Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Supremes Nod to Filtering Over First Amendment Encroachment in Porn Case: vContent the Real Winner

As noted in USA Today and many major outlets, the real victors in the U.S. Supreme Court's decision are not pornography vendors but the technologists who the court called upon to demonstrate that effective filtering solutions are a viable option to impeding Constitutional rights to free speech. While it's unclear whether this referral back to appellate court may have further reverberations in challenges to the U.S. Patriot Act, it certainly sends out a clarion call to content technologists trying to define what is and is not desirable content from a personal perspective. Tools such as Weblogs highlight the importance of allowing audiences to select sources from whom they wish to receive electronic content, thus allowing the best personal filter - the human mind - to determine what's valuable for any given person based on what's produced by a source. In an era in which individuals and institutions are called upon increasingly to be their own content filters instead of traditional publishers and intermediaries, those who enable these audiences to master their own content selection without external prejudice are as important to the future of publishing as any aggregation of content sources. The closer the vContent capabilities are to the audiences who want to define what's important to them, the better - and certainly governmental mediation of content value is about as far from that as you can get...

Thomson to Acquire IHI, Bolstering Workflows with High-Value Databases

As we caught in Monday's headlines, AP covers the announced acquisition of Information Holdings Inc., a conglomerate of several key databases that will bolster Thomson's ability to provide workflow-oriented solutions to increase productivity in the biomed sector. IHI's MicroPatent division, which includes Trademark.com and Intellectual Property analysis specialists Aurigin, is a full-service intellectual property information, software, and consulting-services company with the world’s largest commercial collection of searchable full-text patent information, while its Liquent division regulatory-oriented software solutions, information products, and related services for the life sciences industry provide a platform for integrating in-house assets with external content sources. This continues Thomson's emphasis on providing workflow solutions tailored to solving the productivity needs of specific user types in specific market sector, in this instance leveraging both well-positioned technology assets and databases that are hard to replicate for coverage and quality. This kind of aggregation capability - combining on-site software solutions with intellectual property assets that are difficult to replicate - is the type of profile that will allow many major aggregators to survive and thrive as the era of the New Aggregation unfolds.

Monday, June 28, 2004

In Premium Weblogs: SEC Comment Letters, FactSet Eyeing JCF, Merrill Increases FTID's Role, S&P Equity Research for Vanguard, Thomson's MarketView

Shore Senior Analyst Jack McConville reports in our premium Finance weblog on the SEC's plans to release comment letters on filings, FactSet's plans for Paris-based broker estimates provider JCF Group, the expanded role of FT Interactive Data's pricing in Merrill Lynch's operations, Standard & Poor's signing Vanguard up for its equity research and Thomson's launch of its new MarketView news and market commentary.
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News Analysis - More than Moore: How Hardware Has Opened the Door to a New Era in Personal Content

Today's PC is a pretty darn reliable appliance with tons of processing power and oodles of storage that's being eaten up by only the most aggressive gamers and downloaders. For everyone else the PC is beginning to resemble a marvelously oversized parking lot, waiting for content to show up that's just not being produced in enough quantity for personal use by enterprises and publishers. That's likely to change as tools and marketing methods begin to fill the void left by comparatively sparing office automation and enterprise software. Will content producers take advantage of the increasing power of personal computing or continue to live in a server-centric world? There are fears that go along with the opportunities, but one thing's for sure - the hardware's not going away.
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Friday, June 25, 2004

U.S. Senate File Sharing Bill Progresses: Kill the Content Channel Most Liked by Consumers?

The New York Time Op/Ed pages, of all places, runs with TWO pro-file-sharing pieces in reaction to continued pursuit of consumer downloaders by the RIIA and highlighted by RIAA-supported legislation surfacing in the U.S. Senate (CNET News) to ban file sharing software. Kembrew McLeod's piece points out that CD sales increased 10.6 percent in 1Q2004 over the previous year, even as file sharing continued to surge. In other words, increases in file sharing do not seem to correlate closely with decreases in CD sales. The piece by William Fisher gets a little more to the core of the matter by noting how the entertainment industry handled similar technological challenges to content distribution far more gracefully. When U.S. commercial radio first came on the scene copyright holders encouraged its growth with royalty-free dissemination, which fueled the growth of their record sales, and then took a relatively modest royalty cut that now represents USD 300 million in annual revenues. When VCRs came on the scene, initial fears were replaced by burgeoning sales via rentals and purchases.

In the now-famous words of former President Bill Clinton, the RIAA goes after consumers "because it can," not because it is likely to have any significant impact on the industry as a whole or result in new business models that will help the music and entertainment industries to thrive. If the RIAA really cared about technologies that incited copyright infringement it could have gone after harder targets like Microsoft for the "Copy" and "Paste" functions that have been at consumer's fingertips for more than twenty years. File sharing is the new radio, filling the huge void left by the inability of the traditional broadcast industry to offer the public any substantial diversity in its musical content offerings and the inability of media outlets in general to target innovative content effectively at highly engaged audiences. Instead of trying to milk the last few miles out of outdated business models that don't provide the public what they're looking for the recording industry owes it to itself to take a look at how purveyors of professionally-oriented content have come to peace with their clients over the years and reached out for new ways to make their content valuable to their audiences in innovative ways. Sitting on a copyright doesn't do the public much good unless you can provide its value to them in a meaningful manner. The marketplace as a whole will win when innovation in content value takes the front page instead of fruitless protectionism.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Comdex Crumbles: Consumers and Content Calling the Shots?

