Monday, June 30, 2003

Leonor Ciarlone in EContent muses about how content discovery tools that highlight relationships between widely dispersed unstructured documents may have helped to spare the New York Times some of the embarassment of the Jayson Blair incident by revealing how closely editorial work resembles other available sources. But more importantly Ciarlone points out that these same tools are already used by industry and the government to solve complex problems that classic reportage and research oftentimes fails to address. Content is no longer simply assembling and distributing authoritative information, but increasingly about understanding the relevance of that information in problem-oriented contexts. The real struggle for general news outlets such as the Times is not to control editorial quality on its classic products but to learn how to package high-value, technology-enabled content in a way that fixes its relevance in very specific human contexts. The news room of the future is not only going to have content discovery tools to write stories, but as well to create a new breed of content services.

Friday, June 27, 2003

Knowledge Management oftentimes is viewed as a budget-busting extravagance with few metrics to justify costly outlays of software and effort. Increasingly, though, KM finds a comfortable home amongst the miserly who are trying to extract the most from highly collaborative team efforts. Computerworld Australia outlines how Intec, a Houston-based firms that provides global petroleum exploration and production engineering services, squeezes every drop of productivity that it can from its project teams using KM resources. In short, if it wastes a moment of people's time, it's not done, and KM tools are helping Intec to reduce time that would be wasted trying to find needed informaiton or be up to date with the rest of a team. Now that KM is working in task-oriented settings with team-authored information and a wide variety of structured and unstructured content sources, real metrics are finally at hand.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Two content industry leaders extended their profiles into specific market sectors with key acquisitions. LexisNexis has announced the acquisition of the public-records businesses
of Dolan Media Company, a Minneapolis-based provider of electronic public-records information, including bankruptcies, civil judgments, federal and state tax liens and eviction notices. In these days of corporate governance awareness and hyper-sensitive risk analysis, this hard-to-get data is extremely valuable, and as Dolan had made steady but unspectacular progress in distribution of this content through its ClickData distribution subsidiary, the time to sell had finally come. Find/SVP complemented its marketing research support capabilities by acquiring Sopheon's TelTech research services for R&D/Engineering departments, freeing Sopheon to concentrate on IT support services for business process management. Sometimes it's better to call it a day and align your assets with people that know what to do with them.
What's the difference between a relationship and a mugging? Apparently users of online content sources are hard pressed to understand the difference. The Annenberg Public Policy Center report entitled "Americans and Online Privacy: The System is Broken" (PDF) found that amongst 1,200 U.S. adults there are widespread misconceptions and fears about privacy and privacy policies for collected online information. Less than half of the respondents found privacy policies easy to understand and 85 percent of respondents would be willing to pay to keep their information exchanges confidential. In the meantime, the heavy-handed prosecutorial approach taken by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) towards illegal song downloads seems to be building relationships with the public about as effectively as a batallion of soldiers in Iraq. Full-page advertisements in major papers are aimed at parents, with the headline "Next time you or your kids 'share' music on the Internet, you may also want to download a list of attorneys." Like the valiant but daunted soldiers, the RIAA is coming in with the wrong ammo for the wrong targets. They will get their pound of flesh, do doubt - but as suggested by the looming boycott of major record labels, they may not have understood just how deeply that they will have destroyed their relationship with their core marketplace in the process. Copyright enforcement is necessary, and "bad apples" need to be addressed, but until the enforcement of intellectual property is a two-way process based on respect rather than distrust, little positive progress will be made on either the vendor or consumer side of the IP battle.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

We knew that Microsoft was getting serious about content. Now we know that they're REALLY serious. CRMToday reports, along with other sources, that Microsoft has struck an alliance with Portal Software Inc. to provide easy-to-implement hooks into legacy billing systems to support ecommerce in .NET-based Web Services applications, specifically targeting content purchases as one of their prime objectives. Companies such as Teleknowledge have had some success already in supporting content billing solutions in the media sector, but this move is a significant step towards Microsoft positioning themselves as a serious platform for major portals and other content providers. While content sales via ecommerce-enabled Web Services is a fairly insignificant factor in today's marketplace, expect this to become one of the leading areas of new product and marketing model development for both consumer and professional content in the next two years.
Peter Lewis in Fortune Magazine notes that amidst all of the furor about the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upholds recent legislation requiring public libraries to maintain filters that eliminate pormography from being viewed by children, there will be legitimate content sources eliminated as well that might just happen to appear to a filter to be dangerours materials. Ironically, Chris Sprigman notes on FindLaw that the U.S. government is helping people overcome censorship in countries such as Saudi Arabia by enabling them to slip content through nation-wide firewalls by wrapping it in image files. Meanwhile, Amazon is happy to let developers "hack" their content into applications that make it more likely that people will come to Amazon to complete a sale. Thanks to emerging technologies, content is beginning to develop an inordinately complex moral landscape...

