|As we do every year at this time, Information Today has asked
a group of information industry movers and shakers about the present state
of the industry, as well as where they think it’s going. The contributions
below range from the serious to the not-so, but we’re sure you’ll find
them all thought-provoking. —The Editors
M. Andrews • CEO, Intertec • President and CEO, IndustryClick
2001 will be the year in which trade publishing finally comes to terms
with the fundamental question: How can we establish ourselves online without
destroying the value of our existing franchises?
The Web is already firmly established on the broadcast model, with open
access to users paid for by advertisers. Trade publishers are already familiar
with this model. Advertising has always been our principal revenue component.
For the people who pay the bill (advertisers), the online environment
creates the opportunity for target marketing—the power to conduct interactive
exchanges with a “market of one.” Publishers like Intertec under-stand
this concept. We have been marketing targeted publications to niche interest
groups for years. The online environment enables us to deliver an individually
customized version of a targeted publication to each subscriber.
The real breakthrough will be the creation of new online franchises
that fully leverage traditional content. We need to treat the Internet
as a new, more versatile delivery channel that expands an existing franchise.
As banks and brokerage houses have discovered, businesses have to give
customers channel choice, or say goodbye.
The great advantage for trade publishers is that online delivery doesn’t
really change our basic revenue model. For a long time, we have been providing
“endemic advertising” or advertising designed to generate leads and sales.
As we generate more sales leads through the online channel, we can earn
Our challenge is to integrate new online media fully and seamlessly
with our existing editorial, sales, and marketing efforts. While we are
giving our subscribers a new delivery channel, we can also provide additional
content through the Web site (with all its search and exchange capabilities),
Webcasts, online trade shows, and on-demand programming. These new capabilities
allow us to create complete vertical online communities for individual
industries. Professionals will use the new communities for all their information
needs, such as accessing content, training, finding career opportunities,
and networking with peers.
Vertical communities will draw new subscribers to our sites and create
a remarkable array of new sales opportunities for our advertisers. The
opportunity to generate new revenues is actually twofold. Advertisers will
not only reach more readers, they will also capture an increased share
of each customer’s spending.
Migrating readers to online vertical communities makes it possible to
offer multiple-media programs that provide powerful new marketing capabilities.
These programs can include online interactive research and survey techniques,
direct e-mail campaign capabilities, online trade shows, Webcasts, and
infomercials. In addition, traditional advertising content will appear
in both print and online, thereby increasing returns on creative investment.
The great benefit of this model is that it doesn’t cannibalize the value
of existing content, subscriber bases, and advertiser relationships. The
integrated approach to online publishing delivers added value to all the
players, increased revenues for advertisers and publishers, and new, more
valuable content for our users.
Feldman • Director, Document and Content Technologies Program, IDC
No longer distracted by millennium fears, the information industry has
been serving up new products with a vengeance. We’ve had a glimpse of the
future these last few months. Here are some current and emerging trends:
• Convergence—Suddenly online information systems are hot stuff. Cyberspace
is roiling as Web-tools vendors, structured database vendors, content providers,
and document-management companies all thrash around looking for the best
position. Every product we see has a slightly different combination of
features—rich in some areas and deficient in others. All promise to add
features they lack through “easy”APIs, gateways, development kits, or partnerships.
Buyers need to know what their requirements are and why before they start
to shop for new systems, or they will be sold software that doesn’t fit
• Focus on improved search—In the ’80s and ’90s, information was hard
to come by. Now seekers of enlightenment are swept away by the flood of
it. New products all claim to fix this problem by focusing, personalizing,
filtering, or otherwise slowing the information flood to a manageable gush.
It will be tricky to determine how to get what searchers need without eliminating
materials that are relevant and important. Anyone looking at these technologies
should insist on some sort of dynamic updating of profiles; linguistic
processing of results; expansion of queries; tools to find people, places,
and things; and improved relevance ranking.
