Monday, December 29, 2003

In Premium Weblogs: Google's Prospects, NYSE/NASDAQ Merger

Janice McCallum reflects on how Google's business model will have to evolve as it searches for ways to extend its pioneering efforts in community-driven relevance to more aspects of vContent. more...

Jack McConville looks at the pending Calpers suit against The New York Stock Exchange's specialist system and sees it far more likely that the merger with NASDAQ will take place. more...

Retreat from Scientific End-Users: Elsevier to Close Portals

According to an article by Barbara Quint, an employees newsletter, Elsevier Today, made the internal announcement that end user sites, BioMedNet, ChemWeb and Elsevier Engineering will no longer be funded, with some functions migrated to the main Elsevier site. This is a strong indication that Elsevier is being impacted by the move toward open access in the scientific community and House of Commons rumblings in UK. Elsevier has long been criticized in the library world for the price of their over 1000 journals, which include titles in rarefied scientific disciplines. Typical yearly price increases have been 20% at a time when library budgets are shrinking, forcing more scrutiny of journal subscriptions, both electronic and print, and outright cancellation in many cases. In the bigger picture, the commercial viability of these end user portals is limited. Individual scientific users have very limited budgets. The corporations and academic institutions which do have the budgets, albeit constrained, offer electronic versions via an intranet, requiring authentication, not a focused public access portal. Useful as these Elsevier portals may have been to individuals, they join the dust bin of other dot com sites which lacked the right combination of business model and valuable content.

Friday, December 26, 2003

McLuhan Redux: Book Reapplies His Tenets to Today's Business Content Culture

Familiar phrases like "The medium is the message", "medium cool" and "global village" all owe their existence and popularity to the 1960's media guru Marshall McLuhan, who popularized the awareness of electronic content culture as far more than the transference of words and pictures to new transmission devices. Now the Toronto Star notes a new book entitled "McLuhan For Managers: New Tools For New Thinking", by Derrick De Kerckhove and Mark Federman (Viking Canada) is reintroducing many of McLuhan's concepts to business executives wrestling with the realities of how to create successful content and content technologies for their companies. Nearly forty years after he coined his basic new media concepts, his once-radical predictions of hierarchical organizations and limited role-players giving way to multi-purposed players in a highly networked Web-centric work environment have become a common reality for workplaces everywhere. Content and content technologies have created pervasive changes in our work culture, the scope and depth of which even many high-tech organizations are still trying to absorb. But when the medium has become the message -and the market - for even hay and straw farmers, you know that the time has come to consider what those "hippies" were talking about.
The Social Life of XML: Opportunities for Publishers Abound
Jon Udell's recent article on XML.com contains a ton of useful insights into why XML-based publishing does and doesn't work well these days. The key quote from a content perspective, though, is this: "Documents...aren't just passive carriers of information. They're the warp on which we weave a socially constructed reality. Somehow, we need to find ways to connect that reality to the workflow and process orchestration systems now being invented." A big "amen" to this message, no doubt, inasmuch as it represents where publishing has to go in the next few years. Web services-oriented XML concepts emphasize the delivery of combined content and fictional packages into a browser or server environment, but the real question is how XML will be able to reconstruct the creating, distributing and experiencing of published content. For the most part that still plays itself out against a background of email and attachments, with a smattering of crudely formatted XML content on obelisk. We are moving towards an environment in which people author XML-based objects with unique content and functionality that they transmit email-style to one another, that are then amplified in their value by recipients and which may in turn have digital rights attached to them for security or monetization. This value-add stream of objects, especially in the organization of content into a meaningful and useful workflow, presents great opportunities for commercial publishers to reinvent their art of making valuable information and experiences on a new highly mutatable canvas. Concerns about content being commoditized will continue to cause fretting amongst publishers - until they reconsider the nature of their ability to capture and package these more organic aspects of the new publishing world.
IBM's Aggressive Content Stance: Bypassing the Office Content Bottleneck
SearchDatabase.com notes that IBM's strong position in content management across a wide array of products gives it a claimed 34 percent share of the content management marketplace, not including its most recent acquisition of Green Pasture Software. While the obvious targets of this strategy are companies such as FileNet and Documentum, it's clear that IBM has a much broader focus that takes in the likes of Microsoft, which continues to struggle with content management as a sophisicated, scalable component in its .NET framework. Without that key component, content that used to be authored in Microsoft Office applications will gradually take its original form in content managment repositories, where it's more easily repurposed for multiple audiences. Microsoft does its best to keep up with the content management movement, and has components such as InfoPath can help to facilitate independence from heavy software, but those that have the least to lose from established desktop software revenues are the ones most likely to move aggressively into content authoring and management environments that are in line with today's more efficient institutional publishing environments.

