Tuesday, March 23, 2010

ASIDIC Spring 2010: Smart Content Pulls Into View for Enterprise Publishers

It's always been fun to be a part of ASIDIC events, so I was very pleased to have been invited to moderate a Q&A period at this year's Spring ASIDIC get-together at the offices of Lyrasis in Philadelphia. It's a bit more low-key venue than for previous ASIDIC events, which reflects in some ways the challenges that many enterprise-oriented publishers have faced these days, but also the degree to which their business models are trying to catch up to the value points in publishing that revolve around metadata and search technologies. The good news is that the ASIDIC meeting pulled together some excellent case studies demonstrating how publishers are moving away from "pull up a document" styles of electronic publishing towards using sophisticated semantic processing to get their content ready for battle for use in contexts driven by metadata. Here are some links to the panel-by-panel posts that I recorded on Google Buzz (no login required to view, login required for comments):
  • IDC's Sue Feldman on the New Search Architecture
    Sue was in good form, I really enjoyed her insights. Key stats from IDC's 2010 enterprise user survey: 21 percent use colleagues as their first stop for information, 61 percent go to the Web first, only 1.8 percent to their subscription database services. My take: if you're not using the open Web and social media as marketing channels, you're missing more than 80 percent of your opportunities to be relevant in the "go-to" source for people who need your enterprise content.
  • Thane Kerner, Silverchair - A Primer on Semantic Technologies
    A good overview of today's semantic technologies and terminology. One of the nice things about this ASIDIC meeting is that it got pretty deep into the implementation of semantic technologies without lapsing into endless "geek speak."
  • Case Studies - IEEE and SciTech Strategies, Inc.
    This was a very interesting study of how the IEEE used domain mapping as a tool to reveal expertise appearing at the intersection of subject domains not usually associated with one another. By using taxonomies and domain mapping they revealed opportunities at the intersection of information technologies and medical science - the type of opportunities that innovation professionals are focusing on to build out new markets for products and services.
  • Case Studies - Enhancing the user's experience with semantic "smart linking."
    McGraw-Hill highlighted work that they are doing using metadata and XML-formatted content to build out new editorial content for their premium Aviation Week and Platt's enterprise services rapidly. These technologies are enabling them to generate "topic pages" rapidly that can be destinations for links embedded in their news coverage and archives. Metadata can also enable opportunities at the intersections of their publishing properties - for example, it would be interesting to see how information on commodities such as jet fuel prices from Platt's could be made useful in Aviation Week content.
  • Case Studies - Collexis and the American Association for Cancer Research
    This was an excellent example of how deep taxonomies and semantic technologies solved a very crucial problem for a scholarly publisher. Collexis enabled AACR to identify a much broader range of topic experts to be available for peer-reviewing scientific research articles and to filter out people who may have a conflict of interest. At a time when scholarly publishers are trying to position their assets more effectively against Open Access competitors, being able to demonstrate superior methodology for peer review via advanced technologies is a great idea.
  • Case Studies - Getting references right - how semantic technology helps linking, findability and analysis
    Interesting example of how the American Psychological Association went from a "square zero" in Smart Content to state-of-the art infrastructure to help it begin to build rich and powerful search experiences on Mark Logic's XML server. One of the real stories about semantic technologies today is that although it's not effortless to make the transition to Smart Content, today's technologies can enable publishers to make that transition much more rapidly and cost-effectively. Harder, though, is getting business models up to speed.
  • Closing keynote - Steve Sieck, SKS Advisors
    Steve always has powerful and thoughtful insights delivered with a good dose of understatement, a combination that makes him well worth listening to at events. Steve did a good job highlighting some of the key "what's next" themes for semantic content, including social media integration, "linked data" - enabling data to "talk to other data" on the Web in ways that enable semantic APIs - and the extension of semantics into marketing and branding.
All that and much more made the trip down to Philadelphia for the day well worth it. As I was discussing with an attendee afterwards, this is still the early days of semantic implementation for many publishers, with many high-value products and services only beginning to emerge for enterprise use. For example, what happens when you start applying semantics to newly released scientific research that puts previous research about a company's drugs or medical technologies in a negative light? All of a sudden technologies that were intended primarily as search interface tools then become powerful technologies for building real-time news and intelligence that can move securities markets rapidly. We're in the early days for these technologies, indeed, offering publishers opportunities to "leapfrog" their way into new value propositions.