• Content architecture: tools for structuring unstructured text—While
this sounds like an oxymoron, in fact, any information professional is
going to find techniques like categorization, taxonomies, or XML suspiciously
familiar. All of these techniques make it easier to determine what a document
is really about. There are multitudes of companies entering the categorization
sweepstakes. Some rely purely on statistical methods and are completely
automatic. Some are completely manual in their preparation of a taxonomy,
and then categorize semiautomatically. Others mix manual and automatic
approaches. Probably this latter mixed approach is best in terms of deep,
precise categorization, but it is slower than pure, automatic approaches,
which are suitable for those with high-volume, shallow-categorization requirements
like news feeds. Buyers need to probe beyond the marketing hype to find
out precisely what is going on. I would, at the very least, look for some
means to capture new terms as they appear in the literature. Any taxonomy
or semantic network will become obsolete unless it is regularly updated.
• Control over content, process, and even design for nontechnical staff—Because
of the scarcity of IT staff, as well as the bottlenecks they have created,
most new content-management products now hand control back to the creators
of content, usually in the form of easy-to-use templates. Writers of serious
works need no longer fear seeing their magnum opus on the Web flashing
green and pink. Changes can be done quickly.
• Collaborative tools that are being added to many new knowledge management
applications—These enable colleagues to work together on a project remotely.
• Wireless applications for information delivery—Everyone is talking
about “any information delivered anywhere to any device.” Making it a reality
is another question. New content-management products come enabled for multiple
formats. The bigger question is what they are putting on a 2-inch-square
cellphone screen. Choosing what to display and how to interact with such
a clunky device for typing is not trivial. We have seen only one product—soon
to be released—that grapples with this question successfully. The others
just cavalierly say they are “WAP-enabled.”
This year’s ideal information system finds any information, anytime,
anywhere, in any format. To this core capability, vendors have added work
flow, task monitoring, Web design and maintenance, archiving, security,
categorization, and XML structuring. Tools to analyze information or handle
transactions or protect intellectual property rights can also be added.
The whole thing is embedded in a collaborative work environment that enables
users to trade files, post comments, edit, suggest, comment, or discuss.
We are transferring some of the complexity of dealing with multiple technologies
to the behind-the-scenes processes. Hopeful, as always, of making this
ideal system easy to use, we are still seeking the perfect (human) librarian.
A tall order.
Hart • President and CEO, Factiva
During the millennium year of 2000 the buzz in the information industry
centered around the coming of age of the intranet and the development of
enterprise information portals. This year the dominant theme that has emerged
in the information industry is a shift from end-user research to an application-driven
approach in the use of information. The roots of this movement lay in new
technologies that enable companies in the information industry to bring
sophisticated content-integration products to the corporate market.
The companies leading these knowledge management initiatives recognize
a shift in the way end-users access information, which was typically through
visiting and searching an external Web site. In the new application-driven
workplace, the value proposition is the integration of relevant, re-liable
information into the work process, so that information is available in
context at the decision-making point. This new approach to the use of quality
information will dramatically increase productivity by saving time and
money, and ultimately increasing the over-all intelligence of the organization.
The trends that shape this movement are the globalization of content,
increasing use and development of taxonomies, and content customization
based on an intricate understanding of the human work process:
• The globalization of content—Due to the spread of business across
oceans and borders, our customers know they have a responsibility to provide
content to their employees that meets their local language and local content
needs. It is counterproductive to build a content offering that does not
facilitate the needs of a diverse and disparate employee base. Content
providers will continue to fortify their offerings with content that supports
users around the world, and the challenge to information professionals
will be to meet these broadened needs as they become intranet and EIP content
• Increased focus on taxonomies and indexing—The need for precise search,
retrieval, and information push will continue to drive the development
of accurate, granular indexing and XML coding. Companies will look to seamlessly
integrate content more tightly into their applications, and XML will become
the glue that binds relevant information—from external news and business
information to internal company information. As companies realize that
XML and indexing initiatives will eventually lead to truly integrated information
systems, taxonomies will be continually refined to manipulate information
flow. Across platforms and applications—from wireless, e-mail, desktop,
and Web to CRM—content will be cross-referenced to the extent that changes
to content in one application will instantly signal other applications
and platforms to adapt and update information accordingly.