Monday, December 22, 2003

All Things Must Pass: National Online, NYNMA To Go 404
Vestiges of an era when the phrases "Online" and "New Media" were really new and powerful, two institutions from that era have passed into history. Information Today, Inc. announced the temporary suspension of its National Online show, whose birth predated the dawn of the Web, while it contemplates how to relaunch the event in 2005 with a new focus that ITI hopes will attract content buyers and sellers more effectively. The show had lagged notably in recent years, overshadowed by its own Internet Librarian events, the broadening focus of the Special Librarian Association's major events and the lack of marketing synergy between professional content marketers and providers oriented towards the public Web. Meanwhile the struggling New York New Media Association acknowledged its weakening mission and folded its membership and remaining events into the Software and Information Industry Association, formalizing a takeover that had been evolving for months. The good news in all of this is that the content marketing concepts that were pioneered in these forums have gone mainstream, minimizing the need to treat them as aberrations from normal business practices. The bad news is that associations and events vendors continue to struggle to define "big tent" events that reflect how the powerful merging of content, technology and human values are creating a merged universe of services for institutions and individuals alike. "Online" and "New Media" may have gone status quo, but few have realized the focus of what defines vContent today.
Amazon's Shifting Role: A Lesson for Aggregators?
What's the difference between LexisNexis and Amazon? Aggregation models are beginning to favor those that can enable independent presences along with aggregated efficiency. Details in our "Business Content Suppliers and Aggregators" Premium Weblog.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Forecast Bright For Advertising Industry, But Is Online "Advertising" Measured Correctly?
Just a year ago, the 2 year slump in advertising had the entire publishing industry on its heels. Even the minority of publishers that relied least on advertising revenues were hit since their subscribers were feeling the pain of the general economic stagnation. What a difference a year makes! Internet advertising may not appear to be growing very fast, but in reality more marketing dollars are being spent on producing an effective campaign that doesn't rely so heavily on advertising. Details in our "Content eCommerce" Premium Weblog.
PDA eBook Format a Strategic Advantage for OverDrive
OverDrive Inc., a leading ebook distributor, has announced deals with leading public libraries, Denver Public Library (Colorado), Cuyahoga County Library (Ohio), and San Jose Public Library (California). The library world is driven by opinion leaders, and these libraries have already built reputations for innovative leadership. Adding ebooks to their collections is a significant step in validating ebooks for the public library sector. Details in our "eResources Marketplace" Premium Weblog.
Have Financial Market Data Vendor Fortunes Finally Turned Around?
The financial market data vendors (in particular Bloomberg, Reuters, Thomson Financial, Moneyline Telerate and the ubiquitous "others") are closing out yet another disappointing year, as are their buy and sell side customers, but vendors seem to be more positive in their outlooks for 2004. Details in our "Financial Content and Technologies" Premium Weblog.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Kanoodling for serious business?
Kanoodle.com has just resurrected the concept behind Sprinks by hiring the core Sprinks executive team and raising VC money to develop its contextual ad business. Before its acquisition by Google in late October, Sprinks was the contextual advertising arm of Primedia. Unlike Google's AdSense or Overture Content Match, Sprinks relied on matching ads to content by "topics" rather than contextual relevancy determined through text analysis of the full text of a page. Sprinks had attracted a growing number of business and technology-related sites, including Forbes.com and Cnet. As foreseen in my paper on Contextual Ads, the impetus behind the Google acquisition of Sprinks was access to the attractive Web properties on which to place ads (which included the About.com sites), not the methodology for matching ads to content used by Sprinks.