What started as a shot in the dark by a Las Vegas casino owner in 1979 appears to have run its course for the moment. CNET News covers along with others the (at least temporary) passing of the once-seminal and megalithic Comdex exposition in the face of a changing I.T. industry and the growing success of the consumer gizmo-oriented Consumer Electronics Show. Comdex rode the wave of a huge interest in all things Internet that just doesn't hold people's attention as a mass-market phenomenon anymore; Elisha Otis drew huge crowds to see his first practical and safe elevator being demonstrated at the New York World's Fair in 1853; within a few decades it was technology that was taken for granted. In the meantime the quiet revolution of content moves on, unimpeded by whether it's underlying technology is popular or not. This whole concept of treating people in personal roles as "consumers" and people in business roles using essentially the same personal equipment also lies at the heart of the matter, a distinction that seems to divide the world of content, as well. As content technologies have become vastly more powerful and affordable, both the content industry and the institutional I.T. industry are having a harder and harder time grasping how to approach the sale of products and services that span the personal/business world without getting pigeonholed exclusively into "consumer" and "professional" boxes that may hamper them in the long run. Geez, I wonder how the inventors of papyrus handled this one...

Paid Inclusion Debate Isn't So Simple

Yesterday, CNET News.com reported on the phase-out of paid listings by the search engine Ask Jeeves. The article says that "Critics say paid inclusion can blur the lines between editorial content and advertising." Well, those lines have been blurring for a long time, as we at Shore have been pointing out. Most of the paid inclusion programs instituted by the major search engines have had the objective of providing a more comprehensive and relevant service. To some extent, the paid inclusion programs have provided a way to include sites that would not automatically be placed high in search results due to the text-driven algorithms used by the search engines, although the sites may be very relevant to the user's query. In addition, users are clicking on paid search listing ads, so they obviously find many of them relevant and useful to their queries, too. So, the "paid" listings clearly have some role in increasing the relevancy and completeness of the search engines.

A couple of questions that need to be raised when this issue is debated:
--How should search engines incorporate results from sites that are not dominantly textual? Even if new algorithms are developed to rate the relevancy of, let's say, a numeric database, should the listing for the site be commingled with textual sites. Or, would it be more helpful to categorize the site separately in the search listings display?
--Since the lines between editorial content and advertising are blurring, how do you draw the line to decide who should pay to be listed and who should be included because of the relevancy of the content?

Ask Jeeves' SVP of search products, Jim Lanzone, states, "...it doesn't make sense to draw a distinction of a site in the index--if it's good, it's good. We have to have it anyway; why would we make them pay anything." But, let's face it, someone has to pay, and in the competitive field of Web search engines, advertising revenue is going to continue to be critical for some time. Wait, let me phrase that another way, fees from paid listings are going to be critical (since ads are paid listings of a sort). The challenge for the search engines is to find a way to display paid listings, results from text-heavy sites, and results from non-texutal sites, so that the multiple objectives of coverage, relevancy, editorial integrity, and ease-of-use are maintained for the customers. We should expect to see some developments in the layout of results pages from search engines in the near future.

SIIA Brown Bag Panel - Enterprise Search: Adding Value to Content Behind the Firewall & Beyond

It was an honor to chair and moderate the panel for this SIIA event yesterday at the offices of Holland & Knight: we had about 70 attendees listening intently to contributions from the senior management of ClearForest, Factiva, FAST Search & Transfer, Endeca, ISYS and MarkLogic, all representing unique perspectives on the enterprise search industry. Being in the moderator's seat it was a little difficult for me to capture my usual blow-by-blow notes and somewhat harder yet to squeeze in all of the questions that I would have liked to have asked given the size of the panel and time constraints. Here, though, are some of my quick takes on the discussion, both what was said and what was not said:

Interface is king as much as source materials and algorithms. Being able to get at content via search mechanisms has moved beyond the "my algorithm is better than yours" phase to some degree, even when they matter, to the point where people are getting usable content at their fingertips based on a query. That usability is wrapped up strongly in interface design and content navigation capabilities build in to an interface. Thus you have an interface such as ClearForest's which is an excellent tool for sophisticated visual analysis of content and Endeca's Guided Navigation that gives people drill-down categories highly tuned to the search results and other approaches that assume not only that documents are text blobs lined up in a row but objects with extractable and sophisticated attributes that take their content beyond mere text and into the realm of salient answers.

Taxonomies matter, but it's still a struggle to implement them cost-effectively. Karin Borchert of Factiva came up with taxonomies as the linchpin of search capabilities two years from now in our visionaries "lightning round" of questions; with many of the advances being seen in taxonomy development and caretaking I'd have to agree that taxonomies have yet to come into their fullest use and fruition. With corporate compliance efforts and complex analysis tasks pushing institutions to classify more content than ever, it's likely that taxonomies will continue to be highly important tools. But as Lee Phillips of FAST pointed out, taxonomies oftentimes have a lot of care and feeding associated with them for full effectiveness unless you want to take the "inch deep, mile wide" approach of some providers. Good work for information professionals and corporate librarians, to be sure, but hard for them to keep in sync with what technology can provide to them. When taxonomies are highly adaptive to the content in their purview they can do wonders, but without good semantic processing and componentization of content from mere text into an array of usable content objects their power is limited.

The "Magic Box" has believers - in users. During the panel discussion there were some interesting exchanges on the "magic box" approach to search favored by open Web search engines such as Yahoo! and Google, the single source of answers that can hopefully interpolate human needs and express them in search results. People believe in the magic box, even when what they need may not be the most popular thing that appears at the top of a list of answers. Sometimes, as with a product such as ClearForest's, the answers lie not in a list but in seeing relationships amongst entities. Sometimes, as in Endeca's approach to navigation, the answer may come through exploring search-contextual categories as much as it does through seeing a listing of documents. But even when these approaches do provide value, the essential problem that most search technologies grapple with is that most people don't give a hoot about using sophisticated technology to get answers to their questions. A machine's job is to understand us, not vice versa. The unspoken truth is that most approaches to search today are still very weak in trying to understand the human aspects of what people are looking for in a query, and will remain so for quite some time to come. In the meantime companies have products to sell, so "magic box plus" solutions will be the norm for the foreseeable future.