Yet looming above all of these opportunities is the Web itself, that vast collection of human insight that most people still use as their primary reference so often. Precious little was said at ASIDIC about how to use Smart Content to built more Web-aware content. There was also an interesting interchange that I had at the end of the meeting with a long-time indexing expert who mused about how in many ways the metadata that was adding the most value in many of the examples discussed at the event were not necessarily those tried-and-true indexing tools that have been used for years. Yes, the truth about metadata is that much of what has been considered useful "information about information" is just the starting point for adding value to content today.

Here, also, the Web points the way. While Google is not thought of as a service that uses semantic tools in its presentation of content, in fact its content is rich with semantic inferences from Web page links, analysis of use statistics, evaluation of geo-tagged data and other content to derive useful information and experiences. These happen mostly "behind the scenes" in Google services, but they are there nevertheless, aiming towards the very "accuracy" that was discussed at the day's sessions. Ultimately Smart Content is the content that transforms what was previously thought of as just a publication or a search result into the input for sophisticated content-serving applications, whether they are presented as a publication or a problem-solving tool or a workflow service.

Thanks again to the ASIDIC team that put together a very interesting event with great attendees. Hopefully better times will enrich us with more events like this.

Monday, March 22, 2010

"Heard on the Street": Is it Time to Retire the Hot News Doctrine?

Barry Graubart's Content Matters highlighted a recent court ruling by a U.S. District Court judge against TheFlyontheWall.com, an online information service has sold news and headlines for the past twelve years to investors that it aggregates from various sources in the financial community. It seemed like a fairly quiet and unremarkable "heard on the street" service, a grass-roots version of similar services offered by major information suppliers for many years. Surprisingly, though, the judge in this case ruled that the "Hot News" legal doctrine, first upheld nationally by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1918 ruling, could be applied to the news organization's attributed headlines and snippets of reports from stock analysts at Morgan Stanley and other major investment banks.

The judge applied some relatively arbitrary standards to her ruling, suggesting that a 10ET daily curfew might be appropriate before TheFlyontheWall.com could start disseminating their "heard on the street" information about stock recommendations and that the situation could be reviewed in another year - presumably long enough for TheFlyontheWall.com to have disappeared from the scene or to have little option for legal challenges. See Barry's post for some great links and his own (attributed) snippets from some of the major players and commenters on this case.

There are many instances where news information services have tried to appropriate others' content in full to build real-time information services, so this challenge is not altogether new. There are, however, some odd wrinkles to this case that are worth thinking about in terms of their implications to news gathering and dissemination. To the best of my understanding:
  • The information regarding the bank analysts' recommendations is coming, presumably, from people who have received them. This is, as I recall, a relationship that is known in the news business as "having a source." If you have a problem with that relationship, you should speak to the source first and foremost.
  • The information disseminated is attributed to the creator of the stock report. In fact, it would not be valuable without knowing the source. This is the equivalent of a major newspaper attributing a breaking news story to a competitor- but still breaking it. Something is private until someone decides to make it public.
  • Except for small snippets, the research reports themselves are not being duplicated. The only thing that is really being disseminated is the news that the report is out and the general recommendation. This appears to be even less than the typical press releases that are disseminated by major securities ratings firms such as Standard & Poor's and Moody's, a public service. Note that these ratings agencies also sell their full research reports as a separate product.
  • While major banks do profit from their research reports, the sale of those reports has not been a major source of revenue for them. They are produced primarily to induce their clients to execute trades with them, from which they receive trade commissions. Their primary source of income comes from trading, not from distributing time-sensitive facts. In other words, even if what brokerages say is newsworthy they are not in the news business. Neither is TheFlyontheWall.com in the securities trading business.
  • The actual collection of the news of a stock report was a fairly trivial act by the banks in question. They had the reports, and they distributed them to their clients. The report itself may have taken effort and expense, but since they were fully aware of the report and fully in control of its release, the news of the report itself as as simple as posting it on a Web site or emailing it to a client.
  • The banks cite violation of their intellectual property rights. News of a research report collected under the guidelines of "fair use" is not the same thing as disseminating the report itself and its detailed rationale. Unless TheFlyontheWall.com is violating the terms of an agreement that they signed with the banks or a distributor to receive the research, IP rights don't really figure into this issue.
  • Given that news organizations such as Dow Jones already create elementized news feeds that enable electronic trading programs to interpret news items automatically to trigger trades after nearly instantaneous analysis by software, the claim that research reports distributed by email and Web sites is "hot news" that can move markets is highly suspect.
I could go on, but it seems to me likely that Judge Cote has misapplied the "Hot News" doctrine in several fundamental ways. Moreover, I think that it's increasingly likely that we will see the "Hot News" doctrine challenged in some fundamental ways in the years to come. In an age in which virtually anyone can mention to the world what they have heard on a news report via online services such as Twitter, the "pains and expense" required to acquire and disseminate news are at a fundamentally different point in the evolution of publishing technologies than they were in 1918. When the public owns the distribution channel, as the Internet now allows. the economics of news are quite different than they were then. I can sympathize for those in the news world who feel that their reports can give people private advantages, but for how long can the privacy of "news about news" be expected to hold up via today's technologies?