With the new resources provided by Kanoodle.com, Lance Podell, who was named President of the content division of Kanoodle, has an opportunity to expand the concept behind the previous Sprinks to a wider group of sites in the Kanoodle.com network. But, it may be wise to specialize rather than try to compete with Google and Overture in all categories. Sprinks had a nice start with business and technology sites. I'd like to see Podell and his team continue on a focused path wherein advertisers and content sites are more tightly aligned. This would provide some reassurance to reputable business publishers that want some control over the advertising that appears on their sites. And, let's hope that with access to Kanoodle.com's text analysis technology, ad matching won't rely strictly on selecting topics, but will be made richer through a combination of both techniques.
Google's Book Excerpt Beta: A Stealth Feature Gets Maximum Publicity
The New York Times along with many other major outlets covers the non-announcement by Google of the Beta of its book excerpt feature promised earlier this fall. About 60,000 titles are said to be part of this Beta of a feature known as Google Print (don't bother going to print.google.com, it's a "this page intentionally left blank" page), about half of the titles carried by Amazon. But in searching through many current bestsellers the only results that come up prominently are from Amazon, one of Google's leading purchasers of its search technology. An example of a query that works can be seen by clicking here (fifth non-sponsored result line). The claim made by Google on SearchEngineWatch.com is that search results are being ranked the same for their book excerpts as for any other content. Given the sparseness of the actual content of an excerpt (example here), their relatively poor rankings are understandable, but it does make one wonder about the biasing of book title search results towards Amazon. The excerpts include both links to major online sellers - Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million - and AdWords links to related topics. Google has become an expert in creating maximum publicity for their "beta" products, drawing in audiences' interest - and online ad revenues - while minimizing the commitment to solid functionality in the short term. Like a White House press secretary doling out little tidbits to a hungry press corps, their mastery of secrecy to feed press interest and exposure is impressive.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Thomson Financial and Radianz Ink Access Deal
Under a new strategic agreement, Thomson Financial will use RadianzNet to provide its European and Asian clients with access to Thomson ONE and applications like First Call, SDC Platinum and Autex. Existing clients of other Thomson Financial products including Datastream also can benefit from the agreement. (Radianz, established in June 2000, is 51 percent owned by Reuters with Equant NV owning the balance.)

According to the joint press release, �Clients that already use the Radianz network for accessing or distributing financial services should be able to start using Thomson ONE and other Thomson Financial applications in as little as 10 working days.�

The interesting angle is that Thomson Financial has a strategic goal of knocking off Reuters in the market data arena. But, I presume all is fair in love and war. Radianz�s president and chief executive officer, P. Howard Edelstein, addressed that issue saying, �Our agreement is significant and a milestone in Radianz�s history because it reinforces the neutrality of our infrastructure, which is designed to empower all financial institutions worldwide to communicate with their clients.�


CalPERS Piles On The New York Stock Exchange
The California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) filed suit in the United States District Court Southern District of New York charging the New York Stock Exchange and seven specialist firms with violations of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The suit alleges, �(The) defendants failed to disclose that NYSE orders were not being filled at the best available prices, but, in fact, were being manipulated for defendants� benefit in violation of NYSE rules designed to protect public investors�� The 48 page brief further states, �The NYSE knew that its specialist firms were repeatedly violating the Exchange Act and the NYSE�s own rules��

This is the latest in a series of criticisms of the NYSE and the specialist system. In an early October report, the SEC criticized the New York Stock Exchange for not policing the specialists and for ignoring violations that resulted in investors being short changed. Fidelity Investments later issued a statement on reforming the NYSE because �it operates under outdated monopolistic trading rules that create a non-level playing field that favors members on the NYSE floor over investors, both large and small.�

This has all the earmarks of a real donnybrook, regulator style. I�ve long held that when the SEC looks to level the playing field, those that had the advantage end up losing out in a big way. Turn back to the 1960s when the SEC went after the odd-lot brokerage firms � deCoppet & Doremus and Carlysle Jacquelin � and cut their rates for trading odd lots to the point where they eventually went out of business. Fast forward to 1997 when the SEC empowered the electronic communications networks (ECNs). Then trace the fortunes of Instinet ever since. Seems to me that a 100-year old-plus specialist system is more than anachronistic these days.

