The Latest on Content, Search Engines,
By Paula Hane
I expected a fairly quiet summer for industry news after
the major conferences ended, but it actually buzzed with
activity. There were a number of content announcements,
some interesting deals and acquisitions, and as always,
a steady stream of search engine news. With thislevel
of activity occurring during a usually slow time of the
year, perhaps we are seeing the beginnings of an industry
rebound. In fact, given the difficult economy, several
companies reported encouraging financial results.
FIZ Karlsruhe, the German provider of scientific and
technical information and operator of the STN service,
reported that sales in 2002 were up slightly, though
its revenues dropped by 3.2 percent. The company also
said that it had increased its number of employees,
raised its "degree of self-financing" to 83.6
percent, added databases, and experienced considerable
growth in full-text orders.
Reed Elsevier, which has cut costs to make up for lower
U.S. sales in business publications and textbooks, reported
that its net profit for the first 6 months of 2003 was
$156 million, a figure unchanged from a year ago. The
company said it expects to meet its 2003 targets, which
include "above market revenue growth and double-digit
adjusted earnings per share growth."
LexisNexis, Reed Elsevier's legal business unit, showed
underlying revenue growth of 3 percent in the first
half of 2003. This was driven by an increase in online
subscriptions, particularly in the small-law-firm market.
The company's report said: "LexisNexis is continuing
to invest in new content and functionalities for its
core products as well as in expanding its services through
acquisitions.... The global online delivery platform
is nearing completion of the first development phase,
and rollout across individual markets will provide greater
utility and significantly increased efficiency."
ONLINEeditor Marydee Ojala, reporting on the new delivery
said, "The single technology platform, with its
emphasis on multilingual taxonomies and behind-the-scenes
linkages, indicates that the strategic direction of
the company is toward increased globalization and standardization."
Paying for Content
Another Web site has gone behind a subscription wall
as Business 2.0 recently decided to charge
for its content. Readers who link to an article from
a search engine are given an enticing peek at the first
few paragraphs. Only paid subscribers (and AOL members)
can read the entire text.
Editor Josh Quittner explained the reasoning in the
August issue of Business 2.0: "[W]e've
come to realize that our Web site is nearly as valuable
to readers as our magazine. It made business sense to
start charging for it too. Also, a large percentage
of online-only readers told us that the reason they
didn't subscribe to the magazine was that they could
read it for free online. You don't need to be Bill Gates
to figure out what that means."
It remains to be seen whether enough users feel the
Business 2.0 content is worth paying for, but
the price is certainly reasonable: Web access plus six
issues of the monthly publication for $4.99. Other AOL
Time Warner publications, such as Time and
Fortune, have moved to various paid-access
models as well.
While most consumers continue to resist paying for
content, they seem to be willing to pay for certain
high-quality material (such as the Wall Street Journal
Online) and extra services. In mid-July, NYTimes.com
announced that it had surpassed the 20,000-subscriber
mark for its fee-based News Tracker e-mail notification.
Launched in March 2002 as a free service, News Tracker
grew to a base of nearly 500,000 subscribers in less
than a year. In May, it evolved to a paid service with
an annual fee of $19.95. The personalized resource includes
a 90-day archive of articles that match a subscriber's
topics—a nice bonus, since the site charges for
access to articles more than 7 days old.
It's interesting to check out the publishers' various
models. Some charge for archives and make current content
available for free, while others do the reverse. Some
charge for everything, while others only provide selected
Web content for free. Most ask for some type of user
registration, even for free access. And then there are
the frustrated aggregators that watch publishers launch
their own initiatives or make content deals with everyone.
KeepMedia, Inc. unveiled a new premium content aggregator
service aimed at the consumer market. KeepMedia delivers
current and archived content from approximately 140
popular magazines and newspapers. The press release
boldly called it a "digital content superstore,"
though with just 140 titles, this is a bit overstated.
For $4.95 a month, KeepMedia subscribers get unlimited
access to all magazine and newspaper archives in the
system. But content from the latest issues is only available
to the individual magazine's subscribers or by purchasing
an article separately. KeepMedia also sells print subscriptions
for its publisher partners. The company stresses the
service's personalization technology, which introduces
consumers to articles of interest.
Magazines from Time, Inc. and Condé Nast Publications
are not included, but titles like BusinessWeek,
Psychology Today, and The Miami Herald
are offered in addition to niche publications like The
Corn and Soybean Digest. KeepMedia, Inc. was founded
in January 2002 by chairman Louis Borders, who is also
the founder of Borders Books and Webvan (the failed
dot-com grocer), and CEO Doug Herrington, formerly Webvan's
vice president of marketing.
Incidentally, the Author's Guild and the American Society
of Journalists and Authors are investigating KeepMedia
to determine if it has properly acquired the electronic
rights to the freelance works it's making available
to the public. In a joint statement (http://www.authorsguild.org/news/com_july_31.htm),
the associations said that the investigations are "purely
exploratory at this phase. We're not accusing KeepMedia
of any wrongdoing."