Stock analyst reports are meant to help their clients to jump in to a market for a security or to head for the exits - advice that may or may not be sound at the moment, but which, as a private news event, at least gives investors with major holdings a few moments to think about it before the general public reacts rightly or wrongly to the news of the report. This justifies the securities firms taking a position in these securities in the first place to facilitate trading, in theory. The real risk is not in the cost of the report, as cited in "hot news" court precedents, but in the report issuer's acquisition of securities at a particular price.

In general form the arguments being put forth by the major banks seem to be of about the same texture as those being put forth by major news organizations trying to restrain the use of headlines in online search engines and social media news services. When a gap in technologies creates an opportunity for private advantage in breaking news, then it seems that publishers have a clear opportunity to profit handsomely. This has been true from the time of Julius Reuter and his pigeons carrying stock quotes across a gap in a telegraph line, or even as far back as the Roman elites who paid their slaves to tell them what was happening in the heart of the city's political and business centers. But when those gaps no longer exist, then the advantage is not really about a greater good; it's really about trying to maintain business as usual when business needs to move on. Markets are all about finding private advantages, but if market participants don't consider them to be private advantages, then there's not much that brokerage houses can do.

I would be willing to stake the banks a few seconds in today's technologies before quibbling with services like TheFlyontheWall.com, but even in its heyday the major exchanges were rarely asking for more than fifteen minutes to delay stock quotes being distributed to the public. Now that stock markets are eager to get their quotes out to the public as soon as possible, it seems that the markets themselves have acknowledged that today's investors have a need for a level field of information if markets are to succeed. Finding liquidity in publicly held stocks just isn't that big a deal anymore and research itself will not fill the pinch that the brokerages are feeling as a result, no matter how they try to adjust the terms of its release. In the meantime, the "Hot News" doctrine may live on, but at this point it seems to be headed towards a head-on collision with the First Amendment. Until then, if banks and brokerages want their research to be private, then they should require secrecy from their clients, not from news organizations doing their job.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Enterprise Publishing and the "New Normal" in I.T. - Are You Missing the Trend?

I've been mini-blogging quite a bit lately on Google Buzz - you can pick up my feed here if you'd like until I brain out a way to integrate it into my newsletter - so I have been a little quieter than usual on ContentBlogger. One of the more interesting items I've come across in buzzing is a great article from CIO Magazine that outlines the enormous value gap that's been arising in enterprise information technologies. With the latest economic downturn many major organizations began to look much more carefully at what kind of value that they were getting from their I.T. operations. In a nutshell, many organizations didn't like what they saw. Some of the key items revealed by CIO Magazine included:
  • Fewer than half of people in enterprises are using installed software effectively
  • 60 percent of enterprise staffs blame their I.T. departments for a "lack of success"
  • In 2009, I.T.'s top priority is modernizing legacy applications
  • Walt Shill, head of the North American management consulting practice for Accenture, declared that "strategy, as we knew it, is dead." It's now all about operational flexibility and how fast businesses can seize opportunity. If strategies and forecasts have to change daily or weekly, then so be it.
Although this may cause enterprise information services companies jump for joy at first reading, I have to suggest that it should be a strong cause for alarm for them to consider. While this may mean that enterprises are going to rely upon external and information service providers more frequently to get the jobs done that their I.T. departments cannot get done, it also means that the trend towards agnosticism in finding solutions to information problems is only going to get stronger. Whatever platform, tool or information service can solve the job today will get used, as long as it's affordable and helps major organizations adapt to their needs. If you thought that your information products and services had branding problems already, hold on to your hat.