Monday, December 15, 2003

New Opportunity: eBay as a Content Provider?
Transactions can become valuable content, as demonstrated by recent developments at eBay, which is now licensing access to completed auction transactions with fees for commercial use beginning at $10,000. Accurate pricing information has always been difficult to determine, particularly in some markets. Wholesale and recommended retail prices can be obtained, but actual selling prices, particularly in the used and gray markets have been much more difficult. Last quarter, there were a total of 235 million auctions on eBay, which translates to over 1 billion transactions per year, across an incredible array of tangible products, with real time market information about supply and demand. Now these transactions are being sliced and diced into pricing guides for niche markets: used golf clubs, computer equipment, consumer electronics, cell phones. eBay probably won't displace the venerable Kelley Blue Book for autos, but look for similar guides to develop in untapped specialty markets.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Signs of Spring at Reuters?
Devin Wenig, an executive director of the vendor and the president of customer segments made the Reuters Group PLC presentation at the UBS media week conference. He led off with an observation that the �market is better overall, no doubt about it.� That should come as welcome news to the other vendors since Reuters is generally regarded as the bellwether of industry trends. But, he made no specific forecasts leaving that to chief executive officer Tom Glocer who will speak ex cathedra on February 17 about revenues and profits prospects for 2004. He started off with a few digs at prime competitor Bloomberg stating that our products are �better than Bloomberg�s� with no comparative illustrations. Wenig said Bloomberg Professionals are �being switched off� in favor of Reuters products in the fixed income area but didn't elaborate.

He updated participants on the Fast Forward program, well worn ground that I won�t go into here. The 2003 review highlighted the acquisition of Multex in January and how the unit fits in with the total package of services rolled out this year and those due for rollout in the new year. Multex will also be a cornerstone in whatever independent research niche Reuters carves out for itself in the post-Spitzer settlement era.

As usual, no Reuters Q&A session is complete without a tealeaf-reading question aimed at getting a fix on revenue prospects when management is not prepared to make one. When asked if December cancellations were as bad as last December, Wenig said, �this December is very different with no radical cost reductions by customers" like the ones the vendor experienced last year. But, he pointed out there are two and a half weeks to go in the month. As balance, the lousy December last year seemed to me to set the stage for the lousy first half of this year. Maybe the reverse is true this time around. Are we seeing signs of spring for the vendor as we approach the first day of winter? Stick around and come back here periodically for updates.
Dow Jones' Fortune Lies in Wall Street Journal Turnaround
Dow Jones� senior management made separate presentations at the UBS Media Week and Credit Suisse First Boston Media conferences this week. The business theme for The Wall Street Journal was one of continuing caution sprinkled with a little optimistic dust. Rich Zannino, executive vice president and chief operating officer, talking about ad linage, said, �We saw a dramatically improving trend in September (up 23% per issue), and October (up 13% per issue) continued September's momentum. But this trend abruptly reversed in November, which was down 1.2% per issue. And the bouncing continues in December, where we expect per issue linage to be back up - in the low to mid single digits. So we're clearly not out of the woods yet.� (By the way, those comparisons are with especially week year-earlier ad linage trends, but why pick nits?) Peter Kann, chairman and chief executive officer, said he needed to see three or four quarters of consecutive ad linage gains before he sees a turn. Until then, he�s �cautiously optimistic.�

From that, it looks like all the steps have been taken to position the franchise product to leverage the turn when it comes.

Electronic publishing, which is my immediate area of interest, posted a revenue gain of three percent over the first nine months of 2003. The segment is anchored by Dow Jones Newswires (67 percent of revenues in the first nine months down from 73 percent in 2002). But, Newswires revenues declined five percent due to end-market weakness in the US. That was offset by a 22 percent increase in consumer electronic publishing revenues, which includes The Wall Street Journal Online. Dow Jones Indexes revenue rose 26 percent. Operating profits for Electronic Publishing were up 14 percent and margins were 21 percent up from 19 percent in 2002.

Like The Wall Street Journal, it looks like Newswires too is leveraged for any upturn.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Vendors in Content Reference Forum Offer Contextual Framework for DRM
The Content Reference Forum (CRF), established by a group of media of technology firms including ARM, ContentGuard, Macrovision, Microsoft, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone, Universal Music Group and VeriSign, has announced the release of new specifications to guide the content industry in the development of standards for digital rights managment implementation. The core baseline specification [PDF in .ZIP file] being proposed by the CRF is oriented towards consumer multimedia purchases, but includes in its XML-based metadata and schema numerous contextual hooks that should be of great interest to all content creators, marketers and consumers, including content identification and description, commercial environment, technical environment, value chain participation and content reference resolution. Of particular interest is the inclusion of a value chain entity, which in theory can represent the interests of multiple parties playing a role in content sales and redistribution - including, in theory, end-users making purchases who may have redistribution rights. It's often the case that these kinds of standards, while nobly intended, collapse under the weight of interests trying to wrestle them into being, but as a starting point the CRF has created a very powerful tool that should be expanded over time to accomodate a wider range of content types and commercial models.
Can Agencies Deliver Online?
There is so much positive news about growth in the advertising spending (total US ad spending is forecast to grow 6.9% in 2004 per Bob Coen of Universal McCann) , it would be easy for traditional ad agencies to enjoy the increased demand and keep pumping out more of what they do best: television and print ads. But, even with the healthy increase in demand for ads in all media, advertising agencies should be prepared for significant changes in the product mix that they provide. Because, while companies are spending more to promote their brands in all media, they are increasingly using their Web sites as an integral part of their overall marketing campaigns. Results of the Digital Marketing Survey, sponsored by BtoB, the CMO Council and USA Today, showed that 78% of the global marketers and agencies that responded said they planned to increase their digital marketing budget in 2004. Furthermore, the respondents were not satisfied with their current online marketing efforts. Ad agencies need to improve their ability to integrate offline campaigns with Web advertising, and perhaps most important, with a Web site marketing plan that is designed to provide �highly personalized interaction, better customer profiling and analytics to determine campaign effectiveness�. This is what iProspect calls �inquiry marketing�. John Battelle prefers to call it �intent� marketing. No matter what you call it, ad agencies better figure out how to deliver it to their clients.