"We believe in the paid content future,"
said Ken Doctor, vice president of content services
at Knight Ridder Digital, which is including six of
its newspapers in thelaunch. "We are now partnering
with KeepMedia because we believe their user-oriented
tools will resonate well with readers. As a publisher,
we are always looking for innovative ways to reach new
customers, and we believe KeepMedia is a good step in
Esquire Online editor Brendan Vaughan, said, "We
were so impressed by KeepMedia's personalization capabilities
that we have partnered with them to power the digital
archives on Esquire.com."
Analysts from content-industry research firm Outsell,
Inc. were skeptical about the new KeepMedia venture.
"Successful products focus on users' needs, not
suppliers'. The very idea of taking the world's content
and putting it in a box sounds shockingly pre-Web today.
A solution that works for the consumer market will more
likely look like Google News and be ad-supported, or
it will look like the P2P music world with a micropayment
scheme bolted onto it. If KeepMedia succeeds, it will
defy almost 10 years of post-Web experience."
While this new consumer service might trigger recollections
of Steven Brill's failed Contentville venture, that
site was selling articles for $2.95 each and also producing
content for sale. Northern Light didn't make it with
consumer sales, and eLibrary,now owned by Alacritude,
has struggled to retain subscribers. If consumers are
smart,they'll use free tools like FindArticles.com (which
offers Gale-supplied articles from more than 300 magazines
and journals dating to 1998) and the free access provided
by their libraries.
Patrick Spain, CEO of Alacritude and co-founder of
Hoover's, feels that services need to do more than just
aggregate content. He said: "The KeepMedia business
model is flawed. I know because I bought a company,
eLibrary, with the same business model, and we are changing
it as quickly as we can. By most accounts, we are a
success. We have some 40,000 subscribers who access
an archiveof 17 million articles from consumer, business,
and industry publications. If we weren't developing
new products, we would be a nice, profitable little
company with limited growth prospects. People—including
us—who focus their long-term online business on
selling a selection of content will fail. What people
want is single point of access to all online content—whether
free or paid—utilizing compelling tools to turn
that content into useful and actionable answers for
their personal or business needs."
News from Alacritude
Spain notes that Alacritude has been retooling its
service from focusing only on content to helping folks
conduct more effective online searches. As Spain likes
to say, "It's about finding the answers, not owning
the answers." However, he admits that the eLibrary
archive is valuable, and the company will continue to
increase its licensed content.
In early August, Alacritude quietly launched a new
beta site called Researchville.com. If that name sounds
familiar, it's because last year the company purchased
the site from Bob Poulsen, president of Researchville
Group. Researchville.com originally launched in February
2001. By late 2002, it had searched more than 700 engines,
databases, and newspapers. It was hailed as a simple
and useful site (especially for searching newspapers),
though the multitude of open windows was annoying and
Alacritude is now working to improve Researchville.com's
metasearch capabilities, add features, and develop the
site into a first-class finding tool. Spain is anxious
for searchers to give it a try and provide feedback
during the beta process. At this point, the service
lets users search more than 75 sites with a single interface,
choosing among channels such as News, Discussion, and
Multimedia. The metasearch capability integrates results
and eliminates duplicates. By early this month, Spain
said users will be able to create their own search channels
by choosing any combination of Researchville sources.
They will also be able to include sites that require
registration and those to which they subscribe. The
official launch is expected later this month.
Alacritude also recently announced that it has secured
$1.2 million of equity financing in addition to the
previously raised $3.1 million last December.
Search Engine News
Once again, Google has been dominating the search engine
space, with the announcement of one new feature after
another. Recently, it quietly debuted Google News Alerts
This service is in beta and is not yet linked to the
main Google News page. Users can enter keywords for
tracking and opt to receive e-mail results either immediately
or once a day. There's a maximum of 50 alerts per e-mail
address. The feature comes from Google Labs, which serves
as a showcase for technology prototypes. Some other
fun searches from Google Labs include Google Glossary,
Voice Search, and Google Webquotes (http://labs.google.com).
Marydee Ojala reported on the News Alerts feature in
a NewsBreak (http://www.infotoday.com/newsbreaks/nb030811-2.shtml),
where she also discussed Google's introduction of synonym
searching. Users can just preface a word with a tilde
(~), which runs a search that includesan approximation
of similar search terms. In addition to free-text synonym
searching, the new feature works in fielded searches.
At this time, it operates only on the Web search tab,
not in Images or News, and only in English.
The bigger news from Google is the announcement that,
through it, researchers will be able to locate technical
papers published by the Institute of Electrical and
Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Google is currently crawling
the abstract records for all online IEEE technical documents
and standards available through the IEEE Xplore online
delivery platform. There are now nearly 1 million documents
in the IEEE database. The project is expected to be
completed this month.At that time, Google users will
see the linked content in their search results.Abstracts
will be available to everyone for free; full-text documents
will be available to IEEE subscribers or through individual
The prestigious IEEE publishes 120 technical journals,
magazines, and transactions, and has developed more
than 900 active industry standards. It claims to be
the world's largest technical professional society with
more than 380,000 members in approximately 150 countries.
