Saturday, April 22, 2006

Congoo Tries for Transparency in Premium Content Web Searches - Sort Of

InfoWorld picks up on a new round of PR for Congoo, a tool to make it easier to access premium content located via a Web search engine. Congoo is a toolbar that you can download for your Internet Explorer browser (Firefox promised) that will allow you to form search queries much as any other search engine's toolbar. Enter some personal information in the Congoo tool such as zip code and email address typically asked for registration-based access to premium content and you're ready to start looking for premium sources. Search results yield a section on top of the page with premium results, followed by normal query results from the Yahoo! search engine, along with sponsored links to advertisers on the right side. Click on a premium result and you can get limited free access or easy pay-as-you go access with a click from a popup box, which then stays out of the way to allow you to access premium sources unimpeded.

That's the good for the not-so-good news. Most of the premium sources are news and press releases stored in a subscription collection called, with the most prominent direct access sources being Encyclopedia Britannica and institutional Investor. In some informal testing, I was able to find articles from Institutional Investor on the open Web that were displayed in the premium results of Congoo, as well as BusinessWire archive press releases available for free on the free side of the HighBeam research portal. However, on the plus side the Institutional Investor and EB results link to their native Web sites rather than the stripped-down results for papers and press releases. The larger problem is that the Congoo tool does not work in conjunction with other search engines: you access the premium content only from the Congoo search portal, which is available today only to tool downloaders.

In a general sense there's a lot to be said for having a tool like Congoo to make premium content accessible easily from an interface that includes Web content. It's an idea that has been tried from many angles already by Factiva, Yahoo!, Highbeam and other prominent suppliers. But none of these efforts have been able to detach their subscription access schemes from a proprietary search engine or database management system. At the same time Yahoo!'s Subscription Search beta has virtually disappeared: the landing page still exists but it no longer returns search results.

Aggregating segregated premium content works well for some specific applications and content types, but as a general concept it's proven itself to be a loser on the open Web. The segregation of premium content in search engines has not enabled its value to be assessed in direct comparison to non-premium sources. Shore research shows consistently that people are willing to pay for premium content when it serves an important purpose in an important context, with Web search engines a key source. If that perceived value is so high, why continue to confuse content consumers by insisting on artificial segregation? In enterprise search engines and applications content from personal, enterprise and external sources are combined as needed to provide the highest contextual value possible. There's no real reason to do otherwise on the open Web - a fact that more and more publishers are beginning to appreciate without the help of traditional aggregation services.

Content license management for subscription content still revolves largely around database access controls rather than the devices used by individuals and institutions licensing content. With the prevalence of search and access methods for content in today's public Web and enterprise networks, there is a real need for more universal content monetization controls that don't tie publishers to these database services. Congoo tries to look like it can provide that universal access, but it's a long way off the mark, unfortunately. Next...
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