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Magazines > Information Today > March 2005
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Information Today

Vol. 22 No. 3 — March 2005

Interview
Moreover, the News Aggregator: Interview with Jim Pitkow
by Paula J. Hane


When it comes to real-time news, Moreover offers a wealth of options harvested continuously from more than 8,000 online news and information sources across 115 countries in 23 languages. Articles are aggregated from a broad range of publications, including premium international and regional news sites, corporate Web sites, government press pages, Weblogs, discussion boards, and more. Moreover delivers content for use in custom applications, Web sites, search engines, corporate intranets, and enterprise portals. Jim Pitkow has led Moreover as CEO since May 2002. Previously, he was president and chairman of Outride, Inc., a spinout from the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) that was acquired by Google. He received a Ph.D. in computer science from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1997 and is considered an expert in Web characterization, information retrieval, and human-computer interaction. In late January, we talked about Moreover's role as middleman in news provision as well as the company's plans for 2005.

Q: Since the company began in 1998, its model has been one of aggregation rather than syndication. Can you explain how this works?

A: Moreover was founded on the core premise that, with the Internet, new forms of distribution of content were possible. The requirement of actually having a physical copy of a publication delivered by a publisher was now antiquated. This fundamentally changed the nature of information dissemination and delivery and has allowed new business models to evolve. We think the core premise of most publications is circulation and growing their readership. The Internet enables a wider readership than was ever possible before. Part of what Moreover does is to deliver increased circulation and distribution, and, thus, enhanced audiences, to publishers.

What has really catalyzed our business in the last several years has been the role of aggregation, especially in the consumer marketplace. Businesses have long known the value of getting news from multiple sources. Look at what happened in 2004 when Yahoo! News and CNN were going tit for tat for the top online news destination site. One's an aggregated model, the other is a direct brand. Though Yahoo! has been in business for 6 or 7 years, it was covering the events of 2004 that actually showed the true power of aggregated news.

The industry is now beginning to reflect this. We now see AOL moving to an aggregated model and providing content from outside its garden wall. We see this with MSNBC and the Newsbot and, most recently, with Moreover's announcement of RSS feed aggregation for MyMSN. Content used to be restricted to MSNBC and its partners, but with this arrangement, users can get content from anywhere on the Internet. So, the walls are coming down. Aggregation and the ability to pull information from whatever sources you want—this is what 2005 is all about. It puts the choice of information back in the hands of the consumer. This represents 100-percent disintermediation of the traditional publishing value chain.

Q: How does this work with subscription-based sites such as The Wall Street Journal?

A: We work with the publishers, and it's fine if they want to work within a subscription model. The Moreover model handles it gracefully. These sites are clearly demarcated within our system, and our customers can choose to filter them out or [to] include them. For example, MSN prefers not to have barriers put up to [its] users. But, for our corporate customers, The Wall Street Journal flows freely through our system, if you have a subscription. For us, it's just a flick of the switch to validate a publication.

So, we enable choice on both sides of the equation. Publishers can choose whatever model makes the most sense to them. Consumers and businesses can make their information choices. Moreover is the pure aggregator—the middleman.

Q: You have several versions of what you call CI-Metabase (Connected Intelligence), I believe, a consumer one and an enterprise version?

A: Yes, we have various segmentations of our CI-Metabase—one is geared toward consumer interests; the other primary segmentation is for corporations. [The latter] tends to have niche, B-to-B trade publications that are very industry-specific [and] that would probably not be of interest to consumers on the open Internet. We work with partners on both sides and constantly refine these. And, there are many more subscription-based sources included in the enterprise version.

Q: At one time, individuals could visit your site and sign up to receive e-mail with news headlines for specific topics. This is no longer available.

A: We decided that the best business model was to deal with individuals indirectly, so we work through our partners now to reach those people—and as a result, we reach many more people than we could have otherwise. And, this creates a clear channel for us. We don't compete with MSN for their users—we partner with them instead. MSN might compete with Yahoo! or Ask Jeeves, but they're not competing with us. We've become very neutral within the marketplace, and, thus, Moreover is the choice of multiple vendors.

We have the same dynamic in the search engine industry that we do in the reputation management industry. Companies like Biz360, 2B, Delahaye, and others have relationships with Moreover and rely on us to deliver that piece of their value chain, reliably and consistently. In comparison, a news aggregator like Topix actually has a destination Web site. We feel that this can create channel conflict. [Editor's Note: 2B has since been acquired by Factiva. Moreover has announced it will supply news for Factiva's Insight line of reputation management solutions.]

More importantly, looking at this from the end-user's experience, it's better for them to be able to get the news from these portal and destination sites than [to] have to come to us just for news. It makes more sense to have news integrated into a MyMSN page, along with weather, financial information, etc.

Q: Moreover has deals to supply news for some of the major search engines—Yahoo! and Ask Jeeves. What about others, and what about Google?

A: Yes, we do supply many of the search engines and we have pending deals with several others. Google has an "invent our own" culture—they like to own the pieces. In a funny twist, it turns out that I went to grad school at Georgia Tech with the person who wrote Google News—a great guy named Krishna Bharat. He's been into news for the past 10 years. Our solution was out in the marketplace with AltaVista 2 years before Google's offering. Every other company that faced the buy-build decision and looked at what Moreover is able to do found that we're able to amortize the costs and provide it at very reasonable price points. It's a natural—buy from Moreover.