Google isn't the enemy, they're just a media company (not). Jeff Cutler was kind enough to ask a pointed question about the presence of Google in the corporate space, given their efforts with search, Gmail and their enterprise-oriented search appliance. The strong consensus of the panel is that they're a nonplayer for the most part, a media company trying to make some interesting things happen but not a serious player in enterprise search. On the face of it this is an accurate answer: while Google makes money on its hardware/system-driven search appliances often enough, their approach to enterprise solutions selling is a non-starter from a practical standpoint, with a sales approach that has all the sensitivity of a county coroner. Google is not an I.T. company from this perspective, to be sure. Yet there are a number of highly successful content companies who have succeeded in enterprise content that have not wooed I.T. managers to get their products in the door - Bloomberg, LP's eponymous and originally "black box" financial content systems relied on sales to individuals to get their foot in the door to build what is today arguably the most successful financial content company in the world. What Google represents is an extremely well funded company with a search interface that the world loves that is doing its very best to romance each and every desktop in the world with an understanding of content from a highly human perspective. No, you won't see Google succeed for a long time in a big way with enterprise search: they don't have to. All they need to do is to drain off enough dollars being spent on "pretty good" solutions at the enterprise level to keep potential competitors from getting enough strength to take them on at the enterprise desktop level with solutions that don't require I.T. budgets for the most part - yet. The space between Google and more entrenched players in enterprise search such as Verity and Autonomy is going to get more narrow rather quickly unless search specialists decide how they want to address this march towards personal knowledge management. Players such as ISYS and ClearForest are in a very interesting position to capitalize on this movement - if they can get the right pieces in place.

XML's day has barely begun. I sense that some of the comments from Paul Pederson of MarkLogic regarding the importance of XML in search may not have penetrated as deeply as they could have - no fault of his, just a matter of awareness, I assume. No matter, they were very salient, for the surge of content creation towards XML-based formats has just begun. Even humble weblogs are based on these highly manageable content transport standards, making it easier than ever to represent content "under the bonnet" in a highly useful manner while allowing end users to consume that content in any number of useful formats. The metaphor of a text document as an analog of a piece of paper is coming closer to running its course as the requirements for searching and storing content become ever more sophisticated. In this environment every piece of content will have the potential for highly flexible reuse in any number of venues, something that Microsoft understands very well at the macro level, even if their real-world implementations are lagging in exploiting this capability effectively. As Lee Phillips of FAST put it, "Don't limit yourself to search, think like a publisher." XML is one of the keys to help people focused on search to think about how content can be made far more useful to people in a much more flexible and contextual manner. Bottom line, search IS all about publishing content, and making that content valuable to specific audiences in specific venues is the key to future profitability for these companies.

My best wishes to all of the panelists, you all have very interesting products that will help to shape the face of vContent from quite some time to come. Also our great thanks to Jeff Cutler, President of the SIIA Content Division for calling on us to help pull this together. Let's do it again some time!

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

News Analysis - Intelligent Intelligence: How Search Technology is Creating New Market Intelligence Content

Market intelligence used to be all about focus groups, phone banks and sifting through field reports from salespeople. Now with tools from companies such as FAST Search & Transfer, Moreover in partnership with Biz360 and Factiva getting the pulse of human insight and sentiment is becoming a much more scientific and efficient endeavor. In the process of creating systems that generate "intelligent intelligence", though, a new class of content is being created that owes little to established publishers and everything to a new generation of technology that's extracting human value instead of just data from unstructured sources. It's not as relaxing as chatting around the water cooler but it sure is more rewarding.
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Monday, June 21, 2004

Find/SVP Launches Find.com: Closing in on Business-Quality Content Finding?

Find/SVP's announced new portal Find.com is an attempt to bring free and premium content and research from the Web, directories and other sources into a common search interface that will make it easier for individual professionals to find high-grade content in a convenient format. It's a concept that's being chased by any number of providers these days, including HighBeam, Moreover, the reborn Northern Light and Factiva. The TripleHop-powered Find/SVP efforts work hard to emulate many Google-ish features, with contextual ads on Web, directory and online news results and a clean and neutral tab-driven look and feel, as well as Northern Light-inspired category folders that crop up to the left of search results to help people further refine into content more focused on their needs. Premium content appears segregated at the top of Web results, while it is integrated into the main body of the research tab. It's an appealing interface at first glance, but lacks many of the well-designed user features of the HighBeam interface and does only a fair job of helping people understand what really differentiates content appearing in the Research and Directory tabs. The quality and characteristics of the search results in these tabs are all virtually identical - not giving one a strong sense of why we should care that its sourcing is truly premium, save that it's a more limited set of sources. For now we'll call it a good idea with decent technology in search of decent content and a clear appeal to the true needs of professional content users. Toss it on the stack with the others for now, perhaps it will mature over time.