• Customization—In the new application-driven world, customization will
be based on a thorough understanding of when, where, and how people use
information. This year, information professionals will become experts in
understanding the work processes of employees within their organizations.
Essentially, information professionals will build new products with the
help of companies like Factiva that are tailored to the needs of their
internal users, rather than choosing the closest off-the shelf product.
As these trends evolve, companies and information professionals will
implement information solutions capable of anticipating the information
needs of end-users. Employees will have the information they need at their
fingertips throughout their workday in every environment and application
they are working. Human capital will be harnessed and leveraged as business
information complements the vast amount of knowledge inside employees’
heads. This convergence of organizational intelligence will make the coming
year the most innovative year that the information industry has ever experienced.
Jordan • President and CEO, OCLC
I have five predictions for 2001:
1. To borrow a phrase from Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan,
the “irrational exuberance” surrounding the World Wide Web will become
more rational. As the shakeout in the dot-com world continues, E-Economics
101 will start to look a lot like good old Economics 101. Value will prevail,
whether print, electronic, or click and mortar. Nagging issues such as
copyright, authentication, electronic ordering, and standards will continue
to nag, but only louder. As we begin to look at the Web with more realism,
we will see that there is still plenty of room for exuberance. Libraries
are aggressively adapting Web technology to their traditional roles, and
they are applying the skills of librarianship to the Web itself.
2. There will be more aggregation in the information industry. While
the ease of developing and using Web-based search systems led publishers
to develop their own Web sites, there will be a movement back toward aggregation
through portals and links. In an increasingly hectic world, users demand
easy, integrated access to information, and aggregation is a means to that
3. The global nature of the Web will drive the information industry
to become multilingual in their interfaces and their content. Users want
services and data in their native languages. We will be seeing more multilingual
approaches in thesauri, classification systems, and authority-control systems.
4. There will be increased focus on emerging standards such as XML,
RDF (Resource Description Framework), and Dublin Core. XML is going like
gangbusters. RDF is an emerging World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standard
designed to support metadata across many Web-based activities. The Dublin
Core, a proposed global standard composed of 15 metadata elements intended
to facilitate discovery of electronic resources, is being adopted by libraries
and other organizations, such as museums and government agencies, that
have to describe various knowledge objects.
5. There will be increased collaboration among the players on the Web.
The .edus, the .orgs, and the .govs will be increasingly
partnering with dot-coms. If Y2K taught us anything, it was how interconnected
the world has become. Now we must begin to leverage the power offered by
a networked computing environment and abundant bandwidth.
Finally, 2001 is a special year for libraries participating in the OCLC
cooperative. It’s the 30th anniversary of WorldCat, the bibliographic database
that contains more than 45 million records and 767 million location listings
and that supports cataloging, resource sharing, and reference services
in libraries around the world. As we celebrate 30 years of library cooperation,
we are also embarking on a new strategy to extend the OCLC library cooperative
and transform WorldCat from a bibliographic database to a globally networked
information resource of text, graphics, sound, and motion. This transformation
has already begun with the launch of the OCLC Cooperative Online Resource
Catalog (CORC), which enables libraries to cooperate in cataloging and
providing access to electronic resources.
Kaser • Executive Director, NFAIS
After re-reading my forecast from last year (http://www.infotoday.com/it/jan00/ahead.htm),
I felt like the proverbial Prophet of Doom. A year ago, I sadly foresaw
growing tensions between those advocating free information and those who
must make a living producing it. Regrettably, I feel no need to eat any
of those words. I personally have now spent the entire last year of the
20th century engulfed by those issues and the related matter of content
ownership vs. fair use.
