Saturday, January 31, 2004

In Premium Weblogs: Financial Financials, Pricing Paralysis, HighBeam Hits the Road, Lingering Libraries

In our Financial Content and Technologies weblog, Shore Senior Analyst Jack McConville analyzes Reuters' its near-majority share in Teknekron Software, Reuters' liason with ADP to develop and comarket their ProVisor retail platform, major Reuters deals, and financial results from Dow Jones & McGraw-Hill more...

In our Content eCommerce weblog, Shore Senior Analyst Janice McCallum reflects on the increasing confusion in the pricing models for content being developed for different slices and applications of content - models that have less to do with its true value and more to do with old business models that are increasingly difficult to maintain. more...

In our Business Content Suppliers and Aggregators weblog, Shore Senior Analyst and President John Blossom reviews the relaunch of Alacritude as HighBeam Research and takes a look at the redesigned offering for individual and small business researchers. more...

In our eResources Marketplace weblog, Shore Senior Analyst Jean Bedord looks at the difficulties of resolving pre-web bibliographic systems with XML-based metadata schemes presented by the California Digital Library. more...

Catalyst for Change: Hennig's Legacy Will Live On

The underrepresentation of women in the most senior ranks of publishing and information industry companies has always troubled me. In an industry where women constitute the majority in the middle-management ranks, why do so few get appointed to the CEO position?

Two newsworthy events occurred this week that merit commentary for all industries, but I'll tie it into the Content and Publishing segments. First, Catalyst, the leading research and advisory organization working to advance women in business, released a study that provides evidence that "companies with the highest percentage of women among their top officers had a return on equity 35.1% higher than those with the fewest high-level women." E-CommerceTimes reported on the study and commented that although the results are emphatic in most segments, "For industrials and information-technology companies, the results were inconclusive." Based on the time-period studied, 1996-2000, basically the dot.com boom years, it would be difficult to make any sensible measurements of IT and content-related segments relative to any other group, given the wild fluctuations.

The other news that I read in the Boston Globe was the obituary of Margaret Hennig, co-author with Anne Jardim of "The Managerial Woman" and co-founder with Jardim of the first MBA program designed for women, the Simmons Graduate School of Management, in 1974. Hennig spoke during orientation week my freshman year at Simmons College in 1973. Her words left a lasting impression on me and my classmates as she implored us to believe in ourselves as capable leaders.

Late last year, I learned that Wolters-Kluwer had appointed Nancy McKinstry as Chairman of its Executive Board in March 2003. Another notable female publishing CEO is Marjorie Scardino of Pearson. I've met both of these women just once, but I can unequivocally say that their intelligence, confidence, and focus on organizing and managing to achieve exceptional results is apparent from the moment you meet them. Through leaders like McKinstry and Scardino, Margaret Hennig's legacy will live on.

Friday, January 30, 2004

The BusinessWeek Bounce: Magazines Still Struggle for Meaningful Online Model

There was an article in BusinessWeek that came to my attention, so I went over to their Web site to see if were available; sure enough, it was on the subscription-only side. I clicked on the subscription form link, and grimaced at the thought that it would take USD 45.97 and a stack of paper magazines arriving at my door to access one article. Hmm, that number sounded awfully familiar...sure enough, I went to the Zinio site, same price for an online version of the magazine with ads and original copy layout. Let's see, it costs me the same to get a rights-protected version of the magazine WITH PAPER LAYOUT ADS that's almost impossible to share with others and that does not include access to the Web site version versus a paper edition that includes online access and whose online and paper version can be shared with numerous other people. So the rationale for myself as a consumer to be paying the same price is...what? And as an advertiser, being able to provide someone an archivable edition of a magazine that does not need recycling and will preserve my ads exactly as produced with more probable longevity than any paper edition, my rationale for wanting this medium to be at least as expensive for a consumer as print and less available to possible viewers is...what? There is definitely a lot of tuning yet for magazines as they consider how to grasp the transition to electronic delivery of their content. In the meantime I think that I'll head down to the library to check out the magazine while I do some work on their free wireless connection...

