Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Problems with FeedBlitz Affecting ShoreLines

My apologies to ShoreLines subscribers, there are problems with the FeedBlitz system that seem to be impacting our newsletter delivery. When we try to put out a newsletter we get just a blank page instead of content. Their weblog indicates that they've been working on this problem for about a week, so it must be a fairly serious issue. Hopefully we can restore service some time soon.

UPDATE: One blog post later, problem solved. Social media is great.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Elsevier's Illumin8 Unleashes Semantic Search on Intelligence for R&D

I really love Rafael Sidi's Really Simple Sidi weblog, it's a great compilation of insights into sciences publishing that is easy to read and is in my daily bookmarks of news sources to monitor. Turns out that Rafel is a big fan of ContentBlogger also, so I was pleased to get a preview briefing from him on Elsevier's new Illumin8 product making its debut today. While it's hard to draw major conclusions on the significance of any product Day One, it appears that Elsevier has enabled Rafael's team to come up with what promises to be a real breakthrough in STM workflow solutions focused on getting the right insights into emerging solutions to scientific problems effectively.

The problem in big-stakes scientific research and development fields is that most search tools are oriented towards topical approaches to research that don't necessarily focus on relating problems and the organizations and people focusing on them with the solutions and benefits that they provide. For example, if one were to look for research, news and Web content relating to the HIV virus, the typical search engine is going to look at a search centered on that term and come up with documents that relate to this topic - but not necessarily focus on the solutions and benefits being provided by specific research studies for available new products.

This is a critical factor when trying to select a new line of scientific research or to understand how to position a new product based on that research. How quickly can one define what solutions are in play for specific types of scientific problems by specific companies or universities? Who's delivering the most beneficial solutions? Illumin8 addresses these kinds of questions by adding an important semantic twist to search processing. Instead of focusing just on nouns to define how content relates to a topic Illumin8 clusters results based on how they fall into verb categories that align topic groups such as organizations, products, experts and technology with problems and benefits associated with those topics. Using this tool one can discover easily not just recent research, Web postings and news stories but the items that the real problems being addressed by that research and the real benefits being revealed very rapidly.

Illumin8 has a very simple search interface thus far, a "white box" approach that will move from topics to problems and benefits mapping automaticaly or the ability to define more sophisticated queries using special keywords. You can choose from news, research and Web content or any combination of these via a checkbox interface and adjust your precision/recall balance for getting lots of results or just of few of the best matches with a slider bar. Search results come with graph bars and totals to make it easier to see which keywords and clusters of topics, problems and solutions are coming up most frequently in results.

While lacking some of the interface sophistication of a more mature product like Collexis that focuses deeply on helping people navigate expert network relationships and still needing to address some entity mapping issues the fundamental power of Illumin8 is quite evident even in its early introduced form. More sophisticated analysis of verbs as valuable tools in semantic processing is in part behind the proliferation of "sales triggers" intelligence products such as Generate and InsideView, which enable sales professionals to understand when news and other content sources are pointing towards companies involved in activities that impact their sales processes. Applying this type of processing to scientific studies and product development is likely to help scientific, medical and technical companies and organizations to get a similar leg up on understanding who's moving towards revenue-impacting insights more quickly.

It's an approach that can probably yield tangible benefits for many types of business information as well as consumer information. It would be nice, for example, to see a semantic engine such as Illumin8's applied to product and catalog sites. To some degree many existing search engines factor these kinds of semantic issues into their processing behind the scenes, but Illumin8 demontrates that when one focuses on the problem-solution relationship from a product standpoint instead of a straight topic approach the benefits can be dramatic.