As the new century finally, if anticlimactically, turns now, I desperately
would like to look ahead and see something better for the information industry
and the information community it serves. My first go at writing such a
piece fell far short of that mark. So what I have to say now is my second
On the downside, we have a database/publishing industry that shows all
the signs of decline, most notably the ongoing mergers, mergers, mergers—even
when one can hardly imagine there could be any companies left to merge.
We have what can only be described as an angry public, which having learned
that there is such a thing as intellectual property, clearly despises the
concept. We have (or at least had) a government that believes (or at least
believed) its own rhetoric about all that free and readily accessible digital
information that’s retrievable at the touch of a button, when in fact we
know now that even our voting system is still based on punch cards. Though
the e-commerce bubble has burst, taking the stock market and our portfolios
with it, many still want to believe that all those dreams of a new world
of free information were actually true and not just the smoke-and-mirror
magic of venture capital.
Well, here I go again cascading down into the dark abyss.
The challenge that we face is this: We have now spent close to 30 years
talking among ourselves about what information users need and want. We
are emerging now from a time when publishers, database producers, librarians,
and information specialists made the decisions about what information services
were of high quality. But technology has placed the ball not only within
the users’ court, but within the users’ home court. We will not change
them. They will change us.
This should not be interpreted as a dark thought, for if it is not the
light at the end of the tunnel I don’t know what is. Whatever role
we used to play in the information transfer process, we have all always
said our mission was to serve these people. Once again we have the chance
to prove it. Even though users may not appreciate all that we have or can
do for them, it is still our mission to serve them. And that is the light
we must remain fixed upon.
President and CEO, netLibrary, Inc.
Is the Internet Revolution over yet? In the past year we’ve seen the
hype surrounding e-business, e-publishing, and e-everything exposed for
what it always has been: hype. During this time, netLibrary and its employees
have been dedicated to a Digital Evolution, not a Digital Revolution. We
believe strongly in the ability of new technologies to help create, deliver,
and manage valuable frontlist content more efficiently. We also believe
strongly in the role publishers have to play and in the continued empowerment
of librarians who, in addition to being netLibrary’s customers, are uniquely
qualified to manage and deliver content in the educational and corporate
What does Digital Evolution mean to traditional participants in the
information business? We’ve heard about the Internet’s disintermediation
of publishers and librarians through the promise of free and easy information.
But we’ve also discovered that with free information on the Internet, you
get what you pay for. Responding to the failure of free content initiatives,
an initial wave of so-called “subscription pool” models required end-users
to pay for pools of backlist and self-published content. Now those models,
too, are fading from the scene due to poor content quality and poor content
organization. End-users are demonstrating a renewed appreciation—and demand—for
quality digital content that has been vetted and edited by a publisher
and organized by a librarian for optimal access and use.
In support of this Digital Evolution toward quality and well-managed
content, netLibrary is focused on helping publishers and librarians remain
ideally positioned to succeed in the digital future.
For centuries, publishers and librarians have selected, organized, and
managed the world’s content. At netLibrary, we take comfort in knowing
that their success has been based on serving information needs rather than
on hype, eyeballs, and clickthroughs. We support a library’s continued
role as the world’s best and best-utilized information portal, and we look
forward to continued collaboration with libraries’ familiar partners in
content management—companies such as Data Research Associates (DRA); epixtech,
Inc.; Follett Software Co.; Innovative Interfaces, Inc.; and SIRSI Corp.
These partners have created highly robust online systems that libraries
use to handle search and circulation requests for tens of millions of library
patrons each day.