Q: Google News uses an automated system to compile its news. In contrast, Moreover's system does categorization and provides human intervention in its process. Can you comment on the difference for users?

A: Clearly, when you look at the limitations of the automated systems and the errors created, there's a lot of agreement that this creates a less desirable experience. News has a long tradition of using editors and human judgment to determine what is important, and we feel that this is the right treatment for this type of content. Our corporate customers clearly value the editorial work and the level of metadata that we add.

Q: I suspect that people who see your headlines on various sites may not be aware of the behind-the-scenes analytics that Moreover does—enriching articles with metadata and doing categorization.

A: We spent 100-plus person years building our editorial system from scratch. It's a combination of human editorial input with automated systems underneath, coupled with the latest in information extraction technology. We use a combination of lexical, semantic, and contextual analysis to reliably extract things like location. Unless there are sophisticated technologies behind the scenes, you just won't get precision and accuracy.

A lot of our data ends up in reputation management systems, which plow through hundreds of thousands of articles a day. If there are errors in a system and it scales across that number of articles, the system won't prove to be reliable. We have very high demands placed on our product from these enterprise environments; the Web search engine requirements for our product are actually an order of magnitude less demanding.

Q: Where do you think search is headed—will some newer technologies (like clustering and visualization) be necessary add-ins to improve the search experience?

A: I certainly agree that the tools for interpreting and accessing information have a long way to go. There are also behind-the-scenes things that need to happen, like spam detection and removal. There are also aspects of integration—unifying a user's desktop with Internet search and the search of specific databases. There's work to be done in personalization—building trust with the user so that the more you know, the better chance there is of finding what they want. There are specific technologies that you mentioned, such as categorization and visualization, that are in service of those larger goals. Localization is another piece of this. These are some of the high-level themes that I know most of the search engines are working on. There's also multimedia. We just saw the news of Google moving into video, Yahoo! moving into video, Google moving into print, etc.

Q: Doesn't Moreover have a broadcast content package that is sold just to enterprise clients?

A: Yes, we launched that last year.
As opposed to the current offering from Google, we enable people to get an actual clip of the broadcast and the transcript. We either work with closed captioning or do the speech-to-text translation ourselves. We're starting to see the opening up and repurposing of media—broadcast, print, [and] proprietary databases are all making their way onto the Internet.

Q: With your news of supplying RSS feed aggregation to MSN, can we expect to see Moreover supplying broadcast content to the consumer side as well?

A: That's a larger issue that is beyond the scope of this conversation. But, let me address for a moment the RSS news with Microsoft. Basically, RSS provides the ability for consumers to subscribe to content on their own terms—again, putting control back in the hands of users.

There are three things that make this an important announcement. First, this is the first consumer-facing product by Microsoft that embraces RSS. With the format war between Atom and RSS, this amounts to the 800-pound gorilla saying, "It's RSS." This is big in the blogging and standards communities. The second piece we touched upon—Microsoft has opened up the wall to include all content for the users' experience. Third is that there has been no major search engine or portal that searches the content of the blogsphere. Our solution enables users to find content, not only if the topic is in the description or metadata of the feed, but also if there are postings that incorporate the topic as well. This is powerful and makes MyMSN the first major portal to embrace that depth of search technology for blogs. This sets the stage for a possible blog tab—just as there was a video tab introduced today.

Q: What are Moreover's plans for 2005?

A: We see 2005 as a strong continuation of the momentum begun in 2004. We'll continue to evolve our work with broadcast, do some cutting-edge things with RSS, and expand the content in our corporate products. We started with current awareness, expanded that to blogs, and, recently, to broadcast. We continually examine what makes the most sense to our users.

Q: What value proposition does Moreover offer to prospective corporate customers as opposed to choosing a service like NewsEdge or Factiva?

A: On the corporate side, our differentiation is pretty clear. Nobody can provide as much information as finely filtered and as fast as Moreover. The need for real-time, highly structured information from a variety of sources continues to be the business requirement. The limitations of the older models are beginning to be felt, particularly in timeliness. And, the information extraction we do to structure the data is key. We have 30-plus tags—nobody can compete with that.

Q: Are you saying that Moreover's categorization is superior to what is done by Factiva or NewsEdge?

A: Yes, we've had customers say they prefer our tagging and categorization over that of other companies.

Q: But, of course, those services also offer rich archives—something Moreover hasn't done.

A: The standard Factiva product is 90 days of content, and the customer pays more for access to the archive. Our focus is on current awareness. We find the actual business use of archival and research material is not enterprisewide. It actually turns out to be a small group of individuals [who need that access]. We find that the bigger opportunity is providing timely information to sales account reps, for example. Current awareness information can fold into the tapestry of an organization's information infrastructure—it's a lot richer than it used to be.

Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge you face as a company?

A: Our biggest challenge is just scaling our growth. We have very clear signals from the marketplace that what we're doing provides tremendous value to our customers. We have ridiculously high retention rates. We need to remain smart and focused and move opportunistically into expanding directions to further compound profits.

 


Paula J. Hane is Information Today, Inc.'s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks. Her e-mail address is phane@infotoday.com.
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