I am skeptical oftentimes when new products claim to be "workflow solutions," but Illumin8 seems to be pointing towards a pain point that people in R&D departments encounter often enough without real effective solutions being offered elsewhere that it probably qualifies as such a tool. It's another way of saying that there just might be some significant ROI in there if someone can do the research to tease it out from an early adopter community. Hats off to Rafael for a nifty product launch - helps to have that blog - and to the folks as Elsevier for giving Rafael a chance to strut his stuff. Hopefully Illumin8 continues to grow in scope, substance and quality.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Reed Elsevier to Buy Choicepoint, Sell Reed Business Information to Deepen Database Commitment

Reed Elsevier is doubtless looking over its shoulder at the Thomson/Reuters merger as of late and wondering how they can improve shareholder value in troubled times for traditional publishing against this looming B2B database giant already divested of print publications. Well, when the going gets tough, the tough buy databases would seem to be the answer to the wondering.

USD 3.6 billion later Reed finds itself lining up to be the proud owner of ChoicePoint, one the world's leading collectors of data on individuals used by businesses, governments and non-profits for a wide array of marketing, credit scores and background checking functions. Barron's notes that this deal has been in the works for about two years, but clearly the accelerating of scale by other B2B database providers has Reed eager to get some good news on the radar for shareholders. AP notes that ChoicePoint will be merged with Reed's LexisNexis risk business unit, with expected redundancies on tap as a result for LexisNexis employees.

The flip side of this deal is Reed's decision to let go of Reed Business Information, its B2B trade publishing unit that contributes about 20 percent of Reed's overall revenues today. With ChoicePoint's annual revenues a tad higher than RBI's and with considerably better growth prospects from ChoicePoint in the near term this an acquisition that fits in very well on the balance sheet. RBI's strong events production unit will be retained, though, as noted by Bloomberg News. With rapidly softening print ad revenues, a slowing business cycle and a very slow transition to online publishing and advertising as a mainstay, B2B media properties are not going to be the margin-producing machines they once were - a conclusion that Thomson had come to several years ago.

The deal offers Reed a number of great opportunities for revenue growth. With deeper personal profile data LexisNexis could develop more sophisticated analytics tools for the enterprise using data collected from other LexisNexis databases and also begin to widen the array of consumer-oriented information analytics that can help people to assess how the world views them as a risk. In a security-conscious world with lots riding on personal risks the value of these services certainly makes for a good investment. But there's a lot of unexplored territory around the potential for this kind of personal data to drive new types of electronic marketing. Generating marketing lists from a database is one thing: being able to match up online profile data to ChoicePoint profile data could give marketers a far more precise view of who they should be trying to reach online via ads and other marketing services.

This last point is key to the decision to drop the RBI division at this time and to hang on to the events properties. It used to be that magazines drove events: these days it's far more the case that events drive magazines, with the relationships formed in face-to-face events becoming far more important marketing vehicles than ads placed next to editorial content which is increasingly being replicated in a multitude of online content outlets. Overall it's probably better for Reed to focus on high-value human interchanges for B2B marketing and to focus its advertising efforts on helping marketers via personal metadata found in ChoicePoint and other databases to target the right people through any number of online and offline marketing channels.

Most all of this is good news for Reed Elsevier in the short run and even quite good for the long run for shareholders looking for steady returns. With the rise of online publishing one needs to accept that the huge influx of investment into new publishing technologies and business models makes it increasingly untenable to maintain the illusion that you can provide steady cash-cow returns in a sector that has reinvented itself around the long-term payoffs to be gained from risky startups. Apparently unwilling to risk margins on traditional editorial models in this environment and having missed most of the choice opportunities to move aggressively into online publishing Reed is probably best off punting its print-centric properties to those better suited for turning aging cash cows into hamburger.

If there's a potential sticking point in all of these moves it's that Reed Elsevier is moving one very control-oriented database culture into the arms of another control-oriented database culture. That bodes very well for the LexisNexis family of databases itself but not necessarily well for a division which in some ways was having trouble looking beyond traditional I.T. infrastructure and search applications into the markets' broader needs. Many changes have been undertaken already in LexisNexis to deliver more responsive product development but perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of this merger to watch is how ChoicePoint's dual focus on enterprise and consumer database services might influence LexisNexis product development. With more sensitivity to how individuals interact with databases in a public Web environment there may be some interesting product insights working their way into the LexisNexis fold as well.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Cluetrain @ 10: Doc Searls, et. al., Talk About How Conversational Markets are Evolving