Kudos, Tim: The Power of a Great Idea Shared Openly

The mainstream media this week seems to be broadening its awareness of last week's story (e.g., the Times on CNET)on Tim Berners-Lee's receipt of the Millennium Technology Prize from the Finnish Technology Award Foundation, valued at 1 million euros ($1.2 million). I wouldn't think that Tim is starving these days without this recognition, but it's interesting to see some ten years after the launching of a simple yet revolutionary idea that was shared with the world that the untold billions of dollars made on Web endeavors in that time were all spawned by someone who just wanted to share a good idea with other people. Significantly the impact of the Web is really not a technical legacy - the basic underpinnings of the Web are essentially unchanged since its early days and were largely in place even before its birth - but instead the Web's true impact is the ability of people everywhere to share content with anyone and everyone anywhere with commercial considerations made secondary. Clearly this fundamental idea has not inhibited content ecommerce but has instead has enabled new kinds of content monetization that are only beginning to touch the true heart of the publishing industry as it has thought of itself. Today the alarmingly simple methods used to spread weblogs to desktops everywhere offer a similar revolution to content creators and consumers - thanks to a few courageous pioneers who just wanted to share a great idea. Looking at many pioneers of such transforming concepts it's a spotty track record at best on how individuals and institutions fare on monetizing such revolutions - ask the Wright Brothers how they cleaned up (not) - so perhaps Tim was right to just let the idea evolve into its own form for its own sake. In any event, thanks, Tim, hope that you enjoy the award as much as we enjoy what your idea has brought into our lives.

In Premium Weblogs: S&P Research Picks up Vanguard, Thomson MarketView Launches, FactSet Earnings,

Shore Senior Analyst Jack McConville reports on a major buy side sales success for Standard & Poor's equities research, the new MarketView news and commentary service on Thomson ONE and FactSet's healthy earnings.
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New Report from Shore Affiliate Sees US Equity Research Spending Doubling by 2008

US investors are projected to spend almost $19 billion on equity research in 2008 - more than double the $9.2 billion that was spent in 2003 according to a ground breaking report written by Integrity Research Associates, LLC, a new affiliate team of Shore Communications Inc. The report describes the evolution of dramatic changes to equity research, analyzes the forces behind these changes, outlines the evolution of critical challenges facing the three major sources of equity research -- sell-side firms, buy-side firms, and independent research firms -- and forecasts the market's growth over the next five years. The big gainer in market share is the independent research segment -organizations that market their research directly to institutional investors or indirectly through brokerage firms that don't produce their own research. Independent research revenue is expected to increase by 195% in the next five years, from $1.38 billion in 2003 to $4.07 billion in 2008, a gain in market share from 15% to 21.4%.
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Saturday, June 19, 2004

Death of the Messenger: Yahoo! Pulls Up Stakes in Enterprise IM Market

CNET News reports on portal and Web services provider Yahoo!'s exit from the instant messaging enterprise software marketplace, the last remaining leg in its collapsed enterprise software efforts. This hardly means that Yahoo! has given up on having a presence in the enterprise, however: as noted in our earlier news analysis, IM as a software play for the enterprise may be done but it's hardly tapped yet for premium content delivery and still an important bridge between the world of individual and institutional content. Research noted by CNET sees 85 percent of North American desktops in business having IM on their computers, most of it downloaded from open Web sources such as Yahoo!, MSN and AOL. Building up from these individual relationships into ranges of services that support enterprise workers at the individual level is key to many content service providers' strategies for success behind the firewall and into the complex fabric of interests and needs represented by today's publishing-enabled enterprise content users and producers. It's a positioning that many major premium providers still struggle to emulate - and may never do with full success until they accept the new primacy of individuals empowered to publish.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

New Monetization Option for Publishers: A Natural or a Washout?

The New York Times (reg. req.) reports on a recent trend in consumer magazine publishing where publishers are issuing private label products that leverage their brand name with their readership. Maxim magazine was an early entrant in this space with hair dye for men, which purportedly appeals to the hip or wannabe-hip male audience they serve. The article reports that Maxim is considering extending into nightclubs and frozen foods that bear the Maxim label. Maxim isn't alone in leveraging its brand into product extensions. Nearly everyone is aware of Martha Stewart's Omnimedia and its home goods products sold at K-Mart. And, Prevention Magazine is introducing a line of vitamins in the fall.

Now, not only is the line between editorial and advertising getting blurred, the line between publications as an advertising platform and as the advertiser is merging as well. Although publishers have to be careful not to alienate their existing advertisers, it is easy to understand the appeal of private-label products from a financial point of view because of the additonal revenue and high margins. And, while it is unlikely that we'll see soon see business publications hawking hair dye, it is not unusual to find publishers leveraging their trusted reputation in a particular space to lend their names to conferences, executive training seminars, topical books, and the like. With e-commerce capabilities already in place on their Websites, who knows what sort of brand extensions we'll soon see from major online business publishers?

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The Price of Content Security: The Disappearance of Fair Use in Digital Media Bites Back

The New York Times noted earlier this week the struggles of a professor from the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication who put together a 20-minute collage of multimedia materials for presentation on a CD-ROM at a conference ironically entitled "Knowledge Held Hostage: Scholarly Versus Corporate Rights in the Digital Age." Months of haggling with rights holders - sometimes just trying to locate them was a huge hassle - and USD 17,000 in royalty fees later, the professor had his brief montage of clips from old TV shows, songs and texts. It's a brilliant illustration of the problems of employing fair use of content being encountered with digital sources, underscored by the draconian and occasionally nonsensical provisions of the U.S. Digital Millenium Copyright Act that make it all the more compelling in many instances to forego trying to do the right thing with content rights. Understanding the value of content and being able to capitalize on it effectively is certainly a valid commercial goal, but oftentimes rights holders are not responsible in making either fair use applicable in even very sensible and useful non-commercial settings such as a simple thought provoking piece for a highly limited audience. The time is coming for DMCA to be modified to put more onus on rights holders to make enabling reasonable compliance for researchers as easy for users to pursue as it is for the rights holders to pursue users. Otherwise, the realities of everyday economics make "finders keepers" a stance that courts are more likely to approve of at some foreseeable juncture for instances such as this.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Content Ownership: Don't Write it Off. In Fact, Write it Up.