Social Content Gets Profitable: Tickle Starts Tickling Pockets for Degrees of Separation

As noted by CNET News, social networking portal Tickle has begun to charge for access to people who have distant degrees of separation in their personal social networks, while allowing the rest of the online dating and socialization service to retain free acces and use. This is an intriguing approach to monetizing social content, one that has done an excellent job to targeting the highest value that people would like to have from such a service. By contrast, LinkedIn requires one to go get referrals through the degrees-of-separation intermediaries who know these people. LinkedIn probably has a better model for ensuring a sense of a quality set of relationships, and that's important in the beginning for a service that's developing business contacts as content. But once those networks are in place and fairly robust, identifying the key point of value to participants for monetization is an excellent point to consider, in contrast to the "bar the door" approach that many online content services assume as best practices. Each social contact is a transaction of sorts, and being able to monetize content on a transaction basis is they key to many online content models.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

The Swatch and the Rolex: Golden Handcuffs at the SIIA Executive Summit

Martin Kahn, a Venture Partner with Rho Ventures and Chairman of OneSource Information Services, Inc. came up with one of the more insightful observations offered by panelists at this year's event. In response to a question on how to manage margins in an era of increased content commoditization pressures from technology, Martin noted that extremely accurate wrist watch movements can now be produced for mere pennies and yet there is a thriving market for high-priced status brand watches. Similarly he notes that getting just SEC filings and real-time stock quotes used to be prohibitively expensive for individuals, but now that they are freely available there is still a strong market for premium financial and business content. Branding and positioning still play a key role in determining the perceived value of content services, despite relentless commoditization pressures. And yet there are only so many people willing to pay for solid gold watches when a Timex can give virtually the same functional value. It's a tricky game, and the temptation is to think in terms of solid gold engineering and marketing when the opportunities may lie across a very wide array of market segments. AT&T built commonplace telephony components to MilSpec standards for years after that kind of product development standard had proven to be ineffective in capturing the needs of a changing marketplace. Similarly the penchant for vendors of premium professional content to engineer their services for the most demanding high-margin clients has tended to lock them in to product development cycles that deliver highly reliable services that oftentimes lag behind the needs of broader markets. The "good enough" development standards of companies like Google may never make them ready for prime time in business content, but in the meantime millions of professionals every day turn to them for "good enough" answers.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

From the SIIA Global Strategic Briefing: Major Aggregators Map out the World

For a blow-by-blow view of this event and today's SIIA Executive Summit, stay tuned to our guest weblog on PaidContent.org. The bottom line on global prospects for the professional content industry: if 70 percent of your business is based on sprucing up government records and other public information and you've saturated your markets for developing nations, there's no alternative but to start mining the more risky countries to gain the margins that substantiate content aggregation as a viable business model. Because of the cost factors in those countries (an $80 book in a developed nation would have to retail at $14 in India, for example), offshoring becomes a necessity to find competitive price points in many instances, but no matter, it's the growth that counts. The global economy and the need of developing nations to compete with developed economies with transparent and reliable content can help content companies to some degree, but as financial information companies have discovered in developing markets, it will take a LOT of growth to make that happen in the face of competition from more open and/or cost effective sourcing models.

Monday, January 26, 2004

In Premium Weblogs: Google and OCLC WorldCat, Convera's Spin on Taxonomies, Telekurs Upgrades with InfoDyne

In our eResources Marketplace weblog, Shore Senior Analyst Jean Bedord analyzes the recent inclusion of two million WorldCat records in Google searches, and sees pluses and minuses. more...

In our Business Content Suppliers and Aggregators weblog, Shore Senior Analyst Rob McWilliams reports on a recent Covera seminar on deploying taxonomies in business, which delivered a less than rosy picture of how both institutions and technologists view their use. more...

In our Financial Content and Technology weblog, Shore Senior Analyst and President John Blossom reviews the Telekurs integration of InfoDyne's ticker plant into their North American data services, adding competitive postioning to data that had previously lagged on its way across the pond. more...