When Jim Hirshfeld rang a few days ago to chat about his move back into the content business he BTWed that there was a neat session being held by the originators of the groundbreaking 1999 book The Cluetrain Manifesto to start a new conversation on the future of online content and its role in markets and society as a whole. The book rocked my world, and I've been babbling about markets as conversations ever since. After much of the USD 20 billion being pumped into the early online economy wound up in the bit bucket a lot of those early lessons in online content were derided by the media "experts," but nevertheless there were key concepts from Cluetrain and other ground-breaking thought leaders that are still the foundation of online publishing.

Doc Searls kicked off things with a chat about the early environment on the Web, when tools like the Pointcast screen saver were chewing up bandwidth in search of passice audiences, Cluetrain suggested to the world, "We are human beings - and our reach exceeds your grasp. Deal with it."
The places in Silicon Valley where the "cluetrains" showed up every day but where there was never a delivery inspired Searls, Chris Locke and David Weinberger to pop out their ideas about the significance of online marketing when traditionalists in technology and media weren't - dare I say it - "getting it." The Wall Street Journal picked up on the online posts, a book deal followed and they've been collecting royalities ever since.

Ten years later, what's the significance of all this? I'll be posting item on Content Nation throughout the session and help you through the answers. Will post links here as things progress.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Recommended Thinking: Reuters Calais Initiative Opens a Channel to Rapid Metadata Deployment

Metadata is one of those terms that's likely to get traditional publishers' eyes glazing before you've even finished saying it, but it happens to be the content that's going to determine much of what powers profitability in publishing over the next decade. Broadly speaking metadata is the categorization and tagging of content that enables it to be referenced easily and to reference other content easily. If the easy money to be made in searching documents on the Web has been made already by Google, the next generation of publishing services will be providing tools than enable more structure to be added to content, both for providing more rich content that search engines will like and to provide enough richness that people looking at a metadata-enriched Web page won't have to go hunting via search engines for related content.

Reuters has launched recently their Calais open API initiative that holds great promise for them becoming a major player in leveraging metadata generation as a tool to put them at the heart of increasingly structured Web content. Calais provides tools that will enable publishers and applications developers to pass their content through a content analysis engine provided by Reuters' ClearForest semantic content processing tool and to get well-structured metadata returned for free. What's the payback for Reuters? To be the first to have this information, of course. With its centuries-old traditions of breaking news and real-time market data, Reuters is far from being a stranger to the value of being the first one obtaining critical information.

In helping the Web to gain semantic structure Reuters can become in theory via Calais the one best suited to help people take advantage of thst structure. Will this become a reality? While it's not likely to take off quickly I think that it's likely that Calais may enjoy a very comfortable position as a pioneer in open metadata generation for some time. The more time in which they can build up metadata without much opposition - lots of people will still be in the "old media" mindset of trying to quantify short-term profits for such a move - the more time that they will have to build value-add services that build on both the information's value as a real-time update stream as well as its value as a tool to enable people to make sense of an ever-expanding Web. Metadata also helps search engines and contextual ad services to match content to queries more effectively, so the What's-In-It-For-Me might be very valuable to publishers, especially publishers of social media who don't have the budget to afford their own semantic metadata generation systems.

Publishers place a lot of emphasis on copyright, but as the financial market data business has shown through the years copyright is of little value if you can't get your content to the right people in time for it to make a difference to people. Focusing on metadata will enable Reuters to start indexing the Web in a more organized manner and to use that indexing to develop information products that will become in time at least as valuable as those that it has developed for the financial securities marketplace. It's no accident that Reuters is using a silhouette of a pigeon in the logo for Calais. Julius Reuter made his first stab at electronic publishing by closing the gap between telegraph stations carrying stock quotes by tying them to carrier pigeons. Sometimes filling the gaps in content services that others wait to get filled can have profound consequences.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Headlines for 11 February 2008