The Seattle Times opines on the fate of content ownership in an era in which downloads are changing the perception of ownership value. It's a conjectural piece, but paints the current conventional wisdom that content ownership is dwindling away. Yet many trends point to the contrary: CNET reported on Friday that a group of major music retailers have backed off plans to support a Web portal that would support music downloads, noting that the USD 11.2 billion in CD sales in 2003 still dwarfs the USD 245 million for online music downloads, which pulled even with cassette sales. Even taking a key example from the Seattle Times' own account, the ability to have permanent content archives and on-demand printing is likely to create demand for content that would otherwise be serviced intermittently at best by traditional publishing methods. Storage and ownership, however, are becoming less connected, as the ownership of rights becomes a more important factor to content consumers than exactly how we clutter up our disks and shelves. Humans are "thing"-ish creatures, though, so whether its a cache in an iPod, a hard drive at work or some petabyte-scaled storage system on the Web, people will want to have an ownership relationship with content in many instances for the foreseeable future. Being able to change our virtual ownership into new forms of physical ownership conveniently has become as important as creating collections of content itself - something that consumers figured out long ago and that publishers are just beginning to grapple with.

In Premium Weblogs: Mainstream to Deliver Bloomberg News, Reuters Dumps GL TRADE, Telerate lands HSBC, Deals with Radianz, Reuters & More

Shore Senior Analyst Jack McConville reports on a busy week at and around this year's Securities Industry Association Technology Conference & Exhibition, including Radianz hooking up with iDeal, Thomson signing Capco and Legg Mason and integrating AutEx with Thomson ONE, Reuters America's flexible new Reuters Station, Telerate's three-year deal with HSBC, Reuters selling its stake in GL TRADE, Mainstream distributing Bloomberg News and more.
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News Analysis - Getting the Message: How Instant Messaging is Setting the Table for High-Value Content

Long a tool and toy for the general public, instant messaging (IM) is getting very serious these days in business circles as compliance requirements and other regulatory issues have put the clamp on retaining and tracking IM's use throughout institutions. The good news is that this more serious management of IM content and security has resulted in a robust and powerful content channel that's only begun to be exploited by by both institutions and business content providers. While financial firms have had the jump on IM for a while, expect instant messaging to unfold in the months ahead as a major opportunity for creating value for content in very personal and focused contexts that add to the bottom line.
click here to read the full news analysis

Friday, June 11, 2004

TiVo Goes Web for Video Downloads: So Much for Distribution Control

It's amazing sometimes how media companies continue to drag their heels on the most obvious exposures to their product base from emerging technologies. The New York Times reports on set-top digital recording provider TiVo's plans to support downloading of videos via the Internet. I was at a conference on digital rights not long ago chatting with an expert on securing rights on cable programming via set-top boxes. When I asked him what his unit could do to manage internet content also being delivered via cables, he drew a blank. Looks like TiVo didn't, nor many other providers who look at the opportunities offered by leading technologies and how they serve user markets. Is this a major threat to existing content channels? Probably not as much as some may fear, anticipating months of headlines from legal wranglings. The likely and largely unforseen consequence of this emerging capability is for new sources of video content to sprout up on the Web for distribution. Today's 100+ channels of cable content comes at a steep premium, with much of it stale and repetitive. What if users could choose new and innovative video streams intertwined easily with more commercialized sources via cable, satellite and broadcast? The ability of the Web to create and amplify user interest in content would be extremely useful in helping to widen the popularity of innovative multimedia content channels. All points to the strong necessity to have rights-secured access to content objects on the Web to facilitate such capabilities. Heel-draggers, please step up your pace to meet enticing new opportunities. [UPDATE - Monday, 14 June: The New York Times reports on RealNetworks' alliance with the Starz Encore Group to suppport monthly USD 12.95 monthly download subscriptions for rights-secured access to up to 100 moves a month via the Web. Makes perfect sense: the idea that we need hundreds of channels to schedule content for times that probably don't match with our desire to view something is rather passe. It's a great positioning for premium content - though a threat to premium cable packaging in the long run.]

The 2004 Securities Industry Association Conference: The Changing of the Guard

It's yet another old home week at the Hilton for the Securities Industry Association's annual Technology Management Conference, but there's not much old left in the halls these days. The days of lookalike quote displays from dozens of players is largely behind us, with a plethora of new and smaller vendors filling the voids left by the consolidation of many of the major names in financial content. Strong rumors of the Reuters acquisition of Telerate and Thomson absorbing FactSet were swirling about the show but leaving little in substantial evidence. Those majors still surviving are less focused on hawking technology and more intent on providing solutions that meet the needs of specific user groups. Even Sun Microsystems, which in years past squeezed dozens of application displays into its sizeable footprint, has opened up their exhibit space to give people room to sit down and hear the gospel of solutions selling. The financial content industry is in listening mode to pick up the buy signals from the trading floors and sales offices in the financial marketplace, because the traditional channels are increasingly defunct or difficult to locate. IT departments still figure into their plans in a big way, but being able to find unique sources of content that can meet the needs of specific audiences is increasingly a task that requires an appeal to the users who are driven by their content. Thus you have a player like Connotate Technologies offering the appealing proposition of mining the Web for content that can get a beat on typical wire services and data feeds, with interfaces that can allow a clever but non-techie analyst to set up streams as well as more industrial-strength capabilities for back offices. Business process efficiency is still a major draw, but with most T+1 plans already well under way the industry seems to be more focused this year on compliance mania on many different levels, drawing in content management firms in much more strong numbers. There are as always some neat content visualization tools, but the toy of the show so far is the Blackberry stand, demonstrating some sophisticated financial analysis tools for the mobile trader.

