The Dollar Sign
The New Life Cycle of Business Information
By Marydee Ojala
Editor • ONLINE
Ten years ago, the life cycle of business information was more predictable
and less chaotic than it is today. You could trace the development of a news
item about a company, industry, or product with a fair amount of certainty
as to where you were in the process. Information creation, and its subsequent
retrievability, progressed in a relatively linear fashion. Understanding the
life cycle of business information helped researchers gauge the validity and
reliability of the information they found.
Times have changed. Information no longer appears linearly. Rather than a
tempered sequence of events, business information flies at the researcher like
asteroids bombarding a space ship in a science-fiction movie. It can come from
anywhere—a blog entry, a professional discussion list, a company message
board, a rumor mill—rather than the traditional press release. Even unlikely
sources can be authoritative (for a nonbusiness example, see Greg Notess’s
On the Net column on page 46). Worse, even non-authoritative sources can garner
enough attention to alter the public’s view of a company or industry.
In his Forbes’ cover story (“Attack of the Blogs,” Nov.
14, 2005), Daniel Lyons recounted some very scary stories about bloggers bent
on destroying companies by publishing false and misleading information in their
The bottom line: Business researchers are now confronted with an out-of-control,
random, nonlinear world.
Before you throw up your hands in horror, vowing never to touch a business
research topic again, let me reassure you that there are methodologies you
can use to capitalize on our new, nonlinear world. Not only that, some of the
original life cycles are still in place.
My original take on the life cycle of business information was published as
a column in the June/July 1996 issue of DATABASE. I devoted most of
that column to the corporate news life cycle. It started with a news release,
which evolved into a press mention either in a daily paper or television news
show (parroting the news release), an analytical article in a newspaper, newsletter,
or the trade press (what this news means to a particular constituency), financial
examination of the news in investment analyst reports, “think pieces” in
scholarly journals, and eventually into book form. Books can be years after
the initial press release and are augmented by additional information gathered
from interviews and analysis. It is still true that, if you’re starting
with the book and working backward in time to discover what the author used
for source material, some of the original news reports may no longer exist.
As information professionals, we’d like to believe that every scrap of
data is preserved, while knowing this won’t always be the case.
News releases continue to be released via company-maintained press release
mailing lists to outlets such as PR Newswire and BusinessWire. Although both
have their own searchable Web sites, the daily volume of releases precludes
efficient searching. Having to search each site separately does not speed up
the process. Therefore, I find it much more cost-effective to search them via
an aggregator such as Dialog, NewsEdge, Factiva, or LexisNexis. LexisNexis
now boasts 695 wires, with 559 individual sources. Bloomberg, for example,
is one source, but has 41 separate specialized wires available through LexisNexis.
Hugin has feeds in English, Danish, Norwegian, and Spanish. Factiva claims
120 news sources continuously updated and 500 total news wires. Like LexisNexis,
Factiva’s feeds are in many languages—PR Newswire itself appears
in 18 languages. Factiva also benefits from its exclusive Dow Jones and Reuters
wire services, which appear almost instantaneously online, and its Asian language
Generally speaking, it’s the larger, more established companies that
distribute their press releases through PR Newswire and Business Wire, due
to the expense involved. Smaller companies and many outside North America rely
on lower cost, Internet-only outlets such as PRWeb [www.prweb.com],
[http://i-newswire.com], WebWire [www.webwire.com], Market Wire
[www.marketwire.com], and others. It’s worth a shot doing a quick search
on some of those Web sites, since most are not aggregated in a fee-based service.
The major exception is Market Wire. A few of the Internet wire services, particularly
PRWeb, can be found by searching Google News, Yahoo! News, Topix.net, and NewsNow.co.uk.
Some low-cost press release distributors, such as PR Leap [www.prleap.com],
have no searching capability, which I find annoying. Browsing the latest press
releases is not my idea of a good time.
Other news wire services, such as Dow Jones, Reuters, Associated Press, Agence
France Press, Xinhua, and the like, cover much more than corporate press releases.
Their reporters write about breaking news in many areas, including business.
Thus, news of importance to business researchers is frequently broken by wire
service reporters. As indicated above, these are aggregated by Dialog, NewsEdge,
Factiva, and LexisNexis. News wires are also frequently included in Web news
search engines. You’ll find AP, Bloomberg, Market Watch, and even
Reuters stories through Google and Yahoo! News sites, along with coverage from
national television, local TV stations, and many local news outlets and the
trade press. I’m always amused by mainstream media that tell me I have
to go through an onerous registration process or pay for an article, when the
same article is available for free via another newspaper’s Web site.
THE BLOGOSPHERE CYCLE
Another point to keep in mind: Not all companies still rely upon news releases
to inform journalists, customers, or the general public about new developments.
Some now blog their news instead. Google, Ask, and Yahoo! definitely prefer
this means of communication. To keep up, it’s important to subscribe
to the RSS feed for corporate blogs, assuming one exists. More and more corporations
are seeing the value in blogging their news: Even Dialog has an RSS feed for
its official news releases, although what it puts there is no different from
what it releases through the more traditional channels. For a one-off research
project, you should remember to look for blog mentions of the target company,
industry, or product.