Reuters Wants The World To Be Tagged
Read/Write Web
Yahoo rejects Microsoft's $44.6B bid
AFX via Forbes
Yang's secret plan for a Yahoo comeback
Microsoft Responds to Yahoo! Announcement
PR Newswire via Yahoo! Finance
U.S. Internet Advertising Grew by 27% to $25.5 billion in 2007
The Coming Ad Revolution: Esther Dyson
WSJ Online*
Starbucks to offer limited free Wi-Fi
Seattle PI
How Sticky Is Membership on Facebook? Just Try Breaking Free
The New York Times
Magazines Take a Hit at the Newsstand
FOLIO: Magazine
Let's (Not) Make a Deal With YouTube
Ad Agencies See a Window to Alter the Business of Television
The New York Times

Best Practices
User-led Innovation: A New Framework for Co-creating Business and Social Value
Smart Mobs

Cool Tools
Android Hands-On Video: It's Fast, It's Still Not There
Hurox: One social networking site that does everything
Download Squad

Deals, Partnerships and Sales
Microsoft Agrees to Acquire Danger Inc., Strengthens Mobile Consumer Vision
VentureBeat raises $320,000 seed round, traffic growing

Products, Markets & People
Google Launches Online Apps for Enterprise
International Business Times
VisualCV Thinks It’s Time to Update That Resume
Mark Logic Announces New Quick Start Package for Vertical
Content Delivery

MarketWire branches out: CNET business information site bulks up its content offerings
BtoB Online
Clickability Launches On Demand Web Content Management Platform and New Product Editions
PR Newswire
LexisNexis Introduces Prospect Portfolio to Identify New Prospects, Shorten Research Time for Sales
Tribune Interactive chief Tim Landon replaced
Chicago Tribune

Thursday, February 7, 2008

First Encounter with Kindle: Underwhelming, but a Start

At a business meeting recently I encountered an Amazon Kindle device in the hands of a prosperous executive eager to show off his new gizmo. It was...pretty much what I had expected. Its eInk display technology makes for an easy-on-the-eyes reading surface, through not super-bright, and the monochrome display has all the charm of an under-engineered Apple Newton. But the device as a whole impresses one as more easy to handle than photographs would imply, with a nifty little sidebar LED display blipping away as pages load to give it that Star Trek feel for those folks who need to be reminded that this is a neat-o device. The keyboard is about as bad as I had expected, but given the Blackberry era that we're living in most people who are already mobile fanatics will probably find it to be plenty easy and familiar enough for the rare times that it will come into use.

Amazon's recent acquisition of spoken word distributor Audible for a hefty USD 300 million price tag underscores that Amazon is only at the very beginning of its journey into mobile content platforms. As it is there are a fair number of publications available already on Kindles, but in spite of its still waiting-list-only sales status after a rousing round of Christmas holiday sales it's not clear that we're seeing the beginning of a stampede to Kindles any time soon with its hefty price tag and slow production schedule. This makes it harder for Kindle enthusiasts to turn their love for the device into sales any time soon. That's probably just as well, given that more beefy functionality is required in the device to make it more universally appealing. It's a bit reminiscent of when U.S. Robotics first introduced the Palm Pilot, a trendy device that sparked the PDA fad but one that lacked a keyboard, a factor that opened the door for more traditional input interfaces from Microsoft and RIM's Blackberry.

While an intense media blitz and Jeff Bezos' personal commitment to the product launch helped to kick Kindle into a well-hyped introduction, I sense that my take from last Fall is still pretty much on track. Kindle is largely an effort by Amazon to go to the "King Gillette" model of making sure that there is a nifty handle (read: mobile platform) on which to sell razor blades regularly. It works for Steve Jobs over at Apple, the thinking goes not doubt, so why shouldn't Amazon have its own content device-cum-captive content channel? Well, why not indeed - at least for now. Kindle will help Amazon to cater to publishers trying to find new walled gardens for their content in an increasingly open digital world, but at the end of the day the value in content is not just in one-time sales but in being able to build a relationship with a content brand or author over time in whatever context an audiences desires that relationship. Kindle will do very well for publishers still in the "we publish things" business but for those who are beginning to realize that they are in the business of providing valuable experiences to audiences Kindle may turn out to be a platform that's more of an experimental bridge to a more interactive and profitable future.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Hoover's Connect: A Visible Path to a Successful Brand Transformation?