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Morgan Stanley's Research Dept. Gets Nailed by French Court

Just when things looked like they were squared away on the research analyst/investment banking relationship front, it turns out its not yet right. Morgan Stanley will take a 4Q03 pretax charge of $38 million ($27 million after tax, or $0.02 per diluted share) to reflect a negative ruling by the Paris Commercial Court in France in an action started by LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH) involving the investment bank's research coverage. According to the AP, Morgan Stanley published biased research on LMVH to cement its relationship with Gucci Group NV. In 1999, Morgan Stanley advised Gucci in a hostile takeover bid from LMVH. As part of the defense, Pinault-Printemps-Redoute SA purchased close to 70 percent of Gucci shares and will acquire the rest in April when an option is exercised. The AP further reports Morgan Stanley will appeal the ruling but will suspend research coverage of LVMH. When will these guys wise up?

Friday, January 23, 2004

Google Launches Social Networking Portal: Social Content as a Unique Asset

Google launched its Orkut.com portal in a very low-key way: it's supposed to be a Friendster-like community portal, but as of now it's on an invitation-by-members-only basis. Clever move: fear of being left out of the next "in" thing as a marketing tool. In theory this will also allow Google to restrict initial invites to highly friendly folks who are unlikely to flame them about a still-young product. Notably Orkut is not Google-branded, just Google-owned, so it's easy to walk away or turn it into something else. As Stefanie Olsen of CNET News put it, "The goal of a social networking service is a far cry from Google's long-stated mission of organizing the world's information." Well, perhaps Google is indeed hedging their bets even further should it choose to compete straight-up with Yahoo! as a portal, but it also wants to keep its elite programmers happy campers as well by giving them fun projects. As we've oftentimes mentioned here it's clear that Web-enabled social networks have very high potential for creating and distributing valuable content, potential that's largely untapped by major publishers but already well-exploited in professional circles. With services such as IBM's Web Fountain bubbling up, the rights to crawl these "gated communities" of content for meaningful patterns could prove to be an intriguiing scenario for marketers and lawyers alike to ponder.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Vignette Takes on Tower Technology for Document and Records Management

The content management wars continue to heat up as Vignette announced an agreement to acquire the Tower Technology, a document processing and records management company that provides hooks into many corporate and governmental layers of content, including online transaction capture, unstructured content and reports that can be crawled and shredded for repurposable data. This makes a nice complement to their iManage and Intraspect acquisitions, which focused on the front end of collaborative content development, and begins to provide Vignette with a more authoritative range of capabilities to join ECM, IBM and others who are creating author-to-archive enterprise content management capabilities. As the ECM market continues to consolidate into systems that create true value of out enterprise content, the Publishing Organization is becoming a formidable force that can collect, mobilize and deploy content as effectively as a moden army of technology-enabled publishers. When these armies begin to take on the existing regimes of publishing, watch out!

RIIA Takes On New Legal Tactics in Face of Copyright Challenge Failures

When I first saw this story the other day I didn't even want to put it up, it's getting to be SO OLD in terms of coverage. But the new twist that's worth considering, as noted by AP, is that the RIIA has now filed the newest cases against "John Doe" defendants - identified only by their numeric Internet protocol addresses, with hopes that the legal proceedings will allow them to identify downloaders individually for further action. Previous attempts to crack Verizon's ISP customers without specific suits based on copyright laws had failed. The jury is far from in on whether the RIAA's actions have been successful in stemming downloads of copyrighted material - do fewer people download or do fewer just admit to it? - but the certain thing is that the concept of copyright enforcement based on established law, even the Millenium Copyright Act, is up against the hard realities of electronic content distribution that both copyright law and the industry that relies upon it have ignored for decades at their peril, as noted in our recent news analysis on corporate content piracy. The laws may be appropriate and just, but the publishing of electronic content online has created a vast ocean of original and valuable content that is NOT protected effectively by copyright law, including content from published databases to forums and weblogs. It's good that people with commercial interests in content are addressing their needs to ensure revenues, but the larger question of what it means to have only commercial publishers being able to protect content effectively while valuable content generated by other institutions, individuals and social networks is exposed to use and piracy looms as a larger issue to be addressed. The RIAA has opened this confrontation that may have far wider consequences to commercial content distribution than they may have imagined.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Google E-Mail Developments Make (Ad)Sense