Monday, June 23, 2003

Long considered a relative backwater of content innovation, the market for legal content and related technologies has exploded over the past couple of years with an influx of Knowledge Management-focused products and services, especially those that focus on making effective use of collaboration tools to pull together content into a workflow-oriented environment that can make the difference between an effective legal team and "close but no cigar" judgements. In this particular arena, iManage has been racking up deals at a fairly fast and furious rate in the legal sector as of late, including today's anouncement that Fowler White Boggs Banker, one of Florida's largest and most successful law firms, has chosen the iManage WorkSite(TM) solution. Collaboration that is secure, task-centric and deployed amongst large and intensely goal-focused teams of professionals tends to provide a very high level of return on investment time and again.

Friday, June 20, 2003

Knowledge Management is front and center in the eyes of corporate leaders: according to Forbes, leading executives at the Microsoft CEO Summit a few weeks back were singing the praises of KM as a key component of their client-centric strategies. The value of content increasingly centers around transactions, and businesses are learning to align their resources around everything that can help them to foster current relationships that lead to those transactions. Along with creating this immediate understanding of markets comes accountability, however: in the financial securities markets, the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) is requiring archiving of instant messaging communications for accountability purposes, in much the same way that audio tapes of "squawk box" conversations have been a part of the permanent record of securities trades. The NASD move is understandable, but somewhat redundant: institutions of all kinds, as they implement instant messaging as a central part of collaborative content systems, are learning that there is gold in these online exchanges that can be mined through text searching and analysis tools.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Ah, books...leave us not forget the medium that still provides a huge portion of premium content sales and revenues. In the world of paper volumes, Barnes & Noble is publishing their own price-sensitive editions of classic novels to undercut some of the more famous publishing houses with price points that work in their own stores and other bricks-and-mortar outlets like Wal-Mart - and that work to counter innovative pricing models from purely virtual outlets like Amazon.com. Meanwhile on the electronic side, eBooks are getting a boost from the acquisition of pdaBookstore.com by Handmark, Inc., adding distribution strength behind one of the more popular outlets for eBooks. Books are very much alive, and likely to thrive on more innovative approaches to marketing their strengths.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

More on this week's Securities Industry Association Technology Management Conference & Exhibit:


- The patient is out of the Intensive Care Unit, but it's still on plasma - the SIA exhibits were lightly attended for most of Wednesday, with fewer and smaller delegations from most of the major investment houses and most exhibitors less than thrilled with the traffic quality. Some of the key issues being addressed this year: supporting securities sales with workflow-oriented content and CRM capabilities, corporate governance and regulatory compliance, reference data integration and management, scalable networking, email analysis and filtering, order depth display and manipulation, and value-added research and analysis. As promised, a view of the show from the increasingly preponderant small booths (mammals taking over from the dinosaurs?):

- No offense to the new and improving products of many of the majors, but why is it that everyone these days tries to have a product that looks like Factset...? After all of these years of technology driving the sale, the users have spoken, and content in a context that makes sense from a workflow perspective rules the day.

- These are conservative times, but as usual when one firm takes a risk and adopts something new, things may fall into place very quickly as "must haves" across the board. Hyperfeed's recent deal with CBOE for direct distribution of their data seems to have engendered a number of quick deals in succession, and could set the stage for their distributed approach to market data being taken much more seriously.

- For those thinking big-tech is going to save the day, think small, think "blades", as in Bang Networks' network appliance that allows instant configuration of secure, easy to administer content and transaction networks. Bang Networks continues to extend their capabilities onto the desktop to create private trading environments, but there's obviously room for more with their highly scalable approach.

- More action from retail players moving their way into the institutional business: SmartMoney and CBS Marketwatch are pushing unique market analysis and tools that are already highly favored in many Web portals, and starting to get fed into the trading environments, as well, while TradeStation contemplates how to leverage its highly respected trading platform. The content that gets clients' attention increasingly gets the attention of their brokers.

- Most elegant and innovative tech solution to content display? Hands down, this award goes to Deep Video Imaging, which has a standard-sized display with multiple planes of vision: windows can be "stacked" on top of one another with the upper layers having transparent backgrounds, so content can appear to "pop" up into a higher layer of depth perception, like a tiger jumping out of the bushes. If it works in the jungle, it should work for Street sharks...

