of institutions empowering themselves with their own publishing capabilities that build on the value of trusted relationships.

Friday, April 18, 2003

While the world of media giants digests the departure of Thomas Rogers from the helm of Primedia, a hemorraging magazine and e-properties conglomerate, the real action is out in Gillette, Wyoming, where local librarians are singing the praises of eBooks (4/20 - sorry, link appears to have died!). The seven eBook readers available at the local library have become so popular that the library has ordered up three more. As was highlighted by a number of participants in this week's Buying and Selling eContent conference, library budgets on all levels are hard-pressed to keep up with an explosion in new titles as the Periodical Price Index soars nearly three times higher than the rate of U.S. inflation. Even as many of the publishing giants continue to resist the new structure of the information economy, hard economic times are an impetus for those at the grass roots level to discover what's really working in content.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Thomson is providing enhanced insider trading alerts via its Thomson One product, filtering the corporate filings information posted by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), applying algorithms, and identifying patterns of trading which indicate that large stockholders in the know are making some timely stock trading decisions. This generates four times the alerts that a non-analyzed view of the information would otherwise provide. Being able to create content value from otherwise commoditized or undervalued content by placing it in more valuable contexts is the key to success in today's content marketplace. The contexts are getting more sophisticated, though, and the winners are those who continually improve and broaden that contextualization based on the ever-changing needs and interests of their audiences.
I found FCW.com's article on tacit knowledge especially interesting in light of an experience I had yesterday at DCI's Enterprise Portals and Web Services conference. The article points up how so much knowledge is locked into people's minds and never captured via information systems. This is one of the key aims of collaboration systems, but you may want to think broadly about who is a part of that community. At the DCI conference American Airlines was showing off their employee portal, which included an attractive section for retirees and former employees containing benefits info and the like, but no collaboration features. Who better to get involved in the knowledge chain than people who know all the tricks of the trade...?

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Dow Jones News is jumping on the Instant Messaging bandwagon, experimenting with the distribution of realtime financial information, news, capital markets updates, corporate reports and filings targeted at fixed income securities markets. This is a great example of using IM to reach highly targeted markets where content needs to be highly contextual to both business deals and business relationships. Bond traders and other fixed income players certainly consume a great deal of information in putting together deals, but the relationship factor is key to these markets. IM provides the capability to provide traditional sources of content and trusted opinions from market peers and respected analysts to make business happen.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

A small but noteworthy story on workstations in the insurance underwriting business caught my eye, noting how the availability of realtime information and data in these packages has created quite a change in this industry (One wonders what Jack Nicholson's just-retired underwriter character from "About Schmidt" would have thought!). More and more segments of business are taking on the model of decision support using high quantities of content and analysis tools to make "real-time" business decisions. Return on investment is important from a technology perspective, but increasingly content is being viewed from the perspective of cost of opportunity - and opportunities can be lost if the right content isn't available in the right context at the right time.
Interesting juxtaposition of stories: on the one hand, Line56 points out that we see that there are more tools that allow departmental-level organizations to develop similar but targeted small portals, while a CRM Daily article notes how large content manager players such as Vignette are scrambling to reposition and reprice their offerings for smaller deployments. It oftentimes seems to be the case these days that publishing tools that were originally scaled for large commercial publishers and corporate-level deployment are not well tuned to the new environment of locally-enabled publishing, allowing companies worldwide to fill the void with light, effective, and inexpensive solutions. And as we see in a story from South Africa, sometimes local solutions will get the nod over big foreign names.

Monday, April 14, 2003

RSS (Really Simple Syndication - perhaps) is making it easier for publishers to create syndication channels without having to invest in large-scale infrastructure: just point your partners towards your syndication summary, and away you go. A nice summary of RSS capabilities appears in today's New Zealand Herald. Like many of the recent advances in content authoring and distribution, such as file sharing services and weblogging, RSS does not use profound technology to push forward the bounds of content - it's all about making things simple, and getting those simple things into the hands of willing and capable people. Yes, aggregators make things simple, but with today's technology, most anyone can become their own publisher, aggregator or syndicator, and establish a range of useful and tailored services more cost-effectively than ever.