The time-honored roles of libraries and publishers as gateways to the
world’s content are more meaningful today than ever. Access technologies
have opened floodgates to vast repositories of content—such as the Internet—without
deciphering content quality. At netLibrary, we challenge the value of content
repositories, absent the vetting of publishers and the guidance of skilled
information scientists: librarians. Publishers and librarians remain the
critical links between those who bring knowledge to the world and those
who seek it. Tools may change, techniques may vary, and technology alternatives
may expand. Through it all, publishers and librarians are uniquely positioned
to provide people with quality content appropriate for their needs.
Kiplinger • Publisher, Kiplinger Publishing Organization • Editor
The Kiplinger Letter and KiplingerForecasts.com
The coming year will mark the takeoff of pay-per-read purchasing by
both information professionals and consumers looking for quality content
online. It will be made possible by the spread of convenient new ways to
charge online information purchases to a central account, such as Qpass.
In the B2B world, the subscription model—a flat, annual fee for unlimited
access—will continue to be cost-effective and convenient for corporate
researchers and enterprisewide intranets. Pay-per-read will join the subscription
method as a parallel, alternative way to buy occasional articles from a
wide array of specialty publishers.
In the consumer information market, the subscription model has bombed,
and the advertiser model isn’t looking so hot, either. Plunging banner-ad
rates make it unlikely that most Web sites can be supported by ads alone.
So the next, and probably last, model to be tested is pay-per-read. This
one will finally work.
As it begins to catch on, consumer publishers (especially magazine publishers)
will start charging for the voluminous content that they have foolishly
been giving away for nothing on their open-access Web sites.
Professional researchers in corporate, scientific, and legal fields
have long been willing to pay for must-have information, typically on a
subscription or time-online basis. But consumers have not been willing
to pay, for the simple reason that they don’t have to. They’ve been
spoiled by the availability of so much free information on the Web. But
as the freebies become history, and online purchasing of individual articles
becomes easy and inexpensive, consumers will have little choice but to
accept the new order.
The legal battles won by copyright holders in the Napster and MP3 cases
are a harbinger of things to come. Whether it’s reading material, music,
or movies, pay-per-use will become the dominant consumer-purchasing model,
co-existing with various flat-rate or time-based subscription plans in
the B2B world.
In this new order, content will once again be king—or at least a prince.
Either way, it will cease to be a pauper, earning nothing and begging for
the fleeting attention of fickle users.
The kind of content that will get the most attention is accurate, useful
information from providers with a reputation for quality. In the world
of pay-per-read, both professional and consumer users will opt for branded
information over no-name, generic content. And gimmicky Web design will
matter a lot less than content quality and utility—the ease of finding
just what you need, when you need it.
R. Notess • Creator, SearchEngineShowdown.com • Reference Librarian, Montana
As we look toward the information space in 2001, there is little doubt
that change will continue and perhaps even increase. We have seen major
changes in information ownership and information access, as the companies
in the information industry consolidate even more under just a few corporate
owners. Meanwhile, over on the wild frontiers of the Web, the search engines
have seen significant changes, with much larger databases, continually
changing technology, and new economic models.
So where does this lead for the future? With all the changes the Web
has wrought, no one knows for sure, but here are some of my guesses. The
information industry and the search engines will look for more partnerships
and interaction. We may see more library-oriented databases utilizing the
underlying technology from the general Web search engines. Meanwhile, more
full-text content from the library side should make its way out to the
free Web on portals, vortals, and other mortal-rhyming search sites.
2001 should be a good year for content, and consequently for the information
junkies among us who love to consume that content—while the Web’s information
content has lost the press glamour it had a few years ago to the dot-com
economy, tanking Internet stocks, shopping buzz, and vertical portal building.
Yet, at the same time, the information content has expanded and improved
with new, free, and commercial sources of full-text content.
Many sites are busy planning how to organize, index, and provide access
to new collections of data. With database-generated sites, smarter use
of XML, custom-built taxonomies, human and machine indexing, and a variety
of search tools, many Web sites will be providing better access to their
growing collection of content. As sites like xrefer.com show, it is not
just original content becoming available, but new information resources
previously unavailable online for free.
