by Barbara Quint
Editor, Searcher Magazine
This January/February issue of Searcher has a unifying theme. Many of our readers’ old friends in the information industry have launched major new redesigns of their services. This follows on the launch of “discovery” services over the last year or two, which might be called another form of restructured platforms, though some have referred to it as the “Googlization” of traditional vendor products. The new platforms addressed and reviewed in this issue also involve increasing the end-user friendliness of systems, but they also focus on retaining and increasing the power search functionality of interfaces. Whether through packaging or simply the targeting of specific markets for the redesigned services, the new tools want to empower the end user to use traditional databases to perform needed tasks quickly and efficiently.
Will they work? Will they save the traditional information industry from the threat of Net Newbies or from the revolutionary changes that seem to occur every 2–3 years? We’ll see, won’t we?
The key to success seems to lie in gauging what users need and want and finding ways to convince them that only these products and services can seriously satisfy their needs and wants. It has to be serious because it involves money in a world addicted to free.
One irony may work in the favor of end-user marketing for the new platforms. We’re now approaching the second generation of end-user searching. People born after the launch of the World Wide Web have never known a life without online access, but, at the same time, may have never used anything but open web sources. The traditionals may look like Newbies to these 20-somethings.
On the other hand, the resistance to paying anything, much less high prices, may prove insurmountable. And one avenue for promotion may be shutting down — namely, promotions based on name-dropping those “biblical” key sources. With the hits subscriptions for periodicals and newspapers have been taking, the new generation of end-user searchers may no longer read or rely on the same pivotal sources as previous generations. And then, there’s the fact that all those sources have initiated their own web-based outlets for directly reaching readers. Things have begun to get dicey between publishers and their longstanding arrangements with database services. The “coopetition” has become more “-etition” than “coop.”
Consolidation within the information industry may counter the reluctance of publishers to spread themselves too thin. If enterprises — academic or corporate or government — can provide enough revenue to feed through to publishers through the new platforms, then that should motivate publishers to stay the course. Of course, if the new platforms could provide increased subscriberships to publishers, that would really warm relations.
But again, will they work? Or is it too little, too late? Should these services have appeared a decade or more ago, when the sources tapped were healthier and the potential end-user market more appreciative of this kind of innovation? Some innovative changes that might increase the appeal of the services may still be lacking. For example, though some of the new platforms have begun to integrate social networking functions, they seem to focus on tapping data in existing social nets. What about using social network functions more to connect their own users? You might even get people to contribute corrections to data, similar to some of the functions offered by some Net Newbies.
Options to share strategies and search results should extend beyond enterprise boundaries. One infrastructure change may still need further implementation. People need to reference individual items regardless of database source, similar to the way the web is built on layers and layers of individual URLs.
And then there’s the old issue, a drum I’ve beaten again and again in my writings over the years. No platform — new or old, no marketing policy — end-user or enterprise — should ever prevent someone from getting the information they want. Heavens above! In an era where people protest spending any money beyond a monthly flat fee to an ISP for information, blocking people willing to pay something from reaching their desired data seems insanely shortsighted, particularly in the case of academic marketing policies where — one would imagine — the ultimate goal is to create an end-user postgraduate market.
In fact, if I were an information industry leader, I think I’d be approaching Google to see if it could design a silo for all items that cost. Google already has its News Archive partly populated with newspaper articles for which it posts the price. Google Scholar links entries to pay sites. Google Books now has its own bookstore, as well as links to publisher websites and leading online bookstores. So let’s unify any and every item that has a price tag into one Google silo where people who start their searching on the main free Google service can just click once to try the search on the pay-per-view sites. It would seem to satisfy the need to push pay data into the sightlines of average end-user searchers — and that still means Google. It would also seem to fit into Google’s long-stated grand goal of handling all information. Such a new service might also experiment with some new retrieval techniques or promotional efforts or social network activities. After all, if you’re charging for something, it should look a little fancier than plain old Google.
Hmm. From new platforms to newer platforms?