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

The opening day of this year's Securities Industry Association Technology Management Conference & Exhibit saw an exhibition as large as ever, but in spite of this year's theme of "IT Matters", there is much more focus this year on specific market-oriented content opportunties such as supporting retail sales teams with "Wealth Management" capabilities, as well as corporate governance. Reuters. was amongst the exhibitors hitting on the Wealth Management theme, along with some portal-oriented capabilities, but overall their showing was fairly warmed over. Thomson Financial looked armed and ready for pushing its various flavor of its Thomson One platform, but it's not clear that the sales force is fully up to speed with its new client-oriented approach. Moneyline has a more consolidated approach this year, and that's not a bad thing, given the wild state of transition it found itself in this time last year. Strongest exhibit: Sungard, with an almost overwhelming array of sophisticated offerings for trading operations, branch operations, STP, market data and analysis tools. Tomorrow we'll shake these down a little more in detail, and highlight some of the "up and comers".

Monday, June 16, 2003

"Follow the money", said Deep Throat, the anonymous tipster who helped to unravel the Watergate political scandals in the 1970's. In our current decade it's corporate scandal that rules the headlines, so Autonomy's announcement of its new Aungate division seems both timely marketing to follow the corporate spending trends and a somewhat precocious naming. Aungate's mission is to adapt Autonomy's considerable content technology assets to power real-time analysis of telephone calls, emails and instant messages. The level of sophistication that can be applied in this area is impressive: instead of being limited to keyword searches in spam filtering and email monitoring, for instance, Aungate technology can apply much more sophisticated text analysis to define undesireable and dangerous communications. Tools that were heretofore oriented towards professionally published content increasingly find fertile ground to forage in the fields of personal content that define the daily operations of organizations.
The Special Libraries Association has stared the future in the eye and has decided to call itself...the Special Libraries Association. While Information Today reports that a clear majority of SLA members were in favor of a name change to Information Professionals International, the vote fell short of the required two-thirds majority by a mere 73 votes out of 890 votes. This is especially disappointing given the overall membership of the SLA is now over 12,000 again, according to InfoToday (voting was restricted to conference attending members). As we outlined in our earlier news analysis, there are any number of good reasons why information professionals would benefit from a name change. Libraries are still valued resources, but librarian skills are now applicable to such a wide range of content enabling disciplines that it's a shame not to take this crucial opportunity to relabel the discipline. In such an "iffy" economy, perhaps there was just enough of a "status quo" factor to keep people attached to the tried and true that was paying the bills..

Friday, June 13, 2003

The time for "fixed content" has come. No, it's not about the latest botched New York Times report or your bookie's tall tales - it's the content that an organization builds up over time and just cannot afford to eliminate. With corporate governance issues abounding, fixed content is out of the freezer and on the front burner. EMC's marketing folks refer to fixed content as "content-addressed storage", which is another way of saying that we don't really care about this kind of information unless it has a useful context - otherwise, it's literally taking up space. About 75 percent of all content is fixed content, according to EMC. Fixed content is attractive enough to start getting some more basic research into deep storage techniques under way, as announced today by UC Santa Cruz. With the increasingly strategic need to place historical events in context quickly, media such as magnetic tape isn't cutting it - nor will having to have abstruse knowledge of IT realities to get at this information to place it in context. Whether old and in the way or real-time and the star of the moment, the need for audience-driven context to turn information into content remains the same.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

An interesting piece at Fox News' site, of all places, highlights some of the potential for "horizontality" that is being highlighted by the weblogs movement. "Horizontality" is another way of saying that content doesn't have to come from well-established distribution channels to be authoriative and respected, but also implies that top-down distribution of many things - such as authority and power - fall into question equally in this environment. The horizontality factor is always present in human relations, but with Web-enabled content technologies there are now ways in which individuals and groups can act with instituional authority on a wide range of issues. Content providers, though, remain fairly inert in the face of this challenge. A colleague relayed to me recently a conversation he had with a major publisher, in which the senior executive described his trade thusly: "We build books." In the face of such thinking from content authorities, it's no wonder that horizontality has it appeal.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

The Thomson Corporation's marketing effort at SLA this year was strong and effectively coordinated through their distributed family of pavillions. Thomson's long-gestating approach to specific market segments, as opposed to product lines, finally appears to be bearing some significant fruit.in the financial sector with its Thomson One line of market-centric financial content workbenches. The Thomson One Banker product provides a wide array of well thought-out displays and functions that follow the typical functions and workflow of specific investment banker roles naturally and fluidly, using both native content and capabilities such as the Public Information Books from Alacra that were announced at the conference. After years of chipping away at pieces of the I-bank desktop, Thomson is finally beginning to plant itself firmly in front of its core clients with content and capabilities that focus not just on information needs but on the full context of how people extract value from its content.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Increasingly, keeping it simple is the key to many aspects of content display - and some are getting bare-bones simple. The New York Times today features the Ambient Orb, a gadget designed by Ambient Devices that can be programmed to glow specific colors based on the state of selected information - stock quotes, the proximity of the next bus home, the availability of a news alert - whatever. Kind of a lava lamp for the content generation, I suppose. Using basic visual metaphors that can be absorbed quickly and easily is a key factor in content value. At today's SLA Conference, visual metaphors are best exemplified by anacubis, a tool that allows content relationships to be displayed graphically with icons that allow someone to draw conclusions very rapidly from content supplied by a wide array of vendors and internal sources. Details are important, but being able to do something with them efficiently is far more important yet.

