Today's announcement of the acquisition of ClearForest by Reuters highlights the shifting value proposition for business information services in the face of a marketplace that needs better information and ideas to compete in a real-time economy. ClearForest is one of the pioneers of mining content from Web sites, weblogs, corporate filings and other sources for businesses seeking to make sense of the sea of content that doesn't reside in neatly structured databases. ClearForest's mining and semantic analysis techniques allow unstructured content to tell tales that can lead to faster evaluation of financial opportunities, customer support issues and other mission-critical functions. ClearForest's modules that analyze news stories to develop data that can support automated securities trading as well, underscoring the need to treat the Web and internal unstructured sources as sources of content that can have immediate impact on operations and client perceptions as much as real-time financial quotes and news tickers have had in the past.
In other words when the world is one big database everything in that database can have a potential impact on business operations. Structured databases still matter for maintaining "golden sources" of content for specialized operations but the ability of technologies such as ClearForest to create on-demand content structure are placing more pressure on subscription database suppliers to deliver more value to their clients - value that relies oftentimes on unlicensed sources of unstructured content. It's a smart move by Reuters at a good time, picking up a company with mature technology that needed a more publishing-savvy management structure to accelerate its growth to the next level.
While the fit with Reuters' existing client base is obvious, one wonders how this will play against the recent jettisoning of Reuters' interest in its Factiva joint venture with Dow Jones. I wouldn't expect anything right away in a competitive direction from Reuters to circle back against Dow Jones and other general business information competitors but expect the already generalized capabilities of ClearForest to offer Reuters some very interesting leverage points that they may use to offer high-value services to business information consumers in the not too distant future.