Powerize: If It’s Free, It’s for Me, But….
President • MarketingBASE
At the same time, I believed in the necessity of paying a price for technology and its marketing and support. A database such as Investext doesn’t come cheaply, but adds extraordinary value. The database provider, The Investext Group, must negotiate with hundreds of companies to create its collection, for which it has developed a specialized thesaurus, the Investext Terms Dictionary. Using the Dictionary’s terms for corporate strategy, market share, competition, etc., can make it possible to search through large company and industry reports with precision. For many years, DIALOG and LEXIS-NEXIS were the only distributors for pinpointing and extracting exact pages of analysts’ reports by using the Investext subject, industry, product, or geographical terms. Moreover, both DIALOG and LEXIS-NEXIS allow retrieval of just those pages required, without having to buy the whole expensive report. In dealing with Investext, DIALOG has been the clear winner for precision, although LEXIS-NEXIS offers some browsing at a lower cost and some pricing advantages for purchasing full reports.
Although I’ve always thought that it’s only right for users to pay costs for such advanced features, the thought of free information from important periodicals and news services is extremely seductive. When I first heard about the Powerize.com new business model making free information delivery a reality, I was excited and astonished. Let me interject that my Web Wise Ways column is generally geared toward information professionals, the raison d’être of Searcher. I try to provide a balanced evaluation of online products and compare traditional databases to new tools on the Web. My goal is to help readers with decisions about what to use while describing benefits and drawbacks of new or enhanced online research systems. This month my goal has a dual purpose — to not only help information professionals, but also to indirectly make suggestions to Powerize about professional searchers’ needs.
Powerize entered the online scene with quite a bang and those 2,400 free premium sources paid off in glory and attention. In a very short time, Powerize has made a substantial impression and has drawn interest from two of the industry’s star journalists and gurus. Mick O’Leary gave Powerize a not-so-good review in Information Today [“Powerize.Com Enters Aggregator Fray: Its Novel New Pricing Model Offers Premium Data for Free, But at a ‘Price,’” November 1999]. In an earlier issue of Information Today, Barbara Quint describes the company’s new business model and depicts it as a possible threat to traditional online research company competitors [“Quint’s Online — Things That Go Bump In The Night: Net Newbies Mature,” October 1999]. Her commentary stimulates thinking about the promise of fledgling companies and underscores problems faced by time-established vendors. In addition, the editor for PriceWatcher, Linda Cooper, asked me to compare pricing for Powerize, Factiva, and Northern Light [“Get (Some of) It Free with Powerize,” September 20, 1999].
Powerize looked good to me when I wrote that article, especially because of the mix of both free premium sources and a large choice of other important content from many database producers available on a pay-per-view basis. Upon further investigation, I found a disturbing, rather personal, user survey necessary for registration, along with a $9.95 monthly charge and a minimum usage commitment of 25 searches per month to receive the free information. For those of you who may have looked at Powerize previously, this initial tactic has quickly changed. Before I could organize words on paper, these somewhat stringent requirements were completely dropped. Currently, registration is simple with no usage commitments whatsoever.
students and educational institutions do not qualify for all the free sources,
though the initial registration form did not make this very clear. According
to Powerize spokesman Michael Gallagher, “The only reason that we cannot
extend free access to all of the free titles to students and teachers is
that some of our agreements with content providers do not allow it. Those
providers are fearful of cannibalizing their academic business, which is
substantial.” Gallagher adds, “In any case, about 1,100 of our free titles
are available to every member for free, whether or not they are a student
or teacher. There are approximately 1,700 other titles at this point that
are free only to business members. Students and teachers who identify themselves
as such are alerted to this basic fact after they register.”
Powerize did not start from scratch. The company obtained its collection from IBM Corporation, which developed the content over a period of time. I don’t remember all the details about the earlier IBM Web products (and it’s not necessary to dig up the precise documented history for my purposes here), but IBM was involved in Web-based business research systems early on. I didn’t find these particularly useful for professional research. In those early days, the Internet was far too slow for serious researchers and the products too crude. Despite continuing frustration, searchers are gradually adapting to the Web environment, encouraged by faster and more reliable technology, better products, and vast amounts of varying types of electronic information.
an S-1 Registration Form with the SEC to go public on June 4, 1999. I found
it particularly engrossing reading and quote from it more than once here,
because it sheds some significant and interesting facts on the company’s
self image and goals:
Powerize.com is a leading Internet aggregator and distributor of business and financial information. We offer “one-stop shopping” using our directed search and advanced filtering technology to provide users concise, relevant and organized search results according to user selected criteria. We believe we provide the largest single source of business and financial content available on the Internet, including company profiles, news articles, research reports, market and industry analyses and other documents from thousands of publishers of more than 10,000 sources worldwide.