In a marketplace that's in dire need of protecting its margins and playing by a galaxy of new rules, financial institutions are eyeing new ways of acquiring and managing content that promise both efficient markets and effective operations. Here are a few of the key tidbits we gleaned in our wanderings at the show:

Tickers get Sexy Again - For a Millisecond
Reuters realtime datafeed developers are no doubt heartened that the sub-millisecond latency performance for their flagship RMDS realtime datafeed platform was a prominent piece of good news for the Fleet Street gang at the show, but it indicates the quality of competition out in the marketplace trying to whittle away at latent trade and quote "ticks". Bloated server architectures and message formats (sorry, MDDL) are not the preferred solutions for feeds in these days of ever-thinning trade margins; leanness is the name of the game for realtime content delivery more than ever before. In the meantime vendors such as Hyperfeed continue to position their clients for effective delivery solutions via direct exchange feeds, but it's still a challenge to convert clients who are so heavily invested in solutions that provide known returns on feed management infrastructure. But all indicators point towards more disaggregation of realtime content sources as delivery networks become more capable of managing feeds from far and wide and the major investment houses reach a "tipping point" in dealing with direct feeds via common carriers more efficiently over the next eighteen months. Could be that the "new" Telerate has completed its new ticker plant just in time for the lights to go out again on realtime data.

It's All Over for IM - Unless You're Already In
While secure and auditable instant messaging was still a major focus of attention at this year's show, the consensus seems to be that Communicator and other early movers have locked up the lion's share of basic messaging infrastructure. Nobody wants to contend with multiple IM solutions any more than they want to have a multiplicity of quote vendors, so the basic stage for messaging is already well established. But there's still lots of room for growth in value-add services in an IM framework such as Parlano's announced deal to provide their collaborative messaging environent on Communicator's Connex messaging platform. IM's importance as a content development and delivery platorm will only increase as the need to structure content and personal relationships into more sophisticated paradigms to serve the institutional trading environment evolves. The old truism "I trust, therefore I execute" is beginning to drift away from trade execution channels and into the parallel hands of content vendors and trade execution specialists, creating huge vulnerability to the sell side's margins. IM offers the sell side a potential route out of this dilemma, but it will take some sophisticated content-mongering to make it happen.

Unstructured Content Comes Front and Center
With compliance concerns replacing Straight-Trough Processing and T+1 trade clearance as the financial industry's current worry beads, it's not surprising that much of the space formerly occupied by market data solutions has been nabbed by folks selling products addressing compliance issues. From secure, auditable and searchable email archives to off-site storage and data center solutions to indexing and data mining, getting a hold of content from formerly off-the-map sources and being able to exploit it and manage it efficiently is at least as important to profitability in today's financial marketplace as getting a few fractions of a second shaved off of a ticker feed. Even the U.S. Postal Service is getting into the act, with a service backed by technology from AuthentiDate that provide a legally accepted "postmark", identity and electronic signature capability that promises to offer a broadly available method to authenticate personal and personalized content. It's a clever rethinking of the USPS' basic mission in the marketplace - providing secure delivery of content from individuals and institutions - that may provide unstructured electronic content an important push to complete institutional legitimacy.

Sometimes Speed is All About Relevance - or So Says Relegence
What good is getting that hot news story out on the wires if it takes a trader forever to find it and act on it? The folks at Relegence were demonstrating an increasingly sophisticated range of tools to help users filter content from vendors and internal sources with easily manipulated mechanisms to highlight content relevance at the click of a mouse button. This emphasis on highly efficient filtering of all content inputs is gaining followers on many fronts, so a tools such as Relegence's FirstTrack service is bound to gain a broader array of adherents over time. But is FirstTrack a product or a feature? Relegence is in essentially the same bind as NewsEdge found itself not too long ago, with some interesting technology but not a terribly broad business model on which to sustain itself. The product is looking better than ever, though, so expect a major to pick up this property before too long if they don't get some additional financing to take them to the next level of independent market penetration.

Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Denton Pushes Gawker Sponsored Content for Companies Seeking Leading Edge Consumers

The New York Times [REGISTRATION] notes along with many others the debut of Nike's "Art of Speed" weblog, a sponsored-content version of Gawker that is wrapped in highly attractive graphics and certainly helps to up the buzz ante for the Nike brand very cost-effectively: kudos to Nick Denton for landing a good assignment for his star blogging team. The brand association with the content is quite loose - about akin to the correlation of Milton Berle and the sponsor of his Texaco Star Theater show in early television - but like those early entertainment shows it indicates that major brands hard pressed in typical media outlets to get a loyal audience are finding sponsored content of in new outlets to be far more cost-effective in getting both message and image out to affluent leading-edge markets. As noted in our earlier news analysis, weblog promoters such as Denton acting as talent development agents concentrating on developing a capable stable of writers ensures that those wanting to spin weblog content into their own content fabrics like DJs at a night club - BJs, as we like to think of them - will have a steady flow of quality content. Nice work if you can find it...

Monday, June 7, 2004

Bitpipe's Analyst Views Not Quite There Yet

Today Bitpipe announced its new online service called Analyst Views. The service is targeted to IT professionals who don't have access to premium IT research through a direct corporate subscription. Although Bitpipe's announcement would have you believe that this is a unique offering, there are several alternative Web-based services that provide a common search platform for finding, and in some cases retrieving, premium research. These include MindBranch (disclaimer, research from Shore Communications is available from MindBranch), MarketResearch.com, and InfoEdge. As the former director of a similar service offered by HP's now defunct DeepCanyon service, this is a space I know quite well.

