Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Alacra Joins Premium Search Game with The Alacra Store

With Alacra's announcement of The Alacra Store beta we're finally getting somewhere with selling premium business content online in a way that is likely to make sense to business-oriented content purchasers aiming to pick up single reports and research. While it's still definitely a beta - a little rough in some of the details of navigation and needing some more robust document summaries - the overall design of the product is head and shoulders above the efforts of Yahoo! and compares very favorably to services from LexisNexis and Factiva. It comes with 30 sources so far, and while it's mostly PDF-format documents it's "the good stuff" by and large, not timid stuff. How do we like this tool? Let me count the ways:

- No login or complicated search syntax: just type and go
- Search box right on the front page, with options to search by keyword, company and publisher
- Search results are very well designed. Instead of a blob of relevance-ranked results (are they ever really relevant on relatively tiny collections?) results are categorized by type of business information - for company searches categories are Company Profile, Economic Data, Investment Research Market Research, News, Share Ownership, Executives, Credit Research - and then by publisher within category with country of content origin and other helpful indicators. The top results for each publisher are displayed, with a "more results" link allowing a flat display of results by publisher for the search terms.
- Alacra is working to make this content highly ranked in search engine results, both on open searches and new premium searches from search portals such as Yahoo!
- More features coming, including an RSS feed for updates to queries

I'd show you an example with a link, but so far search results are not bookmarkable - put that one in the enhancement queue, please. Try my standard "general motors" query to get an idea of the range of content.

As Rafat Ali points out in PaidContent.org nobody's likely to use this tool to buy $8 news stories, but that's not the real point of this tool. The point is to provide a true browsing environment for business information consumers structured in a way that's likely to appeal to people looking for particular kinds of specialized business-oriented content for specific business and research purposes. Most importantly, most of the content is stuff that's REALLY not found on the Web, and it's generally easy to understand which is which via this tool. The search engine metaphor is a nice entry into the store, but with finite collections absolute relevance oftentimes is not as important as useful categorization, as is provided in The Alacra Store. In this sense it's kind of a hybrid approach, walking ground that falls between the Hoover's and OneSource portal offerings and the Yahoo! and Google search offerings. For those looking to cherry-pick specific types of research and reports The Alacra Store offers a very useful and usable alternative to other premium search tools that's well designed for business content users. We'll see if the price points hold, but my guess is that purchasers in the know will come to understand the value proposition pretty quickly.
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