And with all the new content, will it be harder to find? I actually
expect that the search engines will show continued improvements in coverage,
search features, and relevance. The largest search engines are constantly
analyzing link patterns and user behavior. This should lead to improved
relevance. Meanwhile, many search engines are also exploring new features
and capabilities. Most have now moved to a default Boolean AND operation,
and those lacking full Boolean searching are adding more Boolean operators.
At the same time, 2001 will be a year where the search engine companies
need to show that they can become profitable. While they will explore new
options for generating revenue, I hope that the new search engine economy
will not have a negative impact for professional searchers. Instead, we
should see better access to ever-more-quality information.
W. Paschal • President and CEO, Gale Group
As a CEO, my job is to marshal my company’s resources to best meet customer
needs and demands. That means understanding how the dynamics of our industry
impacts our ability to achieve our goals.
Now, as 2001 gets underway, we’re reminded of what a difference a year
Last January, the dot-com revolution was in full swing. A lot of folks
bought into what, in retrospect, we can see was mass hysteria about the
abilities of dot-com companies to succeed despite confused visions, unseasoned
management, and elusive revenue and profitability. Then along came that
little wake-up call—the April NASDAQ meltdown—and many a dot-com entrepreneur
has been humbled.
That leaves the information industry, not unlike many others, again
focused on the need for stable, profitable businesses that can generate
the cash flow and have the management in place to deliver today’s and tomorrow’s
products. Many of our constituents in public and academic libraries appreciate
the virtues of dealing with strong vendors who will be around next year
and the year after that.
Indeed, the information industry was something like an accordion in
2000. The industry expanded as new players joined the fray. Now it’s contracting
again, with the major companies for the most part stronger and more robust
than ever. The consolidation will continue, as it naturally does in most
Which is not to say we’re not in for some big changes in 2001 and beyond.
We still don’t know how the peer-to-peer (P2P) information-sharing phenomenon
will unfold. Yes, Napster has had its wings clipped a bit in 2000, but
issues of copyright and intellectual property rights are ones that will
require our attention. Peer-to-peer undoubtedly will have an impact on
authors, publishers, and information users.
The information industry will remain highly competitive in 2001, with
the major vendors vying for customer loyalty against a backdrop of price
pressures and the imperative to innovate, especially in the print-to-Web
migration. That’s the formula for exciting times ahead.
Reynolds • President and CEO, Bell & Howell Information and Learning
The year 2000 will be remembered by many as the year of dispute and
initial resolution of music copyright issues in the digital world. And,
as of this writing, it looks like 2001 will be the year for the resolution
of similar issues for the written word.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to hear arguments on freelance copyright
issues this spring has raised the visibility of this issue far beyond the
information industry and library groups. All parties—publishers, information
providers, authors—want a fair, equitable resolution to the questions raised
by freelance writers.
Simultaneously, researchers and librarians are encouraging the U.S.
Copyright Office to support amending federal copyright law to explicitly
allow for copying and distribution of electronic material. A group has
asked the Copyright Office to urge Congress to revise the Digital Millennium
Copyright Act to specify that a buyer of copyrighted electronic material
can resell, lend, or share that material without the copyright holder’s
consent (commonly known as the first-sale doctrine).
As a leading provider of online periodical and newspaper information,
we are hopeful that resolution of these important and complex issues can
begin in 2001, and that resolution will bring about the following:
• Continued access to all information (no matter the original or archived
format) so that gaps do not appear in the historical record
• The archiving of all information (no matter the format—electronic,
print, microform, etc.), while respecting and acknowledging the original
copyright and ownership/authorship of the content
But, in the meantime, we see a tremendous need to continue to digitize
valuable historical materials to enhance and increase access. We have begun
an aggressive digitization project for historical newspapers that will
allow users to search their full run to gain a complete picture of a given
With a growing demand for relevant information available via the Web,
it is incumbent on the information industry to continue a steady stream
of new products that serve users’ and libraries’ needs. And, with a little
luck, these products will be comprehensive and whole, with no gaps resulting
from unresolved copyright issues.