There are several search engines solely for blogs—Technorati, Feedster,
Daypop, IceRocket, and Bloglines are among the most well-known. Google introduced
a blog search engine [http://blogsearch.google.com] as well, which turns up
some blogs powered by Google-owned Blogger that the others seem to miss. Most
allow you to sort your results either by relevance or by date. Unlike fee-based
aggregators, which date stamp depending upon the time zone in which the wire
report was filed, blog results are labeled as “10 minutes ago,” “4
hours ago,” or “3 days ago.” This helps keep things in chronological
Keep in mind that the search mechanisms for these engines differ significantly.
Some search the blogs themselves, while others search RSS feeds. As Web sites
that don’t quality as blogs add RSS feeds, even searching for blogs on
blog search engines becomes problematic. You are just as likely to find successive
(and repetitive) items from a Web site with an RSS feed as you are to uncover
the personal opinions of a blogger. Feedster’s tag line (“Search
Today’s Internet for listings, news, and blogs”) explicitly acknowledges
it doesn’t search blogs exclusively. Technorati gives you the number
of blogs it searches, a number constantly increasing, but search results are
not always from blogs, making that number somewhat suspect.
Making the blogosphere even more difficult to evaluate for truth, honesty,
validity, and sincerity is the recent invention of “splogs,” spam
blogs. Additionally, the PR community is waking up to the fact that blogs are
a terrific, and very inexpensive, vehicle for companies to put a positive spin
on their news. Some companies encourage independence in their corporate bloggers,
but these will soon be outnumbered by corporate blogs existing for the sole
purpose of hyping a company’s product or service. Perhaps these should
be called “flogs.”
There is a raging debate in the mainstream media about whether bloggers are
or are not “real” journalists. From a business research perspective,
the issue isn’t whether the blogger is a journalist but whether the opinions
expressed and the facts reported are credible. If I, as a blogger knowing nothing
about the automotive industry, write that Ford is returning to basic black
as a car color, my credentials as a “citizen journalist” are nil.
Should an automotive industry analyst or a dedicated car hobbyist blog the
same information, then the business researcher should take note.
Blurring further the line between news journalists and bloggers, some news
search engines are now mixing blog posts in with the mainstream media news
results. Both Topix.net and Yahoo! are doing this, but the results display
quite differently. At Topix.net, blog and news results are interspersed. You
get one list of results, with blog entries highlighted in tan. The tan shows
up better on some screens than others. I have one laptop screen where the tan
is almost indistinguishable from the other results. On Yahoo! News, blog results
display in a separate list on the right-hand side of the screen, with a note
that the blog search portion is in beta. On the one hand, Yahoo! makes it more
obvious that two types of sources are being searched; on the other hand, the
placement makes it easier to overlook the blog results.
RECYCLING BUSINESS RUMORS
Do some industries lend themselves more to chaotic information life cycles
than others? From a common-sense perspective, the answer would probably be
that high tech would be more likely to rate an enhanced presence in the blogosphere.
Ditto for any industry that attracts hobbyists. Older, more stodgy manufacturing
industries would probably have a lower profile. I did numerous searches using
blog search engines and the results, while hardly scientific, seem to bear
this out, but it’s not as clean-cut as I would like. What does seem true
is the rumor mill runs rampant for high-tech and public companies. In the high-tech
world, rumors are fueled by bloggers citing other bloggers. Often you can trace
blog posts on numerous blogs back to one person’s offhand comment.
Speaking of offhand comments, the rise of podcasting has made even offhand
comments newsworthy—or at least rumor worthy. Not that long ago, business
researchers routinely searched the local business press for quotes for company
officials. These individuals would say things to a local reporter that they
would never reveal to, say, The Wall Street Journal, never realizing
the local papers were just as accessible online through American Business Journals
[www.bizjournals.com] or ProQuest’s Business Dateline. Company execs
have learned that lesson. It’s harder now to find real secrets spelled
out in the local business weekly.
That doesn’t mean executives are keeping their mouths shut. If they’re
at a meeting and someone is recording them unobtrusively (not all that hard
to do), it’s possible the comments will show up as a podcast. Suppose
a company employee makes an offhand comment during a conference presentation.
It could show up as a podcast or blog post from someone in the audience. The
competitive intelligence implications are enormous.
CHAOTIC, COMPRESSED CYCLE
As the business information life cycle shape shifts, it affects where researchers
begin their search, what sources they use, and how they interpret the validity
of the information found. From the newsmakers’ perspective, it inhibits
their ability to manage the news. From a competitive intelligence perspective,
it alters the landscape, not just in discovering important information about
a rival’s strategy, but in protecting your own competitive advantage.
The life cycle for breaking news has shortened considerably with the advent
of blogging and podcasting technologies. To cope with these compressed and
chaotic information life cycles, business researchers need to sharpen their
peripheral vision, hone their evaluation skills, and watch out for incoming
Ojala [firstname.lastname@example.org] is
the editor of ONLINE. Comments? E-mail letters to the editor to email@example.com.