Perhaps more to the point the CIO Magazine article is also pointing towards a broader and more troubling trend for major enterprise information providers; will there in fact be a market for them once the economy recovers? Of course law firms, banks, manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies and other major consumers of information services are not going to disappear overnight. But what seems to be happening is that many of the business processes through which these enterprises survived and thrived over the past several decades are shooting blanks. We already know that central budgets for buying enterprise information services are more challenged than ever; but as the economy recovers, it's not only doubtful that enterprises will be willing to stoke up on huge subscriptions, but also doubtful that they will be stoking up on big I.T. initiatives to integrate internal and external content sources.

The "agile enterprise" meme sold these days by Gartner - the same analyst firm that sold enterprises on the "everything in one big database" concept that they've spent so much money on the past twenty years - is in essence a reskinning of the problem to find ways to keep enterprise I.T. departments in the strategic loop in their organizations by telling them how to create "people-centric workplaces." Well, these managers have been working with people all of these years already, so I am not sure exactly what wand will be waved over their heads to make them able to respond to their needs better just because their managers demand it. Moreover, as the CIO magazine article points out, while their bosses may be deploying their workforce in office-less environments increasingly, their information assets are mostly oriented towards fixed locations and technology platforms and will have to remain that way until their organizations go completely mobile. In other words, they will have to spend both on "agile" I.T. initiatives and traditional initiatives just to keep everything I.T. afloat.

In other words, many of the fundamental concepts of IT that have been promoted for the past few decades no longer give businesses operational advantages but they have to keep spending on them anyway. The Web has accelerated the flow of information and services that can lead to effective decision-making far more rapidly than enterprise IT managers have been able to accommodate.

This is likely to leave less of the information pie available for spending on any specific set of external information resources. Information needs will shift more rapidly than ever, placing a premium on content services that can aggregate content from any source, be it content that a vendor has licensed or the latest information from key Web sites and feeds. Worse yet, what spending will be increasing is less likely than ever to be on large-scale information subscriptions. With search engines and social media tools enabling people to find the content that professionals need in more contexts than ever, there will be more pressure for both on-demand content purchases and content subscriptions more oriented towards specific people in specific work roles. Yes, workflow will be a key factor in servicing these clients, but the assumption that major enterprises will pay major monies for across-the-board access to workflow tools provided by a central vendor assumes that these organizations' tools and goals are constant enough to respond to such long-term investments.

Instead, enterprise information services are facing an era in which, like their customers, they will have to enable their content to show up on more platforms through more channels than ever before. Moreover, as with the growth of Salesforce.com, many solutions oriented at first towards small to medium enterprises are likely to scale up cost-effectively as platforms from which more targeted information services can be launched to meet the needs of larger enterprises. If agility favors smaller companies that lack the legacy of failed I.T. investments that larger organizations must still bear, then there will be increasing pressure on large organizations to adopt similar methods. We can see the beginnings of this trend as major organizations begin to embrace cloud computing resources, but that's just the start of a broader trend towards in-house enterprise I.T. resources dwindling rapidly over the next decade.

At the end of the day, this means one very important thing for enterprise information providers: if you thought that your business could be segregated from the Web as a whole, increasingly you'll be dead wrong. In an era in which business advantages go to those who can connect with people more efficiently rather than those who can segregate their information resources more effectively, the ability to have your information anywhere on any platform will become a mission-critical requirement for enterprise publishers. Yes, your customers are thinking workflow, but look carefully at where they're headed with those workflows. Few will have the luxury of it staying on the same platforms that they're on today over the next few years. It will be more important for you to be a part of those workflows wherever they're headed than to own them all. Feeds, APIs, on-the-fly aggregation and rapid service development tools will be more important than ever this year. It's the "new normal" for enterprise information services - one which means that business will be far from normal as the economy recovers.