Seuss • CEO, Northern Light Technology, Inc.
2001 was quite a year for Web-centric companies. The true measure of
how sour the financial mood had become was the revelation that Al Gore
had lost the 2000 election because the investing public blamed him for
inventing the Internet. Office space rental rates finally dropped for the
first time in venture-capital (VC) meccas like Sand Hill Road and Silicon
Alley. Offices of the previously rich and powerful VCs were remodeled into
Salvation Army stores to serve the thousands of now impoverished dot-com
millionaires who needed a helping hand. Also on the financial front, the
NASDAQ announced a new market in which investors could choose stocks by
randomly punching holes in the stock pages. Dubbed the “Butterfly Index”
by stock market analysts, it outperformed professional, managed portfolios
by wide margins.
Information companies also had their problems in 2001. The search engine
Ask Jeeves finally admitted that there was no real technology behind its
service—it simply employed thousands of little old ladies (who had been
clerk-typists before the advent of word processing) to type answers really
fast on the fly. This explained the unusually high occurrences of “try
chicken soup” in response to medical questions, investing questions, and
even business research questions. AltaVista, who at the end of the prior
year had announced a radical new strategy of becoming a search engine again
rather than a shopping portal, announced it would once again focus on shopping
in the year 2002. Upon realizing the confusion it had created, AltaVista
elaborated on its strategy, stating it would focus on being a search engine
in years ending in odd numbers and a shopping portal in years ending in
The ramifications of Election 2000 were still being felt as the domain-naming
service Internic added “.duh” to the list of approved top-level domains
to accommodate demand from Palm Beach County. In the spring of 2001, a
new study sponsored by Information Today concluded that the ballots
in that same county were easier to understand and operate than all existing
information industry user interfaces and formed a new business by hiring
the recently unemployed ballot-design team to develop a new, simpler vendor
The hot new market in 2001 was for enterprise information portals. That
segment took a bizarre turn when Disney announced it was repositioning
Infoseek/Go into the enterprise portal space. “We think corporate America
needs a Mickey Mouse competitive intelligence portal, with plug-in Goofy
gadgets for additional services,” said a Disney spokesperson. AltaVista
said it was evaluating the EIP market as well, and might put it in the
yearly strategy rotation.
Upstart Northern Light confounded the industry at the end of 2001 by
announcing that it had grown bored with the mission of indexing and classifying
all human knowledge to a single, consistent standard and was going to reposition
www.northernlight.com to be the biggest, bad-ass punk site on the Web.
David Seuss, speaking for the company, said: “We’re feeling loose and our
moves look good! Just watch our librarians rock.”
Sherman • President, Searchwise.net Web Search Guide, About.com
What trends can Web searchers expect to play out over the course of
this year? There are several, some offering promising new developments,
others portending more of the disruptive change and unfortunate failure
that we’ve increasingly seen over the past year:
• Revealing the Invisible Web—The Invisible Web (those sites that search
engines cannot, or more importantly, will not include in their indexes),
will become increasingly visible over the coming year, for two reasons.
First, the major search engines are showing signs of becoming more willing
to index “difficult” formats such as PDF, Flash, and streaming media. And
second, much of the high-quality material hidden away in Web-accessible
databases will become easier to find as well. New technologies allow automated,
intelligent data extraction from databases. New Web-centric query languages
like WebSQL and new data format standards such as DSTP (Dataspace) have
the ambitious goal of allowing searchers to query the entire Web as if
it were a single, unified database.
• More visual navigation—Two excellent visual Web navigation maps emerged
last year, both based on Open Directory Project data: WebBrain and map.net.