Tuesday, December 9, 2003

No Surprises in the Cards at McGraw-Hill's S&P Unit
At the UBS Warburg media week conference, Harold (Terry) McGraw, the chairman, president and chief executive officer of The McGraw-Hill Companies reviewed prospects going into 2004. My main interest is in the financial services area, primarily Standards & Poor�?�s. There were no surprises. For the first nine months of 2003, financial services revenues rose 11 percent to $1,274 million from $1,148 million in the first nine months of 2002. Operating profits for the unit were $488 million compared with $413 million in 2002, an increase of 18 percent. Operating profit margins for the nine months were 38 percent compared with 36 percent in the same year-earlier period. Mr. McGraw said Standard & Poor's will turn in double digit growth in both revenues and profits this year and will repeat that in 2004 although the percentage growth next year won't match that of this year. Margins are expected to remain the same. The unit will live with an expected sharp downturn in the issuance of mortgage-backed securities in 2004. International revenues, now a third of the total, will increase in 2004 and will get to 40 percent over the next several years. Mr. McGraw said delayed budget reviews for this year make for a cloudy crystal ball looking into next year for the company as a whole, but he tossed out a forecast of earnings growth in the high single digits.

Thomson Financial Prospects Detailed at Media Week
In a pedestrian presentation at the UMB Warburg media week conference, Richard J. Harrington, the president and chief executive officer of Thomson Corporation walked the participants through the company�?�s four areas of operations �?� legal and regulatory; learning; financial; and scientific and health care. He had an hour but it took only 50 minutes for the slide show and a less-than-challenging question and answer period to complete the task. It was boilerplate at its finest. As for Thomson Financial (my particular area of interest), the unit sells into a $16 billion market where it accounts for 10 percent or $1.6 billion in terms of 2002 revenues. The industry has been in contraction for the past several years and Thomson Financial was not spared in 2002 when it experienced a three percent decline in revenues. The unit has been positioning itself to better meet the needs of its beleaguered customers in the banking and brokerage businesses by helping to increase their productivity and lower their total cost of ownership. The flagship product is Thomson One, a single delivery platform that�?�s scalable and replaced a hodgepodge of prior platforms. End of commercial.

In the Q&A, the lob ball questions included an update of the status of the Merrill Lynch contract where Thomson Financial is the project manager to develop and implement a new financial workstation for Merrill�?�s US Private Client group. Revenues from that will kick in 2Q04. The UK�?�s Financial Services Authority is looking into the possible elimination of soft dollar commission arrangements. Mr. Harrington said about five percent of Thomson Financial revenues come from such arrangements.

Of note, Mr. Harrington referred to Lou Eccleston, Thomson Financial's head of sales, as "Ecclestein." Let's hope his paycheck is made out to Eccleston.