Analyst Views grew out of Bitpipe's Analyst Direct service to institutions that integrates access to research from multiple IT and market research firms. Northern Light's SinglePoint service and MindBranch's Quicklink service provide similar services to institutions that want to provide a single interface to the content from multiple research firms with whom they have direct subscriptions. Essentially these offerings are integration tools that unify access and search. The degree of sophistication varies between the offerings.

After a quick check of Bitpipe's Analyst Views offering, I have to say that either they launched this prematurely or they are exaggerating the functionality of the service. For now, registered users of Analyst Views can search the database of research reports and can find a good description of the reports. However, accessing the reports is extremely clunky, because most participating research firms require general registration and users are met with some very unfriendly landing pages that scream out comments such as 'access is denied' or 'error, you are not a registered customer', instead of a page that encourages users to purchase the report. Bitpipe has some integration work to do on the Analyst Views product before one can say that it offers sufficient value-add to users over a standard search engine. Granted, most of the top tier IT research firms don't offer full-text search of their reports via the major search engines, but they are making progress in search engine marketing (SEM) and it should be only a matter of time before the likes of Forrester, IDC, and Gartner figure out how to work with Google, Yahoo, and MSN to have full-text searchability of their behind-the-firewall premium reports included in standard search results.

On the positive side, Bitpipe is making a laudable effort to merchandise IT research through a directory of research firms, and additional editorial value-add.

News Analysis - Summer Rally: How Independent Research Providers are Transforming Financial Markets

"What hath Spitzer wrought?" may be a common question on the lips of people this summer as the effects of the major U.S. settlement against investment banks accused of manipulating stock research begins to go into effect. With ten major I-banks required to buy large quantities of research from independent suppliers and their own pricey researchers pinned behind "Chinese walls" of legal compliance requirements, these major financial institutions are facing an environment that is calling the very foundations of their profitability into question. The very thing that brought them to power - electronic content - may wind up being the force that becomes their undoing, with independent research providers a key lynchpin of the unfolding process.
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In Premium Weblogs: Goldman Goes for S&P Independent Research, NASDAQ IR Toolkit, Archipelago Amends its S-1, Thomson and Protegent Compliance Deal

Shore Senior Analyst Jack McConville reports on Goldman Sachs' selection of Standard & Poor's Equities Research as their provider under the Spitzer settlement, NASDAQ's IRtrack kit from Georgeson Shareholder that may help smaller companies in the research fray, Archipelago's additional info in its IPO plans, and Thomson's integration of Protegent's Compliance Toolkit into its Thomson ONE Advisor platform. more...

Friday, June 4, 2004

Scholarly Publishing & Unforeseen Consequences of Technology

The 26th annual Meeting for the Society of Scholarly Publishing met in San Francisco June 1-3 with record attendees, focusing on the implications of technology for the world of learned societies and scholarly communication dominating the agenda. Silicon Valley met East Coast tradition, as Google courts these publishers for its new ventures into premium content.

Keynote speaker, Larry Lessig, Stanford law professor, set the conference tone in describing the "copyright war" triggered by digital technologies, and the driving force for founding Creative Commons. The copyright protections of the Constitution are benign in the public library context with unregulated use within the confines of the physical creative work. In the digital age, "copies" of a single work are created, which then become regulated by the legal system, thus restricting the creative process and burdening it with excess costs. He cogently argues that the evolution of our culture and innovation is inhibited by the extension of copyright laws, which prevent dissemination of knowledge. In practicing his beliefs, his latest book, Free Culture, is available free on the Web under a Creative Commons license, feeding a community which made seven translations and an audio version available within days of the publication. Lessig's focus is more Hollywood content than scholarly content, but the issues of copyright remain the same.

Understanding the users of scholarly information was the theme of the plenary session given by Carol Tenopir, a familiar theme in other areas of the information industry. Use of electronic information varies by discipline, no surprise, but the quantitative depth of her work over the past 17 years is impressive. One major finding is the shift from browsing behavior, with tables of contents and print copies, to searching behavior. Her studies have documented significant differences between engineers, medical practitioners, and other scientists in information consumption, which have implications for scholarly communication. Print has not gone away - even scholars print out articles that require more than 20 minutes to read, rather than reading on a screen. And academic libraries are still buying print copies of journals, with the electronic versions supplementing the print. A troublesome finding to the scholarly publishers at this meeting was the documented drop in number of personal subscriptions by scientists, implying that more of their information comes from institutional access.

Technology was a theme of most of the concurrent sessions. New players included speakers from Google and the Elsevier Scirus project, speaking on search engines and accessing scholarly content. Another session on ebooks demonstrated the confusion over ebooks vs. the now traditional ejournal processes. But not all technology resonates with the SSP publishers, as the BitPass micropayment system flunked the rights management concerns of attendees. Open access was a hot topic, which began with a panel moderated by Christine Lamb, of Shore Communications, with a packed room of attendees, and ended with a lively closing debate between proponents and opponents. No consensus was reached, but the need for experiments and data was clear. Yes, there are problems with the scholarly journal publishing process, but these lend themselves to partial solutions, depending on discipline.