The rumbles of Hoover's initiative with enterprise social networking tools provider Visible Path began more than a year ago, but the partnership did not roll out its final production version of Hoover's Connect that uses Visible Path technology until last week - an announcement that also included the news that Hoover's was acquiring Visible Path. The reaction to this deal and product rollout has been somewhat mixed from content industry professionals, some clucking about customers wanting more security built into the product that resulted in slow testing and others doubting that enterprises will adopt an enterprise-based tool for navigating relationship networks that relies on email as its primary content source.

While there may be more than a grain of truth in these criticisms, it appears that Hoover's has taken an important step towards shifting its position with major enterprises from one of a supplier of a business information database aimed primarily at small to medium-sized businesses to one which offers a "hook" into enterprise operations that can help organizations to use Hoover's to leverage their own business information more effectively. Hoover's Connect enables individuals or enterprises to link to contacts identified in Hoover's content to contacts found in personal and enterprise content sources such as email and calendaring services that may lead to a stronger relationship with sales and business development prospects. Controls in Hoover's Connect enable individuals to control just how much information about their trusted business contacts that they share with colleagues, which may limit the quality of information available to them. But this flexibility enables people to give to the system as much as they feel comfortable doing - and to realize over time that in a give-to-get exchange of information with colleagues sometimes giving is a needed behavior.

All well and good, but will Visible Path help the perceived value of core Hoover's content? Inevitably the answer has to be yes, but with some important caveats. Visible Path tools in Hoovers Connect enable people to move quickly from business profile information in Hoover's content to navigating their personal and enterprise relationship "degrees of separation." This enhances the core value of using Hoover's content as a point from which to initiate the researching of potential business contacts through trustworthy information. You can also connect your own networks of contacts to other networks on an opt-in basis, enabling you to collaborate on specific business opportunities with other organizations or individuals in an environment that enables you to expose just the right amount of contact information to partners. That's a smart way to manage this content that parallels how people expose business contact information in the real world.

But as much as this is useful in and of itself, it would be more useful if the Hoover's content could be integrated into enterprise applications more effectively via Visible Path capabilities. As it is, the corporate profiles found in Hoover's database service seem to benefit only indirectly from this integration, and vice versa: there's not a sense that either desperately needs the other to be complete. One would hope that metadata from both services would benefit each other more directly, for example. But this may change over time as the capabilities of Hoovers connect open up more integration opportunities for Hoover's in larger institutions. For smaller businesses and organizations this "good enough" integration of business information with networked contacts may be sufficient for many to continue to leverage Hoover's core databases while enhancing the usefulness of their internal business contacts data.

Hoover's is moving to rebuild momentum as both an enterprise-oriented brand and an online brand that can both fend off newer competition for the attention of business audiences and to take on some of the more established brands in larger enterprises. This is no small feat to pull off, given the rapid rise of services like Generate, Zoominfo and other services that mine Web content and other sources to provide services that can pick away at Hoover's market share even as they try to pick away at Factiva, OneSource and other larger business information brands.
Sometimes being the middle brand in a rapidly changing market is not much fun.

With its Visible Path acquisition Hoover's may be signaling a period in which they choose to add muscle to their capabilities that can push out into areas behind the corporate firewalls where other business information providers have feared to tread heavily thus far. It may take several more go-arounds of content development and major enterprise adoption for this move to pay off fully, but for now it's a very positive step for Hoover's to take towards being a trustworthy business information brand in an era in which individuals and institutions are calling the shots on what really constitutes quality content.