Monday, December 8, 2003

PayPal Reduces Fees for Online Music Firms
In a press release today, PayPal has made a move to become the major fee collection platform for online music by reducing its transaction fee to $.09 plus 2.5% from $.20 to $.30 plus 2%. This is a business of counting pennies, since individual songs are priced to consumers at $.79 to $.99. Then music firms have to pay licensing fees of $.60 to $.80 per song to the labels, which doesn't leave much margin for online music firm profits . So this announcement represents a significant improvement in the potential to profit from sale of online music. From my experience as a buyer, PayPal is also significantly more customer friendly than previous micropayment systems. The 35 million existing PayPal accounts used for eBay buying and selling make this a attractive platform for building the online music business. Stay tuned!
Northern Light Business Research Library: Is Less More?
Information Today covers the upcoming relaunch of its Web-plus-premium content service for institutional clients, targeted for 15 January. Priced well below offerings from LexisNexis, Dialog and Factiva, about half of NL's former premium content titles - about 1,900, according to InfoWorld - in addition to about 100 million business-focused Web pages. Northern Light certainly re-enters the arena for premium content with a great deal more focus for this particular product line, and its offering of a "business web" selection of relevant online content may prove to be a welcome simplification of the Web for professionals increasingly frustrated by the preponderance of irrelevant content found in consumer-oriented search engine results. It's a reasonable "walk before you run" approach for a company that's trying to leverage a small but enthusiastic following into a strong institutional showing, and its sharp-pencil pricing may make friends in quarters trying to hone down corporate content costs. Backed by solid search performance and a deep general-purpose taxonomy, Northern Light offers a kit that spans the space between the top-tier aggregators and other smaller content collections such as eBrary very comfortably for many smaller businesses and departmental operations. It's not the widest market niche to exploit, though, and their success is predicated largely on their ability to sell into a space increasingly dominated by portal providers locked in to their own search solutions and less supported by the infopro "friendlies" that can advocate for this kind of solution. Sometimes less is more, but it can also be not enough to make a difference.
SunGard to Buy FAME Information Services
SunGard Market Data Services signed a definitive agreement to purchase FAME Information Services, Inc., a New York-based provider of historical data management products, reference data management and services, and consulting to the financial, energy, and public sector industries. No terms were disclosed. The transaction is slated to take place in 1Q04 subject to regulatory review. The purchase is �not expected to have a material impact on SunGard's financial results, � according to the SunGard press release. To me, it looks like a logical extension of SunGard Market Data Services� attempts to bolster its straight-through-processing capabilities. It also puts them into a crowded field up against a competitor like Asset Control. Warburg Pincus, a private equity and venture capital firm, is the major shareholder in FAME. Last year, there were rumors linking FAME with a possible acquisition bid by Reuters that never happened. The FAME product suite and management team will join the SunGard Market Data Services group.

Friday, December 5, 2003

Reed Elsevier Braces for Stagnation in Business Publishing Ads
The Wall Street Journal [PREMIUM] reports that though Reed Elsevier will fare pretty well overall in 2004, thanks to continiung strength of its LexisNexis property and healthy sales in its science division, its overall performance is expected to dip to single-digit growth, in part because of expected softness in education-related sales but also because of softness in advertising sales in its business-related magazine properties. Some of this softness is no doubt related to the continuing stall of the global business cycle, but it is also pointing towards the ultimate consequences of business content going electronic at an ever-increasing rate. As businesses worldwide eliminate physical content collections wherever possible, the online versions of these publications found in aggregators' databases are increasingly the only version that professionals will see. Being able to provide ads to this audience behind corporate firewalls will become an increasingly important factor for the success of both global publishers like Reed and independent publishers trying to build market share. Opportunities abound for smart aggregators who are ready to use contextual content to leverage the value of that context intelligently for professionals through ads and other for-fee content placement.
Dialog Adds Application Programming Interface Feature, But Where are APIs Going?
LocalTechWire covered Dialog's announcement of their new Application Programming Interface (API) kit's availability, joining rivals LexisNexis and Factiva in the race to contextualize premium content more effectively in institutional portals. Being able to bring premium content into portal applications is increasing in importance to these vendors as fewer of their clients opt to have information professionals wrestle with the previously arcane interfaces of these services and instead choose to place the content where it will have the most value to users. In the race to contextualize content, though, these vendors appear to be running towards many of the same issues that financial datafeed vendors have had to face over the past decade as their previously terminal-bound premium products had to make way for content that was being contextualized by client-supplied software consuming their feeds. Their solution to avoid commoditization was to buy back the value-added desktops and distribution architectures of many of their clients' software providers so as to offer a framework for more comprehensive content solutions. But in today's more open Web content distribution environment, in which institutions play a far more active role in developing their own content solutions, few content companies involved in general content aggregation such as Dialog are going to have the clout and capability to even consider creating or capturing appropriate desktop solutions for specific market environments across the multiple market verticals that they face. Smart aggregators continue to position "workflow" front ends for their target sectors, but with the flourishing of APIs for general business content the door has been opened for organizations to examine competitive sources in a much more objective light - and for content aggregators to consider more actively where their long-term formula for content value success will be. In such an environment, providing Web services-enabled solutions that provide both contextuality and personalized service becomes all the more important.