This new link from Google will open up these technical
resources to a much broader audience that wouldn't have
had access before.
One question, though, is whether users will appreciate
retrieving the additional content. Rafat Ali, who writes
the PaidContent.org blog, said: "Google has started
adding scientific/medical journals.... It is highly
annoying, if you ask me, as they pollute the news search
results.... It would be better if they hive off this
specialty news search into a separate tab/page."
Could this indicate the beginning of Google's connections
with the more traditional database space? Google boldly
saysits goal is to index "all of the world's information."
If more publishers partner with Google to drive traffic
and potential buyers to their sites, it could further
increase tensions between publishers and traditional
Science searchers will still want to use Scirus, Elsevier's
science search engine, powered by FAST. Scirus searches
more than 150 million science-specific Web pages, including
many access-controlled sites, and also indexes journals,
technical reports, patents, and preprints. The obvious
benefits are the inclusion of quality sites and invisible
Web resources and the exclusion of non-relevant sites.
Scirus has twice been voted Best Specialty Search Engine
by Search Engine Watch.
Finally, Google not only dominates Web search, but
it continues to push ahead in the enterprise search
market. It recently announced some prestigious new corporate
clients for its Google Search Appliance (GSA), a turnkey
hardware/software solution. New GSA customers include
Pfizer, Xerox, Hitachi Data Systems, Nextel Communications,
Procter & Gamble, Discovery Communications, the
U.S. Army, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and
the city of San Diego.
Launched in early 2002, GSA is currently deployed by
hundreds of institutions in a range of industries, including
aerospace, technology, broadcasting, retail, government,
and education. Information technologist Rich Wiggins
wrote about GSA's launch in February 2002 (http://www.infotoday.com/newsbreaks/nb020218-2.htm)
and again about its upgrades last fall (http://www.infotoday.com/newsbreaks/nb020930-3.htm).
By the way, Fast Search & Transfer (FAST), a developer
of enterprise search and real-time alerting technologies,
announced its financial results for the second quarter
and half year that ended on June 30, 2003. Q2 revenues
of $9.5 million contributed to half-year new business
growth of 78 percent. At $2.4 million, FAST achieved
positive adjusted EBITDA (earnings before interest,
taxes, depreciation, and amortization) for the seventh
consecutive quarter. These are impressive numbers during
The Pressure Builds
Remember that FAST sold off its Web search business
and AlltheWeb.com site to Overture in order to focus
on enterprise search. Then in July, Yahoo! announced
it would purchase Overture in a deal worth $1.6 billion.
The transaction is subject to regulatory and stockholder
approval and is expected to be completed by the fourth
quarter of this year. (See the NewsBreak at http://www.infotoday.com/newsbreaks/nb030721-1.shtml.)
Yahoo! is gearing up to stay in the race with Google
and other competitors, such as Microsoft's MSN. Industry
analysts have been speculating about the domino effect
that Yahoo!'s acquisition could have on Web search.
Most observers feel that more consolidation is inevitable,
and some have started to examine the takeover targetsand
possible combinations.Another factor could be that MSN
Search is developing MSNBOT, a prototype Web crawler
And just to make things more interesting, as this article
went to press, CNET writer Stefanie Olsen reported on
Kaltix, a new company that was formed by three members
of Stanford's PageRank team (http://news.com.com/2100-1024_3-5061873.html).
PageRank is a research group created to improve the
mathematical algorithm developed by Google co-founder
and Stanford alum Larry Page. (On July 12, Gary Price
posted news about the company on his ResourceShelf blog.)
Olsen's article quotes an unnamed Kaltix representative
who said, "Kaltix is a 'stealth mode' start-up
... (leveraging) research done at Stanford University
as well as several new technologies developed at Kaltix
to provide large-scale personalized and context-sensitive
search." Personalization means better search results
because of matching to user profiles, but it also raises
questions of privacy and personal data collection.
At this point, the Kaltix site just says "Coming
Soon." A search in the WhoIs database reveals links
to a venture capital firm in Mountain View, Calif. Olsen
also reports that the start-up is attracting notice
from search engine veterans, including Jan Pederson,
chief scientist at AltaVista. The fledgling company
might prove to be an attractive purchase for one of
the big guys.
I thought that was enough news for this month, until
I read about Nutch, another interesting search engine
development. Nutch is a "nascent effort to implement
an open source Web search engine." Rather than
using proprietary page ranking, the site claims Nutch
"has nothing to hide and no motive to bias its
results or its crawler in any way other than to try
to give each user the best results possible."According
to John Battelle's article in the August 2003 issue
of Business 2.0, an impressive roster of Internet luminaries—including
Mitch Kapor and Brewster Kahle—are lining up behind
the development effort, and Nutch "could posean
enormous threat" to Google and the other search
engines. Stay tuned.
For the latest industry news, check http://www.infotoday.com
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provides abstracts and links to the stories we post.
Paula J. Hane is Information Today, Inc.'s news bureau chief
and editor of NewsBreaks. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.