Headlines for 6 February 2008

In CBS Test, Mobile Ads Find Users
The New York Times
This Is Not Our Bubble
Read/Write Web
Why Google's unstoppable
Is Google About to Buy Bebo For $1 Billion To $1.5 Billion? Or Will it Be MySpace?
LinkedIn Announces New Research Platform
O'Reilly Radar
Yahoo resistance costing Microsoft
China backs off on new online video rules
AFP via Google News
Is Your Reputation Worth $15 Billion?
Obama, the Internet and the Decline of Big Money and Big Media
What & Who Will Move The Web Forward?
Social Media Today
What's India searching for online?
Google Blog
Time Warner CEO: We Can Grow Time Inc., May Spin Off AOL
FOLIO: Magazine
Google Aims to Crack China With Free Music Push
WSJ Online
Thomson rethinks Reuters brand
Google Likely Out of Wireless Auction, And Happy
Leaked Yang memo calls for hard work, commitment, and anybody but Microsoft

Best Practices
Why Social Applications Will Thrive In A Recession
Performance Of Social Media Marketing Decidedly Mixed for Big Brands
Web Pro News

Cool Tools
Spotstart!: Federated Web search
Museum of Modern Betas
Music To Be Tagged So Search Engines Can Pick Up The Beat
Science Daily
Reuters Releases Calais Web Service
Programmable Web

Deals, Partnerships and Sales Adds Local Real Estate Information and Search from Trulia
thePlatform looks to integrate online content 'ecosystem' via partnerships
Content Agenda

Products, Markets & People
New Reference Data Web Portal from A-Team Group -
Reed Construction Data Invests in Major Data Reporting Initiative
PR Newswire
Microsoft adCenter Labs unveils digital advertising enhancements, including contextual ads for video
BtoB Online

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Headlines for 5 February 2006

Charge, Ad Slump Sink Gannett
WSJ Online
Yahoo! and the future of the Internet
Google Blog
Murdoch: 'Definitely' No Yahoo Bid; No To AOL, Too
Google: Like A Rock (That Is, Falling Like One)
Paris Lemon
What you all are missing about Google's view on Yahoo deal
Google Delays Android Mobile Phone SDK
The Industry Standard 2.0: Their Analysis, Your Predictions
Tipster: Digg/Ask Project Launching "Very Soon"
Silicon Valley Insider
Defying online-ad supremacists, Super Bowl most lucrative ever
Building Internal Support for a Corporate Blog
Social Media Today
Google, Yahoo Critically Dependent on Newspapers
Great Firewall of China Faces Online Rebels
The New York Times

Best Practices
Is Google's Social Graph API a Creeping Privacy Violation?
Read/Write Web
Kevin Kelly on business models in a world of free copy-ability
P2P Foundation

Deals, Partnerships and Sales
Collexis Holdings, Inc. Acquires a Leading Legal Publisher, Lawriter LLC
AOL acquires widget maker Goowy
Download Squad
LexisNexis(R) Licenses Reuters Health Professional Medical News Wire
BusinessWire via Fox News
Near-Time and AltSearchEngines Announce Partnership to Build Online Technology Communities
BusinessWire via PR-Inside

Products, Markets & People
Microsoft plans new Windows Live, Live search releases
go2 Media Puts Politics on Cell Phones
News Corp. 2Q Net Rises On TV, Cable, Internet Growth
Dow Jones via
Dow Jones' Ventures group to explore new products
BtoB Online
Elinor Hirschhorn Named Executive Vice President, Chief Digital Officer of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Simon & Schuster

Friday, February 1, 2008

Microsoft Offers Yahoo Double its Closing Price to Take On Google

What does it mean when a company announces disappointing earnings and has no strategic plan to move forward? It means that you've been shopping your company like crazy and you're waiting to see what comes out of it. It should come as no major surprise that Microsoft finally made an offer for Yahoo that it will in all likelihood not refuse - USD 44.6 billion to be exact, more than double Yahoo's closing shares value. With an expected 23 percent drop in earnings over Q406, Yahoo's ability to fund a better position in the marketplace in the face of a looming recession was dimming rapidly. Microsoft wisely waited to buy low.