Reuters reported last week that Google is developing an e-mail service that many speculate may compete with free e-mail services provided by Yahoo! and MSN. The fact that Google purchased an e-mail management software company last year and registered the domain name "googlemail.com" in 2001 bolster these predictions. Along with the competitive rationale for providing an e-mail service to help retain its loyal search customers, the additional "real-estate" for placing sponsored ads and contextual ads combine to make this a very wise move. Especially at a time when budgets for online marketing are increasing at predicted rates of 10-20% in 2004, and online marketers are seeking ways to "integrate their e-mail campaigns with Web interactions" (according to a recent survey by the CMO Council as reported in DMNews). With its acquisition of Sprinks last October, Google also acquired technology to deliver ads to e-mail real-time--when the message is opened, which adds a personalization capability to the mix. All told, an e-mail delivery channel strengthens Google's position as a leader in Search Engine Marketing and extends it into the arena of inquiry marketing, a term coined by iProspect to describe how Web marketing can be used to reach "users in each of the stages of their own buying cycle, not just those ... who convert immediately after the first click-through" as quoted in Shore's paper on Contextual Ads.

Ziff-Davis Segmentation Formula Aims to Help Clients Land the Right Fish

Ziff Davis Media has announced its new Business Influencer Segmentation Model (BISM) of information technology purchase influenceers- not the most profound thing in and of itself, but an interesting approach to marketing online content in a targeted manner. From ZD's perspective, the universe of I.T. purchase influencers break down into:

1. Whales in Ocean (6% of total universe)
2. Big Fish in Lake (14% of total universe)
3. Big Fish in Small Pond -- (17% of total universe)
4. Small Fish in Small Pond (23% of total universe)
5. Aquarium Fish -- (21% of total universe)
6. Fish Out of Water (19%)

Though the world of professional content follows the same general model, there's a lot more diversity in the purchasing patterns for many professional content products and services. In some instances, as in real-time financial content for example. I.T. plays a very central role in purchasing decsions, in others they may play a minimal role for extremely crucial products. Throw in the changing purchasing patterns due to the influence of the Web, and it's a complex picture indeed. Study, anyone?

Monday, January 19, 2004

In Premium Weblogs: Reuters Bragging, Newspapers Lagging, Thomson & Merrill, eResources Proliferating, OneSource Fends Off Investors, EOL Pro Updated

In our Financial Content and Technology weblog Shore Senior Analyst Jack McConville reports on Reuters earnings previews and offers some hard-nosed explanations as to why their stock was upticking. Jack also recounts the latest inside scoops on the problems that Thomson Financial has had with deploying their platform for Merrill Lynch's wealth management. You heard it here first if you tuned in on Wednesday! more...

In our eResources Marketplace weblog Shore Senior Analyst Jean Bedord give a first-hand account of the Mid-Winter Meeting of the American Library Association in San Diego and reports on the latest trends in eResources products and postioning. more...

In our Content and eCommerce weblog Shore Senior Analyst Janice McCallum reports on the loss of lucrative help wanted business to the Web as a key factor in their recovering but lagging revenues and how they may benefit from tuning their publishing models. more...

In our Business Content Suppliers and Aggregators weblog Shore Senior Analyst and President John Blossom reports on the ongoing struggle of OneSource's investors to take the company private and what the company must do to ensure a stable and profitable future. Shore Senior Analyst Rob McWilliams reports on EDGAR Online's new version of EDGAR Online Pro, with significantly sexier company info features. more...

Friday, January 16, 2004

Practical Application of Visualization Found in XREFER Reference eBook Database

Software technology often lacks practical application. The visualization software shown at the KM World show in November looked interesting, but not compelling, for the applications that were being demonstrated. At ALA this week, I found a compelling application for this type of software in the XREFER ready reference ebook service. Standard searching is available across a comprehensive collection of over 150 dictionaries, encyclopedias, and directories, with links between relationships. On top of this content collection, XREFER has added visualization capabilities certain to be attractive to patrons addicted to video games. As a content category, encyclopedias and dictionaries have not been in the spotlight, but this type of interface could actually make writing research papers fun as conceptual relationships can be explored and expanded visually!