The Powerize S-1 also explains that the company does the following:
…offer[s] free access to a large portion of our content collection, most of which has been traditionally available only for a fee. Over 12 million documents in our collection are free to all of our users and over 15 million are free to our registered business users…. Our fee-based documents are available on a pay-per-view basis. Detailed summaries [abstracts] of over 3.5 million of our fee-based documents are available free of charge.
The Marketing of Powerize
With an obviously proactive marketing program, including one to information professionals, Powerize representatives seem to have attended every major information industry conference and trade show during the last quarter of 1999 where they made product announcements and demonstrated the system. In fact, my first introduction to Powerize came from a rep who attended a pre-conference seminar I gave about Internet research, where Powerize co-sponsored the main conference. At the end of the day, the rep vigorously let me know that I had failed to mention them in my slides covering new Internet business research publishers — an oversight I’ve since corrected.
Let me digress for a moment. You’ve heard the comment that presentation is everything. From personal experience, I know this can be true. In putting together a speculative report for a huge potential contract, one that I did get, my client told me that she was “very impressed with my work.” When I sat down during our first meeting, she had the report in hand and began flipping through it. To my shock and surprise she had not read it. This was proof enough that it was not what was in it, but what it looked like that got the job. To continue this digression on another topic, I recall my awareness and personal frustration about the marketing limitations of our traditional online vendors during earlier years. At one time, it was a known fact that these vendors were technology- rather than market-driven and it was fairly clear to industry and market analysts that this hurt them.
Of late, we’ve seen traditional online vendors making an effort to rally and leverage their services in the face of the Web — and the challenges posed by up-start, highly competitive, smaller, and more flexible companies such as Powerize. We know about the current challenges traditional vendors face and can recall that some have been called dinosaurs more than once. Some of us information professionals may even face our own demons, knowing what becomes of gargantuan beasts and what this could mean to us. From a marketing point of view, unlike the so-called dinosaurs, Powerize and similar brethren companies including Northern Light [http://www.nlsearch.com] and Data Downlink’s .xls [http://www.xls.com] come to us afresh. They have a youthful energy, marketing prowess, choices of pay-as-you go or enterprise-wide pricing models, and content to boot. Powerize, moreover, puts on a good show, a really great presentation, and succeeds in gathering glory, just as my glossy presentation won me a lucrative contract. Furthermore, to their credit, Powerize has created a new business model and strategies that encompass alliances with companies that already weigh in as Web name brands. Again I quote from the SEC S-1 Registration Form:
We believe that free content builds our brand, increases Web site traffic and creates opportunities for substantial advertising revenue. To capitalize on these opportunities, we have recently formed several distribution relationships with high traffic Internet services, including Inktomi Corporation and VerticalNet, Inc. Inktomi will market our content collection to its Internet customers, including America Online, Yahoo! and HotBot. VerticalNet will provide access to our content from all of its trade community Web sites.In addition, as we went to press, I learned of upcoming plans:
Powerize Content: Free and Fee
A complete listing of free sources does not appear on the Powerize Web site. However the good people at Powerize did make the list available to Searcher for your review [click here - powerize.xls]. The Powerize spokesman warns us, however, that the list published here tracks a “moving target, which changes, sometimes drastically, on a daily basis and that titles are added and pulled all the time.” This chart is current as of January 5, 2000. The Powerize spokesman also explained that “much of the content on the site that is free to members only appears as free once a member has logged in.” Simply click on “Content Sources” at the bottom of any page to review the entire content sources listing.
Beyond the free content, pay-per-view premium databases include contributions from the likes of PROMT (Gale), ABI/Inform (Bell & Howell), Investext, PR Newswire, Business Wire, and COMTEX. Company profiles and financials come from Primark’s Disclosure, Market Guide (now File 100 on DIALOG in one of its incarnations), Hoover’s, First Call, and Zacks. Powerize also covers government, law, science, and technology through agreements with LegAlert, RegAlert, EBSCO, and H.W. Wilson, according to O’Leary’s review. [A large but admittedly selective list of A-Z titles does appear on the Powerize Web site at http://www.corp.powerize.com/partners/contentsources.htm.]
|Figures 1 & 2|
Nonetheless, sometimes information professionals find such choices critical. Northern Light makes a start at such differentiation by offering Investext as a Special Collection item. Searching Northern Light is a low cost, quick way to identify and retrieve analysts’ reports by page or full report, depending on format availability, without logging on to account-based systems including Research Bank Web (one of The Investext Group’s own products), DIALOG, or LEXIS-NEXIS. Bear in mind that Investext on Northern Light is a selection of what’s available compared to the fuller collection on Research Bank Web and, unfortunately, there’s no easy way to know what’s missing. Also note that while DIALOG is more complete than Northern Light because of a deeper and broader archive, it misses those reports now available only in PDF format from either Research Bank Web or Northern Light. LEXIS-NEXIS has begun adding PDF files, so keep your eye on them for completeness.