Six months ago I poured cold water on such a merger, seeing News Corp as a far better partner in the long run. I still believe that a News Corp acquisition would have been a great exit for Yahoo in many ways, as the negatives in a Microsoft deal that I pointed out in that earlier post still stand. But at the end of the day this is a merger of necessity, not of opportunity. Neither Microsoft nor Yahoo can compete with Google effectively at this point, a factor that's only going to be exacerbated as Google's mobile strategy begins to unfold this year.

While one can crow about "the merger of content and technology" or some such meme and marvel at the combined online audiences that these two megaportal providers can offer advertisers through the powerful combination of Microsoft's ad-brokeraging system and Yahoo's own ad marketing services there's one key and overarching problem for both companies: they've been slow to bring hit products to the marketplace. Old media and old technology product cycles are not Web product cycles, and neither company has done well in figuring out how to build online hits as effectively as they know how to buy them. Google may not pop out perfectly conceived products and has product issues of its own, but they're constantly letting new things hit the fan to see what new markets they can open up while others spent time trying to build perfect products for old markets.

The big plus of the deal - there is now going to be only one dominant portal for established content brands and marketers looking to position their own brand advertising - is certainly important, but for an upcoming generation of Twitterers who see their own Facebook homepages or newsreaders as the portals that matter most to them it's not clear that this will be a great solution for either company as the new generation of content consumers gains pruchasing power. If you want corporate content and corporate advertising on corporate technology, one certainly knows where to go now. But in three to five years corporations eager to eliminate the "middle man" of media to manage their own market conversations directly may not see as much value in this union as they might today.

The potential feather in the cap for this deal could be the opening of mobile broadband. With a strong position already in mobile devices and now armed with tons of content and a great ad network Microsoft could stake out an early advantage in broadband mobile frequencies now being opened to all devices based on their existing momentum alone. The struggling Vista platform will continue to be refined for enterprise purposes but Microsoft's mobile Windows CE operating system may become instead the default Windows platform for Microsoft's media efforts as home entertainment shifts between mobile gizmos and HDTVs. This is likely to bring strong profits over the next few years and is a very viable strategy overall.

But in the meantime one wonders whether there will be enough focus to make this happen. Having just survived a failed marriage between Hollywood media culture and Silicon Valley culture Yahoo must now adopt to Redmond ways. Microsoft has been redefining its own culture and focus rapidly in postitive directions as the Ballmer period fades away, but the scale of this merger is going to require some major dust settling. All this as a looming recession slows down both enterprise and media markets cannot be helpful.

It's a "Brangelina" marriage that's bound to eat up media cycles, but at the end of the day the fame of these brands is not necessarily going to yield substance out of thin air. This will benefit Microsoft in the short run, to be sure, if it can get to the short run issues in time, but in the long run onie wonders whether two overripe old brands can make a fresh and effective new brand. Time will tell, but at least we can read about this openly now and watch it play out.

The Battle for Broadband Wireless isn't Over but Google has Won the War

One of the more extraordinary gaps in the SIIA Information Industry Summit was the almost complete omission of references to mobile platforms. Given the number of executives who were thumbing through their mobile devices at the conference this was more than a little ironic. But the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's auction for soon-to-be-vacated UHF TV frequencies has changed that doubtlessly for next year's summit event. As noted by Reuters the official winner of the bidding battle for the first key frequencies in this radio spectrum is not known yet, but the winner of the war for what will be done with these frequencies is apparently Google.

The FCC had agreed that if bids for these frequencies exceeded USD 4.6 billion they would require the winning bidder to honor open access to those frequencies by any device. That threshold has been reached now in the bidding process. Presuming that the preferred use of these frequencies would be for mobile broadband Web access, this would mean that anyone could use any mobile platform to access the Web instead of having to be locked into a specific device - such as in the iPhone's apparently ill-fated exclusive deal with AT&T for broadband Web access. With an estimated million-plus iPhones having been "unlocked" by consumers to allow them access to other broadband networks the fruitlessness of trying to lock down platforms to carriers or vice versa for Web access is apparent. Assuming that the auction goes through as designed the days of artificial "walled gardens" of mobile content based on exclusive platform deals is likely to fade away fairly quickly.