Yahoo! Benefiting from Growth in All the Hot Spots

The focus is placed on the paid listings and contextual advertising segment that Yahoo! acquired when it bought Overture last year as the driver of its Q4 revenue and earnings growth. As Reuters reports, 4th quarter earnings came in at $75 million, versus $46.2 million for Q4 2002, a 62% increase. It is certainly true that the phenomenal growth spurt in the paid listings category that Overture essentially created in 1999, along with the more recent contextual ad category, contributed greatly to Yahoo!'s positive results. But, one shouldn't disregard the other areas in which Yahoo! operates in divining the long-term outlook for the company. Yahoo! is a major player in virtually every segment that is experiencing strong growth online: online shopping, for-fee content sales, personal dating services, job-listing services, digital photo sharing, fantasy sports, premium e-mail services, and personal finance. Not to mention search. The point is that Yahoo! is a very diversified company. As Terry Semel, Yahoo!'s CEO, said in the earnings conference call on January 14, "we are extremely well-positioned to benefit from some of the most exciting business opportunities of our time. These include the role that the Internet and broadband can play in changing the lives of consumers, as well as the opportunities Yahoo! can bring to small and large advertisers around the world."

It is quite a challenge for any company to operate effectively in so many diverse areas, but an impressive attribute of Yahoo! is its understanding of the importance of building relationships with customers and advertisers, especially in key vertical segments, a theme that Semel repeated throughout the earnings call. Yahoo! also has top executives from traditional publishing and entertainment who understand the content business and the importance of offering quality products and services in order to attract advertisers. And, with the Overture team, they acquired a strong advertising team. Nonetheless, the strategy of putting a stake in nearly every segment (mostly consumer-oriented) that looks promising may be yielding good results in the current rapid-growth stage, but it's a difficult strategy to pull-off in the longer-term when growth levels off and competition heats up on multiple fronts. But for the near future Yahoo! is well-positioned for growth.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Gale and EBSCO Take on New Zealand for Major Public Access

Scoop Media announced New Zealand's deal with aggregators EBSCO and Thomson's Gale division for a wide range of reference information and primary content sources such as magazines and journals via their nation's public library systems. Library purchasing consortiums are fairly common these days, but when an entire country decides that public access to premium content is a necessity the notion of feely available electronic content as an entitlement is enforced even more in the mind of the public. Public libraries are one of the most underexplored marketing opportunities for publishers of premium content. As we move into an era in which digital objects with rights protection are becoming the norm for premium content distribution, public libraries offer publishers an enormous opportunity to give the public subsidized access to premium content on a lender or time-limited basis that can be easily expanded into a more full or permanent sale or relationship by changing the rights assigned to each digital object. This will become increasingly important as more tech-bred workers employ themselves independently and seek to compete on the same plane of information as large-scale companies. Be it a local farmer or an entrepreneur with a great new idea, local online resources offer the opportunity to reach highly targeted markets with cost-effective service introductions that through rights management can help these clients bloom into full-fledged clients.

Yahoo! at Ten: A Revolution Enters Middle Age

It's hard to believe that a decade has passed since Yahoo! first appeared on the then-young World Wide Web with its easy-to-use search interface and friendly but simple appearance, but as Emory University's Managing Technology site reminds us, the garage operation started by a couple of Stanford University students is now a billion-dollar public corporation that has succeeded in reinventing itself several times to retain its overall dominance of the public Web. We could wax sentimentally in any number of directions on the Yahoo! phenomenon, but its most significant contribution was to shatter the concept that valuable and interesting electronic content was expensive and hard to find. All of a sudden the carefully constructed subscription services of major aggregators and service providers were confronted with a tool that made finding a world of information and experiences alarmingly easy, a fact that was easily absorbed by average Joes and portfolio managers alike. Ten years after Yahoo!'s debut AOL has been dropped from the name of its Time Warner parent and is retreating from the content production business. Publishing has been changed fundamentally by the incredible ease with which content can now be located, assembled and accessed, an ease which continues to question many of the basic assumptions on which the publishing industry bases its business models. We have moved rapidly from an era in which traditional publishers and aggregators were the leaders in content technology to an era in which technologists and marketers like Yahoo! have pushed multiple layers of value on top of the traditional publishing model, layers which represent the future of publishing . In another ten years will there be a Time Warner or a Factiva or a Reed Elsevier at all? Stranger things have happened, and stranger things may yet happen.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Pew Research Report Shows Web Usage for Political News Increasing, Local, Network TV Decreasing