Monday, June 9, 2003

After having attended several conferences this year oriented towards electronic content, it's interesting to come to the SLA Conference in New York City this week and see numerous displays lined with paper volumes as the stars of the show, a display of furniture maker Thomas Moser library chairs, and an award-winning Turning the Pages software package from the British Library that recreates the experience of leaving through priceless medieval manuscripts, right down to the way individual pages look as they turn (they captured the curator's thumbing each page of a text to ensure high fidelity). Virtual content will be with us for a long, long time, but the SLA reminds us that the physical experience of content still matters in a very real way.

Friday, June 6, 2003

Stanford University law professor Lawrence Lessig, having failed to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to limit copyright renewals, is now petitioning Congress to set new copyright renewal policies. Mr. Lessig's central contention is that the 98 percent of content that has no commercial value in and of itself after fifty years will be better served if it can drift into the public domain, where archivist specialists such as archive.org will be best suited to ensure its long-term viability. Now he is starting a petition campaign via email and weblogs to convince Congress to take this matter up. In the wake of the public furor over the Federal Communications Commission's liberalization of media outlet ownership, he may just have a chance of getting Congress' attention if he keeps up the pace. In the space of three days, petition registrants have swelled from 2,000 to 10,000 and growing rapidly, according to his latest weblog entry. There's no doubt that industry represntatives still control much of the shape of the content industry's legal framework, but with these kinds of movements led by intelligent people in the know, the shape of intellectual property law may face some significant challenges in the years ahead.

Thursday, June 5, 2003

While the world is agog at the editorial bloodbath at The New York Times in the wake of the Jayson Blair affair, even more significant ripples were working their way through the world of online journalism at The Wall Street Journal's recent All Things Digital executive conference. According to Wired News, an off the record Q&A with content and technology majors such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Page and Barry Diller made its way into the weblogs of lawyer Denise Howell and venture capitalist David Hornik, causing quite a stir when their collection of juicy CEO insights made their way into mainstream press outlets. In an era of weblogs and other personal publishing media, who is the press and who is the public? Authoritativeness may still hang upon the shoulders of established content outlets, but ultimately it drapes itself upon the those that a community of people trust.

Wednesday, June 4, 2003

In spite of Knowledge Management taking continual hits for its purported lack of efficacy in creating useful results, extreme circumstances can bring out KM's best attributes - such as in the fight against Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). In British Columbia, a Knexa-supplied solution is helping that Canadian province's efforts to find a vaccine for the deadly disease. Using Knexa's ASP solution, the B.C. vaccine research team is able to coordinate the latest info and expertise quickly and effectively. The moral of the story? Sometimes it takes fear of a greater external threat to overcome one of KM's biggest enemies - fear of sharing knowledge with colleagues who could jeapordize one's place in an organization. There's nothing quite like death to overcome those motivations.

Tuesday, June 3, 2003

An issue such as the Federal Communications Commission's ruling to allow further consolidation of ownership in U.S. media markets carries a lot of political and personal emotion, as seen in recent demonstrations prior to yesterday's 3-2 commission vote along party lines. We'll skip the obvious analysis of this ruling and move ahead to the inevitable conclusion: where there is a demand, there will be a market. Even at the height of the Cold War, people in oppressed countries found ways to get a hold of the information that they trusted. Given that the current publishing environment continues to lower the barriers to content distribution in many media, the likely long-term effect of this ruling is to increase the probability that the consolidation of media outlets will result in the accelerated development of alternative distribution channels that bypass governmental regulation as much as possible. To put it another way: isn't it possible that Clear Channel's consolidation of the U.S. radio market into bland and undifferentiated products is contributing directly to the flourishing of file-sharing services and Internet radio?

Monday, June 2, 2003

Michelle Manafy notes in this month's EContent issue the swelling buzz around IBM's Web Fountain initiative. While there is doubtless an element of hype in any initiative that rolls into a nine-figure investment, Web Fountain is but one extreme example of what is coming to be known as Content Service Providers (CSPs), entities that generate value from data mining and analysis of both structured and unstructured content. Eliyon does it in a focused way with business contact information extracted from Web pages and other sources, and others such as Connotate focus more on selling the mining capabilities themselves, but IBM is the first to create a truly massive data store that allows people to understand not only what's relevant in a sea of content but the what matters to people within very specific contexts discovered in that content. Hyped it may be, but it's an approach that's likely to have huge payoffs for the institutions that can afford it.