Friday, April 11, 2003

I can't resist putting out a quick take on rap artist Ice T's deal to sell a new release via the Kazaa music sharing service. While music executives huddle and ponder how to position themselves, individual artists are running with readily available digital rights technology and meeting the marketplace where they want to be met. The music industry is being passed by, step by step, due in large part to its insistence on owning what it perceives to be the distribution channels. What the Web movement shows us is that the only electronic content channel that really counts is the user's desktop, laptop or handheld, where content can be made contextual to their relationships and individual needs. Thanks, Ice T.
Line56 has a great summary of a panel discussion at AIIM's conference in New York this week. The gist is that the acronym soup through which people have been marketing Enterprise Content Management, portal services and the like is quickly merging in to a common pool of application capabilities driven by XML-based content and application delivery standards, which is helping to eliminate the technology gibberish and allowing people to focus on user requirements. Well, in a perfect world, yes, but far too often portals and content management systems, as well as KM initiatives, are deployed on a ready-shoot-aim basis, resulting in poorly targeted and contextualized content meeting frustrated users. Successful content deployment always starts with quantifiable business objectives and careful results-oriented requirements analysis of their content needs. Know not only your users, but what kind of audience and participant that they expect to be.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Yahoo's new search is positively Google-ish, though with some unique new twists that extend the idea of searching into "finding". For example, type in "Map 06880" and it returns a map of my hometown at the top of search results. We've been on to this "finding" concept for some time, and it's heartening to see mainstream portals making the most of directing people to results rather than just possibilities. When I floated this concept past some content company executives at a private briefing a few years ago, a rather cynical-looking person snipped, "What you're describing sounds like a librarian." "Yes," I told this person, "that's EXACTLY what it sounds like." People don't want to be search experts, they want to be able to have whatever - or whomever - they call upon to have a reasonably intuitive sense of that they are seeking, and to eliminate the need to search if at all possible..
In reference to the above piece, it's interesting to note that there is somewhat of a built-in backlash against "self-service" Intranets, if we are to believe David Pollard's weblog. Frankly, I think that he's dead wrong on the numbers - they make sense intuitively, but I don't believe that they represent the true extent of self-service content in today's institutional environments, as other research has highlighted clearly. But I think that he's on to something in terms of how people moving up an organization's food chain tend to want people to do their research for them - oftentimes using assistants rather than information professionals, and getting frustrated in the process. Countless corporate librarians and Info Pros, consolidated into other departments or let go, are perhaps in a position to repackage themselves as a new breed of personal executive research specialists...?

Wednesday, April 9, 2003

AT&T is showing some clever thinking, leveraging its capabilities for managing micropayments via phone calling cards and using them to provide prepaid cards for purchasing online content. Their target outlets are convenience stores, and target market kids who would like to purchase gaming time, music and other entertainment. Parenthetically, it probably won't take long for the adult content marketplace to take advantage of this capability, also. But clearly this has a lot of potential for content purchasing in professional circles. Many corporate portals like to keep their individual users anonymous to outside content vendors, and a card mechanism like AT&T's offers the potential to offer these people ways to make on-demand content purchases that need not tip any specifics as to who is using professional content from outside sources. Securities analysts and traders especially may take note.
Yet again, the IT industry is charging towards its next big meal ticket: Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is the buzz phrase of the day, and Knowledge Management is taking a back seat as the AIIM expo struts its stuff. Nothing new to us. KM concepts are key to creating content value, but the opinions and insights of individuals inside and associated with institutions are shaping content value at least as quickly as structured content systems and sources. A Delphi Group study points to collaboration being the number one interest of ECM implementers (74%), followed very closely by enterprise search, single signon and content management. The collaborative note is key to today's content environment, and leveraging that collaborative energy will be central to identifying and creating the content that is most valuable within collaborative contexts.