A recently released report from the The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press indicates that the Web is beginning to make some impact on the news business as it begins to cover the U.S. political campaign season. The two big winners: Cable-based television news outlets and Internet-based news sites both increased four percent in overall viewership over the past two years, though notably this represented a 44 percent increase in the Web's share over 2002 (13 percent versus 9 percent), compared to a 12 percent increase for cable's share (38 percent versus 34 percent). So although overall share is still fairly low, the rate of increase is quite impressive. The Web's ability to act as both a breaking news source, a social network and an interactive research tool that allows users to ferret out more detailed information makes it an ideal medium for "political junkies" who want to keep abreast of the most exciting developments. and, as evidenced by Howard Dean's highly web-centric campaign efforts, for political newcomers open to political messages delivered in a new way. Sadly, though, the losers in this equation are local politicians and people trying to reach least-common-denominator audiences, as local print and TV outlets plummeted dramatically in usage and Network TV dropped most of all - Cable TV outlets now lead network TV in overall share for political coverage, 38 percent to 35 percent. The Web does give people more ability to form organic communities of committed interests, but it still lacks the all-reaching tone that broadcast outlets have enjoyed for so long. For those trying to concentrate on the substance of candidates' messages, that may yet prove to be a good thing.

Libraries May Provide Turning Point for eBook Industry

The Wall Street Journal reports on the modest progress of the eBook industry in 2003. The Open eBook Forum (OeBF) estimates full-year eBooks sales in 2003 at USD 10 million, up around 32 percent through Q3 over the previous year, but library usage is the real story that promises to spur more momentum this year. Thanks to increasing purchases of content and eBook management systems from OverDrive and other suppliers by public libraries that are trying to service today's digitally oriented patrons more cost-effectively, eBooks circulation is expected to increase significantly this year in public libraries and to spill over further into PDA-oriented reference materials in professional circles. Expect library eBook content to offer publishers major opportunities for upgrading eBooks users and other rights-protected content borrowers to full and complementary content purchases, making libraries an increasingly important venue for developing relationships with purchasers - a relationship that may yet prove to provide new sources of funding for local lending institutions.

In Premium Weblogs: Library Budgets Squeeze Publishers, ebary pushes cost-effective collections, Micropayments Gain Acceptance

In our Content eCommerce weblog Shore Senior Analyst Janice McCallum looks at iTunes' success and the growth of players such as Peppercoin in micropayments and sees strength in prepayment models as both a strong alternative and a complement to micropayment strategies. more...

In our eResources Marketplace weblog, Shore Senior Analyst Jean Bedord examines Cornell University's struggle to balance budgets and journal acquisition while vendor ebrary is building market advantage through highly affordable collection management infrastructure. more...

Friday, January 9, 2004

HP, IBM Get on Digital Rights Content Bandwagon with New Partners, Policies

As the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas reaches a crescendo (a tip of the hat to Rafat Ali's blow-by-blow coverage), the landscape of content-oriented players is undergoing some interesting changes. Hewlett Packard announced a new marketing deal with Apple to distribute their iPod units, giving HP a profile in consumer electronics more similar to Dell, which has launched its own Windows-based tunes player along with a widening galaxy of printers and digital gizmos. But of more overall significance to the content industry is HP CEO Carly Fiorina's strong statements in favor of protecting copyrighted materials via HP platforms and software, as reported by CNET. Fiorina stated that starting this year all HP digital entertainment products will use software that respects the copyrights of artists. Meanwhile, as reported in Corporate Media News, IBM is teaming up with Real Networks to provide consumer and professional digital multimedia services, taking advantage of Real's new cross-format rights-protected content capabilities. Systems and network services vendors are learning quickly that they are an integral part of the publishing business, needing a far broader eye to service the needs of both individuals and institutions for more competent content appliances that act less like under-engineered multipurpose platforms and more like highly reliable and usable vContent machines. As we said in our 2004 forecast, the walls are tumbling down...