Does all this mean that Google is going into the telecommunications business? With enormous nation-wide infrastructure in place it's not impossible that Google could go that route. But the likely scenario from my perspective goes thusly: If Google wins the bid, they buy Verizon or Sprint Nextel, abiding by stipulations that it operates as an independent subsidiary. If Verizon wins, they still go out and buy them or make them an offer that they can't refuse to enable their future plans. In any event, the telco remains independent but has a deal with Google that makes mobile available in much the same way that the Web is made available today.

The same, that is, except for that there will be one particular platform that may be out there to give a new twist to things: Google's. Their Android mobile operating system is apparently headed for hardware under development by Dell, providing a beachhead for unleashing their philosophy of content made accessible to everyone freely - if not always for free. If Google gets clever about how it charges for advertising on Android-equipped phones it's not altogether impossible that today's Web connection charges would go away. The stage would still be open for other mobile devices using different models, but with free Web access via Android-equipped phones they'd be hard-pressed to do so. So long, iPhone/AT&T model.

And, more to the point, so long most of the old telephony model. With services like Skype having developed global free access to telephony-like services - with integrated video and texting to boot - the call is in for hanging up on now-antiquated telephony methods. It is almost beyond imagining in a time in which I can call for minutes on end for free to India or Italy via Skype that I have to pay over USD 50 a month for the honor of trying to figure out whether or not I need to add an area code via my telephone to contact someone in the town next door. Dedicated circuits still have their place, but just as Google showed that "pretty good" search results were enough to revolutionize content monetization so will the "pretty good" Internet telephony that can be delivered via broadband wireless begin to push telephone companies to surrender their woefully inefficient approaches to telephony services.

In doing so Google will have eliminated the one remaining force that could create artificial scarcity restrictions on content distribution. Major media and telephony companies will continue to push in the U.S. for tiered Internet access, but if most content and communications can come in via broadband wireless at a single fee or through an ad-supported feeless model the rationale for tiered access will be hard to justify in the minds of the consumers. This would still leave a lot of room for potential profits for such companies, but perhaps in a different way than they had imagined. Instead of trying to charge boatloads for access to low-tech content sources such as text and low-bandwidth multimedia cable and telephony companies could have a Web tier devoted to products such as high-performance bandwidth for HDTV. As Google figures out how to do these types of new formats more efficiently in an ad-supported bandwidth model the telcos and cable companies would be forced to innovate even more to justfy the value of premium network services based not on artificial scarcity but on highly valuable technologies.

In all of this it's clear that there will continue to be a place at the table for premium content plays in broadband mobile applications: there are some times when a walled garden is actually a pretty nice place to be. But these gardens will be built by the demands of content consumers, not by the fiat of companies wanting to enforce scarcity where it does not need to exist. The world of traditional media outlets wants desperately for this not to happen, but as demonstrated by what consumers wind up doing when they waste time trying to prevent these changes - easily hacked DRM, unlocked iPhones, technology standards that restrict consumer choices rather than increase them - the years of profits gained by resisting appropriate technology innovations rarely outweigh the years of profits gained by embracing them aggressively.

Will all of this come to pass? Probably not - there are so many "moving parts" in the content industry today that Google itself cannot keep up with all of its changing landscape. The changes are likely to come over a decade at least, just as Google's initial rise to power took many hears to accelerate into a quantifiable market force. But with the amount of work that Google has put already into its mobile strategies it may be happening far more quicly than we can imagine. I don't think that I will have a Google-supplied dialtone on my kitchen phone in five years but I think that it's safe to say that by then I will have a hard time remembering when last I picked up my kitchen telephone or paid for a mobile-to-mobile phone call. And, more to the point, I won't be sad that I have to think about it. One can only hope.