Tuesday, April 8, 2003

The impact of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 requiring far more stringent auditability of corporate information ripples into the content technology industry in many different ways. Accountability extends to the level of storage vendors, such as EMC, which announced a regulation-friendly version of its Centera server. Centera Compliance Edition makes it far easier to authenticate the orginal state and date of stored information. Storage is really not our thing, but it's interesting to see how much value people are placing on being able to verify the authenticity of content on all levels.
Inquira's announcement of their Inquira 6 search and navigation application is very interesting, it provides not just search results but goes the next step and synthesizes what it believes is a highly contextual result with specific information that it believes answers the query, along with related information and links that may be of relevance to the query. While a lot of its use is targeted at customer support and ecommerce, it is clear that this has a much broader ability to support internal and external portals, where search is oftentimes a frustrating sifting to get to the content that people seek. Again, the Amazon model appears to be teaching us about how people want to have satisfying content experiences.

Monday, April 7, 2003

In the wake of corporate governance scandals in the U.S., a new wave of regulation is pushing companies to take a more careful look at their publishing roles, according to CRN - and more are seeing themselves as publishers that require a more sophisticated understanding of both content and how to manage it effectively. While some of this is vendor scare tactics, the push towards sophisticated integration of internal and external content that is authored across an enterprise is real, and it is the theme of the day at today's AIIM conference. On a parallel note, Sun announced a new business collaboration platform, as did Microsoft. Both announcements represent only incremental progress; the truth of the matter is that no one vendor is "best of breed" across the wide range of conent demands in today's organizations.

Friday, April 4, 2003

It was a thin news day, but some gems surfaced nevertheless. I enjoyed Vikki Bland's perspectives on Knowledge Management on MISweb.com. When KM first became hot, IT vendors flocked to it like seagulls to the local dumpyard. In the process of trying to sell huge but immature solutions they created a lot of bad will for the KM concept. The good news is that a lot of organizations are discovering that they are getting good at using content tools at the local and departmental level, and that the relative ease of deploying enterprise portals is legitimizing the concept of useful, organized content authored from many parts of an organization. In other words, the principles of KM are being realized step by step through content engineering tools without a lot of the IT hype. No need for "knowledge nazis" - just enable people to publish content effectively, and the rest grows from there.

Thursday, April 3, 2003

Lots abuzzing in the world of content and related technologies today. Overture's stock was downgraded by SoundView Technology Group based on the imminent entry of Microsoft into the market for paid search content and technology, which would leave Overture and other suppliers out in the cold. Besides being the usual "kiss of the vampire vendor" story that we've come to expect from Redmond, it's clear that the value of highly contextual search results has been confirmed as a major revenue opportunity for portal suppliers and creators alike. The announcement of Google's deal with Amazon for sponsored links placement services only helps to underline the importance of highly contextual content for supporting the bottom line. But don't ignore in the midst of this the California Supreme Court battle over email distribution rights in corporations. This promises to go further up the judicial chain, as it represents a fundamental clash over the rights of corporations to limit free speech - and by extension, the rights to control content authoring and distribution.

Wednesday, April 2, 2003

Sometimes Web headlines are all about the latest and greatest, but today's batch has a lot of resources to make you think about how to implement content and related technologies. Check out the DM Review article that summarizes what it takes to make a good Knowledge Mangement initiative. In some ways, it also highlights unwittingly some of the weaknesses of KM - trying to be too many things to too may people. It takes a lot to build a content-centric culture, to be sure, but it's oftentimes best to start small with the people who will benefit most from the efforts. There's also a somewhat humorous summary of search engines past and present. How many have fallen by the wayside, and how many have discovered that great technology in and of itself is not necessarily a business model. The ones that survive and thrive are the ones that work hardest to identify contextual content that people really value.

Tuesday, April 1, 2003

A wonderfully rich and informative group of headlines today. "A Team Effort" gives a great summary of practical advice for sorting through the gibberish that surrounds collaboration efforts these days. As soon as something becomes worthy of funding, everyone tries to claim a piece of the action, and collaboration is no exception. "Virtual Reference Service and Disservice" points out how many libraries evolved links to inferior content sources, largely to appear virtual, when in fact they should have been concentrating on things such as federated login to higher-quality online sources that the libraries' subscription base could afford. More tools are trying to address federated login, these days, as premium sources both within and external to organizations become important elements of portal services. It's still early days for the Service Provisioning Markup Language (SPML) specification, but the Waveset Alliance announced some progress towards enabling transaction-based content provisioning. Should this ever come to fruition, it will be a huge step forward in enabling high-value, high-context content services to flourish.