Images can carry orders of magnitude more information than text, especially
when coupled with interfaces that allow easy and rapid filtering and manipulation
(imagine a computer-based simulation of brain surgery vs. reading about
it in a medical textbook). Products, such as Inxight’s TableLens and I2’s
Analyst’s Notebook, and work from researchers like Ben Shneiderman are
showing the way.
• More “Ask an Expert” sites, especially from qualified information
professionals, such as the Collaborative Digital Reference Service (CDRS)
What’s likely to crash and burn this year? Gnutella and most public
peer-to-peer (P2P) networks. Once touted as unstoppable alternatives to
Napster, P2P technologies turn out to have serious problems with scalability,
privacy, and security. P2P search and sharing will not disappear—rather,
it will be used on a much less global scale, by smallish groups with common
interests. Participation in these semi-private networks will often be available
by invitation only.
Browser-bar clients will fall by the wayside. We’ve already seen the
useful GuruNet vanish; look for most other browser bars to go the way of
free Web access. It’s not that browser bars aren’t useful—the problem is
that there are too many of them, and they are largely incompatible with
It’s 2001, so our look ahead wouldn’t be complete without a reference
to HAL. HAL does indeed exist on the Web, as a quick check on any search
engine reveals. Which leads us to our final wistful and somewhat melancholy
prediction: At least one—if not two—of the “big eight” major search engines
will shutter its virtual doors this year. The “grow fast, worry about profits
later” game is over, and search engines are no less vulnerable to the ruthless
economic realities that have forced the shutdown of scores of other dot-coms.
In HAL’s inimitable words, “Dave, we’ve got a problem.”
Terry • President and CEO, COMTEX News Network, Inc.
The Internet has been heralded as perhaps the closest thing to a perfect
free market, which can be exhilarating and profitable for those who harness
it and devastating to those who trust in yesterday’s ideas and business
models. The side of the information superhighway is littered with the remains
of business models that failed to see, and prepare for, a universe of empowered
end-users with nearly limitless choices and few barriers to switching.
In 2001 there will be more losers than winners. The winners will be those
who understand and respect the end-user and therefore implement business
models based on the premise that end-users alone establish content’s value.
For Web sites’ information and business services, the challenges are
threefold: to acquire a reader/customer, retain him, and establish a viable
business model. While attracting a user just takes a marketing budget—$80
per registered free user—retaining him as an ongoing customer is not so
simple. Customers can leave on a whim without a trace, without feedback,
and perhaps never return again.
So, in 2000 we learned that a marketing budget is not a business model.
How profound! And we thought we were so smart with 100x revenue valuations.
The profound revelation for 2001 will be, finally, that the customer matters
above all else.
What does the customer and end-user want? Simple, they want what they
want, when they want it, where they want it.
To succeed, content sites must master the following formula:
• Offer a critical mass of content, to more fully meet the needs of
the targeted end-user
• Provide the content in a context that increases its intrinsic value
to the end-user
• Deliver said content on the appropriate device at the appropriate
In the ’90s, aggregators like Dialog, LEXIS-NEXIS, and NewsEdge achieved
the formula described above. But in 2000 and beyond, expectations are far
higher. Today, users want information embedded in business applications
so that the content is already in context, not buried in an abstract database.
For a hint at who will do well in the coming year, let’s look to some
of the success stories of the year now closing. OneSource delivered applications
dedicated to specific functional end-users, each with a critical mass of
content in context to meet the exacting needs of its users. Bloomberg,
the grandfather of aggregation, showed that it has not fallen behind by
aggressively meeting all three criteria. ScreamingMedia has enjoyed dramatic
customer growth with its ability to deliver content to exacting specifications
from a very large pool of content. The common theme in each is they aggregate
disparate content and focus on the customer view of the world. The proof:
OneSource, Bloomberg, and ScreamingMedia customers pay real money.
Who won’t make the grade in 2001? Destination sites and publishers that
fail to deliver a critical mass of content in context when and where the
customer wants it.