Thursday, January 8, 2004

Toys for Business: Santa's Sleigh Stops at CES with new Content Capabilities

This year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas brought something for everyone who may not have received the gifts that they were hoping for during the holidays. Handhelds and wireless are sharing the spotlight with new gizmos such as wrist watch-sized devices that can receive weather, news and stock quotes, as well as Ultra-Portable PCs hardly bigger than a PDA that can run a full-fledged Windows XP environment. As CRN Daily notes, though, many vendors are using the forum to launch products aimed at business at least as much for individuals - enterprise-quality video from Real Networks, corporate-oriented APIs for NewsGator's weblog subscription management tools and conference-room display systems. A legion of Web-tutored techophiles is helping to push the leading edge of content-enabling technologies ever closer to individuals who use them to fulfill both personal and institutional roles, with both professional and consumer content suppliers needing to follow their suit. Workflow-oriented professional content is great, but the need to understand professional content in a lifestyle setting will become increasingly important in this dual purpose world of content and technology.

More Break-Ups in the News

The news that Yahoo's Overture division will divorce their contextual ad service, Content Match, from their traditional paid listings service makes perfect sense. Just like Britney's short-lived Las Vegas marriage to her hometown friend, sharing roots is not a sufficient reason to tie the knot or stay married. Overture's Content Match is a by-product of its core search engine paid listings offering (as is Google's AdSense). But, as Overture's VP of partner product marketing, Paul Volen, says "...it's a different experience", and "advertisers ... would like to control it separately."

Along with the obvious differences between bidding for a listing on a search results page and bidding to place an ad on a undetermined "contextually-relevant" destination Web page, the two services differ in terms of their stage of evolution and competition, too. Contextual ad services are just emerging and will become more specialized and better targeted as ad-serving firms refine their technologies and build appropriate networks of advertisers and destination sites. Improved ad formats, more useful ad content, and personalization capabilities will all contribute to a better return on contextual advertising. To compete in the contextual ad arena, Overture (and Google) will need to differentiate their product offerings and level of service to the advertisers that want to optimize the return on their online ad expenditures. Given the current and predicted high rates of growth in online advertising, it's a safe assumption that we'll see lots of improvements in the contextual ad programs from Overture and Google.

Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Real Gets Real with Cross-Format Multimedia Aggregation

As a growing field of music and video suppliers huddle around proprietary platforms and formats to secure their portion of the online music pie, CNET News covers Real Networks' announcement of a multi-format multimedia "jukebox" that will incorporate content in Apple's QuickTime and iTunes format, as well as its own and other major suppliers'. At long last someone has figured out that arbitrary differences in formats do little for their customers and a great deal to inhibit the widest dissemination of content possible. Yet again timid publishers have been left in the lurch by technologists who understand the value of providing aggregation services that meet the needs of the marketplace instead of fretting about using technology primarily to exclude competitors. There's nothing wrong with having clever retail outlets/aggregators such as Real and others manage the complexities of client relationships, just as Factiva, LexisNexis and others do for professional content, but as noted in this week's News Analysis, today's content technology leaves very little room for additional "middle men" to add value to underlying content unless they can use it to establish ongoing relationships with the end-users who best perceive content's value in a context. Publishers of all kinds will be smart to embrace open standards for delivery and rights management pertinent to their industries so that they can continue to provide mediation value that will otherwise fall to technology players that are more adept at managing client needs and expectations.

Tuesday, January 6, 2004

Beyond Browsers: Is the AfterWeb Becoming a Reality?

As noted in Silicon.com, recent Nielsen/NetRatings research indicates that some 76 percent of Web surfers are using applications other than browsers as part of their surfing experience, with instant messaging utilities and media players dominating the additional mix. This stat is misleading in that it's being used to imply that people are abandoning browser content in droves. Nothing seems to be futher from the truth. With more stable modern technology we're seeing an era in which multitasking devices - and content lifestyles - are the norm, with browser-based content a keystone of that mix. The statistics also do not address what's going on in professional circles, where IM is an important factor in some areas such as finance and sales, but largely not a factor yet in many work environments. The key factor for moving beyond the browser is the emergence of XML as a more universal data format. XML has opened the way for content and associated services to be presented in any number of convenient applications via network connections. With peer-to-peer connectivity and publishing becoming an emphasis for content generation and distribution, XML will enable sophisticated publishing by individuals to individuals with fewer server components in the mix. Add in improving desktop and portable search capabilities pasting together a far more personalized view of the content universe experienced by individuals and the Web begins to grow some pretty interesting threads. But even with all of these factors, a browser or browser-like standard framework for content will be the norm for many years to come.