Thursday, December 4, 2003

Important Media Conferences in New York Next Week
Those familiar with the media goings in New York in early December are anticipating the 31st annual UBS Media Week Conference that heats up on Monday December 8 and runs through Thursday December 11. Credit Suisse First Boston will also run its Media and Telecom Week in parallel (and in competition) with many presenters duplicating their efforts at each conference. The verticals include entertainment, ad agencies, broadcasting, publishing, newspaper publishers, video games, multichannel and international. For a full list of the UBS speakers, log on to www.ibb.ubs.com.

My interest centers on the market data companies like Reuters, McGraw-Hill (Standard & Poor�s), Thomson Corporation (Thomson Financial) and Dow Jones.

Over the years, these presentations give investors (and competitors) a pulse on what�s going on in the final month of the calendar year, and in some instances, a forecast for the next year. But, in these uncertain times, I feel most will defer any meaningful projections until after the turn of the year.

Log back here next week to see if any of the subject companies say anything of interest above the ordinary.

Tuesday, December 2, 2003

Convera Tools Highlight Efficient Taxonomy Development for E-Government
Taxonomies have been playing a little bit of a back seat lately in terms of buzz, but their importance to efficient and effective content deployments remains undiminished. Convera has announced how its Taxonomy Workbench kit is making it possible for E-Government initiatives to comply with Section 207 of the U.S. E-Government Act of 2002. Developing taxomies from scratch can be a nightmare, sometimes consuming huge multi-departmental committees that move slowly at best oftentimes to come up with meaningful and accepted content organization schemes. Tools like Taxonomy Workbench can accelerate this process significantly with importing, benchmarking and tuning capabilities to smooth this process. Word of warning: the tools can only amplify the efforts that are underway; if those efforts lack strong validation from taxonomy experts, there are still pitfalls that are likely to be encountered. Tools can enhance content craftsmanship, not replace it.

Monday, December 1, 2003

Search Engine Advertising Meets the Pharmaceutical Regulatory World
Pharmaceutical advertising has always been a sticky wicket for traditional media, whether print, television or radio. Large advertising budgets are involved, but each media has established guidelines on acceptable ads. Though the limits on acceptable content have expanded in recent years, still the boundaries of good taste and credibility are maintained by all the mainstream media. In addition, the FDA strictly regulates claims by pharmaceutical manufacturers, and traditional pharmacies follow the same guidelines. Now the web search engines are confronting the same issues, as evidenced by Google's announcement that it would join Yahoo and MSN in rejecting ads for illicit pharmacies. Much like adult content, advertising for pharmaceutical products has become pervasive, so policing this activity is challenging. Effective enforcement is another signal that the web is becoming established as a mainstream advertising avenue, and will be more attractive to all those advertising dollars controlled by the pharmaceutical industry.
PLOS and SSRN: Two Approaches to Revamping Scholarly Publishing

Both the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) described in David Warsh's article and the Public Library of Science (PLOS) have the goal of making scientific research more widely available, but their solutions are very different. PLOS chose to become a publisher, using the same peer-review model as existing scientific journals. PLOS has a radical pricing tactic (free for users, $1,500 for submissions), but the costs of publishing their journals are not significantly different from those of traditional publishers. SSRN chose to become a network that enables access to research papers published in other venues in their early stages before they are officially published�working papers�as the NBER has referred to them for decades, as well as officially published papers. (Note, currently, SSRN hosts all abstracts and full-text papers on its site, which may not be necessary in the future.) SSRN has a range of monetization opportunities�advertising on its site, commissions on subscription sales (users can subscribe to for-fee journals via the site), potential conference sales, and more. Plus, they can offer added value to users and contributors by providing contextual links between related content within the network as described in my recent research paper.

Both organizations have laudable goals, but if the goal is truly to encourage collaboration between and among the various global scientific communities and to reduce the time by which research is publicly available, the SSRN approach wins top prize easily. By bringing in advertising revenues (that could be shared with publishers) and positioning free and for-fee articles head-to-head in their listings, the SSRN could also put competitive pressure on commercial journals to reduce the cost of individual journal articles, and ultimately to reduce journal subscription prices.