Thursday, June 3, 2004

LexisNexis Partners with Cymfony Dashboard for Business Intelligence Solutions

Lexis/Nexis has announced yet another technology alliance to help their premium content penetrate specific market sectors effectively. The Cymfony platform provides quantitative and qualitative reports and analytic displays to provide a systematic way to measure brands, companies, people, key messages and other market intelligence functions - the kind of front end that no premium content company is likely to develop any time soon, and hence a great integration opportunity. As of late LexisNexis has been running up a string of these kinds of technology alliances along with their own solutions aimed towards solving problems for specific market niches, similar to Thomson's approach to tailoring its content for sector-oriented workflow solutions. By contrast, Factiva seems to concentrate more on the needs of individual clients rather than sectors in developing solutions - an approach that may provide more client loyalty but which may not provide the leverage and amplification to penetrate market sectors with a plethora of contextual solutions sold by a variety of channels. As we noted in our recent news analysis Factiva has cleared the decks for a more solutions-oriented approach to content sales, but LexisNexis seems to be leading in this area at the moment by many measures.

PDAs Haven't Died, They're Just Morphing Along - and Content Follows the Trend

In the wake of Sony's pulling the plug on its Palm-based line of Clie PDAs in U.S. and European markets CNET News runs with a feature on the potential death of PDAs, citing the rise of cheap smart phones as a key factor in Palm's revenue decline. Palm's own Treo smart phone/PDA/Blackberry is too pricey for average folks and new lower-priced models face stiffer competition from both phones and new players such as Dell who are becoming adept at bundling Windows-based PDAs in with PC sales. Notably the content community is picking up on this trend, with more eBooks working their way on to smart phones along with other premium sources. Though the Treo form factor appeals more to business-oriented users keen on more display space and easy keying in of messages and Web forms, the key to the "death" of the Palm-oriented PDA is that its initial core advantage - handwriting recognition - is relatively moot in the face of folks used to thumbing their way through content using controls more analagous to a PC. Without that advantage, it's anyone's game in portable content platorms. Consumers without a business bent will stick with content delivery that they can get on platforms picked up at the local mobile phone store, while serious business users - and probably gamers over time - will opt for Treo-like form factors better adapted to premium information and experiences. Either way, most everyone has lost the patience and budget to deal with more than one wireless device to keep them in touch with the world.

Wednesday, June 2, 2004

Newspapers Booming in Developing Nations, Online Editions Surge in Major Markets

BBC News reports on the changing shape of the news business, in which total global circulation of papers now exceeds a billion readers a day. China leads with 85 million paper readers, followed by India, Japan and the U.S. Overall global circulation of paper editions is flat, but in developing nations such as Russia, China and India the emergence of a literate and more affluent middle class that's still largely unwired is powering a huge surge in circulation that offsets declines in more developed nations. Online editions have surged 350 percent since 1999 and free dailies have shot up 16 percent in the last year alone, further complicating the problems of making subscription papers profitable. As usual there is never one "right" answer for content delivery: it's all a matter of context and market expectations. It's not contradictory to have print thriving in cultures where electronic content is still a new game or at odds with governments concerned with openness while electronic delivery begins to take center stage in more wired and open nations. But as evidenced by the rise of online news, free dailies and marketing-driven publications such as private label magazines, the economics of content delivery have tipped away forever from being able to sustain traditional publishing models via print organs in markets where electronic access is pervasive. We've exported old content models to new markets, but it won't be long before new electronic models develop in those markets to provide highly affordable electronic access.

Windows Media Player 10 to Incorporate Platform-Independent DRM

Well, if this won't make publishers wake up to DRM, I don't know what will. eWeek reports on Microsoft's upcoming release of Windows Media Player 10 that will incorporate the so-called Janus digital rights management technology. Key to the development of this technology is that the DRM scheme itself is device-centric and platform independent, meaning that your friendly Linux computer and other devices will be able to take advantage of the rights scheme to manage access control. Enhanced features will include the ability to have rights time out - a la library/rentals - and to support subscription streaming services. Details still to follow and devices taking advantage of this technology won't be around until the fall, but it appears to be a very thoroughly thought-out strategy that will finally provide something approaching a universal DRM capability for a broad array of content that will allow digital objects to have a high degree of portability and reuse capabilities. Obviously media-oriented companies will be jumping on this aggressively, but aggregators and publishers that have relied on controlled database access as their primary revenue protection scheme will discover fairly rapidly that this type of scheme will provide them with the best of both worlds: the ability to control revenues while placing content in a wide variety of contexts. Devil's in the details, though: we'll keep on top of this.

Tuesday, June 1, 2004

In Premium Weblogs: S&P Jaywalks, Reuters-Telerate Rumors, Dow Jones Recements Thomson, NASDAQ buys Brut, Instinet Joins Rules Consortium

Shore Senior Analyst Jack McConville reports on numerous happenings in financial content: Standard & Poor's becomes the first major independent supplier to join BONY's Jaywalk research network, Reuters-Telerate marriage rumors persist, Thomson hooks up Dow Jones Newswires again, NASDAQ acquires SunGard's Brut ECN transaction network to bolster liquidity and Instinet joins a consortium petitioning the SEC for investor choice. more...

News Analysis - Folk Tunes: How the Music Industry May Provide a Model for Developing Commercial Weblogs

A spate of news flashes from USC Annenberg OJR, The New York Times and Reuters are highlighting the power of weblogs as both an expressive medium as well as a body of commentary that has become a potent force for shaping main\stream journalism and corporate operations. What's missing is a viable business model for monetizing weblogs effectively beyond their current status as folk art in the raw. Using old channels of distribution for text content is not likely to harness the full commercial potential of weblogs, though. For the answer to tomorrow's weblog monetization, take a stroll down to your local night club and check out today's star "DJs" laying down the mixes. Will tomorrow's lead editors of weblogs be "BJs"?
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