Monday, January 5, 2004

In Premium Weblogs: Moving On From the Market Data Mess

John Blossom reflects on the lose-lose proposition faced by most real-time financial content publishers, and possible roads of escape. more...

Drum Roll Building for Web Fountain, But Where are the Cymbals?

The IEEE Spectrum highlights the upcoming production release of IBM's Web Fountain text analysis service, highlighting premium content from Factiva. Unfortunately, not much has changed since our earlier new analysis on this topic to persuade us that Web Fountain is going to make a huge amount of difference to the world of content and related technologies just yet. Web Fountain's marriage of highly sophisticated text analysis and extremely powerful hardware is cool stuff, no doubt, and provides content in a powerful new context that can bring a new level of value to content aggregation. But it does little to enhance the value of the underlying premium content objects that power it as individual items that can be shared with other knowledgeable people. Using technology to increase the value of the human element in publishing content is at least as important to premium content value as machines that automate human intellect. Expect Web Fountain to have some positive impact in the marketplace, but expect that most of its impact will wind up being indirect - most likely as a source of quality and relevance ranking that can be used to power other more publishing-oriented venues.

The Future of Libraries: The Bodies of Knowledge Unshelved

Barbara Quint provides in Searcher an excellent crystal-ball view of what the world of academic and research libraries might look like in a not-too-distant future, a world in which the print business model has finally been vanquished by the intellects who both create and consume the content that has powered academic and professional journals. In this happy world the swords of subscription dollars have been beaten into the plowshares of technology that allow peers to share content freely via open source publishing and affordable storage and search capabilities their sponsoring institutions reap the benefits of their investments. Barbara's vision includes a day when Google has learned how to play well with "invisible" protected academic content and provide ecommerce access to it, as well as a time when the skills of information professionals are steered towards enabling users to make the most of this brave new world. Could it happen? None of this is a stretch, because it's really what's happening today before our eyes - except, perhaps, the Google part. But although many existing roles of publishers may fade in a cloud of paper dust in this environment, it's likely that the need for people to publish independently of their employing institutions via publishing entities will continue to prevail, regardless of how much those institutions want to retain their employees' intellectual property rights. The most successful institutions will be those that mangage to balance their claims to employees' intellectual property with the the ability of that property to establish itself in an open market with open technology.

Friday, January 2, 2004

Search Engine Marketing Being Subsumed Into Contextual Advertising

As Fredrick Marckini of iProspect points out in his SEM Predictions for 2004 article "Contextual advertising will change the shape of SEM." Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a new enough term to most Web publishers and traditional advertisers. Now they have to grasp the implications of Contextual Advertising.

Contextual advertising got its start online through the major search engines in 2003. But, what started as a by-product of paid listings will come into its own in 2004 as savvy SEM firms and online ad agencies recognize the benefits of contextual ads relative to other types of online ads. Well-produced contextual ads are placed in front of users who are exhibiting an interest in the topic of the ad at that time of viewing the ad. How can an intrusive ad for a product of no interest to the viewer, no matter how great the production value, compare? (Think the overhyped ad for Mercedes on Salon.) The current formats used by Google and Overture are limiting, but will certainly undergo a series of improvements in 2004, especially as top national advertisers put more funds into online advertising.

But, the major search engines aren't the only platform for contextual ads. More tightly-aligned clusters of sites may be more appropriate for specialized advertising content. Watch for new players to emerge that serve contextual ads for vertical communities of publishers and advertisers. At this point, there are players that are moving into this space from affiliate marketing, text-analysis technology, content management, ad serving and related fields, but I have yet to see the right mix of technology for content-matching, network of content sites, and content ad formats/options to name any clear winners in this race. It will be interesting to watch developments in 2004.