Powerize, unlike the other systems mentioned, only offers full reports, rather than page by page and you cannot search Investext separately, although they do provide a global search capability for a category called Research Reports on the Advanced Search Form [see Figures 1 and 2, right]. The Research Reports category covers Investext, Findex, and a handful of other name brand market research report companies in one fell swoop. This category on Powerize is very limited when compared to DIALOG’s Profound, The Investext Group’s Research Bank Web, or the Factiva Company & Industry Center. Like most young online services, there is room for growth, but, based on their ingenuity and assertiveness, I assume that this category will most likely expand.
Is Powerize User Friendly?
Despite the magnificent array of well-known content, free premium sources, and brilliant marketing, Powerize is not particularly friendly to professional searchers because it lacks truly advanced search features and contains some features that may mislead users without full explanations in the Help screens. For years, online vendors and information professionals alike have been subjected to commentary regarding non-friendly, end-user interfaces. We’ve observed attempts by our favorite vendors to capture end-user market share by trying to provide easier and friendlier access to the store loads of available information in the databases. We can probably concur that these vendors have failed miserably, at least so far. Whenever searching was simplified, power features or content was sacrificed, which translated into clunky, time-consuming to use, fairly useless to us concoctions. These menu-based schemes didn’t gain much favor with end-users either and the elusive end-user market continued to dodge an industry convinced that their information was (and is) power.
On the other hand,
we’ve seen the browser-based Web take hold and capture the interest of
millions of users, as compared to the tens or hundreds of thousands of
its predecessors. At first glimpse at the search interfaces, Powerize.com
certainly looks user friendly. But looks can deceive. Despite the statement
that Powerize “developed [its] directed search and advanced filtering technology
to make…content more accessible to…users,” the current search engine, powered
by PLS, does not live up to the claim. To meet the goal of becoming “the
dominant Internet aggregator and distributor of business and financial
information…” Powerize will need to make some major changes and improvements.
Fortunately, some of the problems that I uncovered while preparing this
article and discuss below will soon be moot, so I’m told. Powerize is switching
over to a new search engine powered by Inktomi, and when this happens,
we will have to revisit the service to see whether the improvements meet
For now, based on several searches, including one on articles about Powerize itself, I found some roadblocks. Significantly, I couldn’t find two articles from Information Today, even though Powerize has the articles on its list of free sources. This opened up a can of worms. I still don’t know why these articles failed to appear, but I encountered some other problems too.
For example, Powerize currently uses automatic stemming without the option to turn it off. Not providing this option can deter precision search results. For example, in my search on the term “Powerize” on the Advanced Search Form, 40 hits appeared, all with the word Power but none about Powerize, even though these articles were readily available from other online systems. Curiously, when I searched directly on “Powerize.com,” I found some articles about Powerize but still not the articles I sought. I don’t have the time or patience to learn every detail about how search engines work and, to boot, I don’t think I should have to struggle to find out why these articles didn’t appear. I queried my Powerize contact and, although his answer did not completely explain the dilemma, it shed light about using the system:
The best way to attack stemming is to always enclose your search term(s) in quotes…and to make sure that search term(s) are as specific and complete as possible. As we cut over to our new search engine, hosted by Inktomi, over the first quarter of this year, this will appear less acute. Simple Search on Powerize.com is relatively simple because the search category and industry one picks for one’s search are hard-wired to selected content sources. We may not be pulling Information Today through an aggregation that’s “wired” to the particular search category/industry you selected for your search. I believe we’re getting Information Today through Bell & Howell, so selecting “Powerize.com Premium Collection” on our Advanced Search page will be the best way to search it. You also need to understand that it’s the nature of aggregations that they typically do not include every article from every issue from a given title. There are editorial processes that take place at the publication itself, and at an aggregator such as Bell & Howell, in selecting content for inclusion before it ever gets to us.
Powerize lacks relevancy ranking. All articles that came up in searches I conducted displayed in descending chronological date order, latest to earlier. In addition, no matter what search I ran, only 40 articles appeared, although one of the help pages indicated that there should have been up to 250 results. A limitation of articles on a subject is unacceptable for professional searchers who often have to look for a needle in the haystack or the most comprehensive results possible. The Powerize spokesman again provided an explanation:
When we turn on search services from Inktomi later this quarter this will be a non-issue. Because of performance issues related to the current search engine, we have limited the display of search results to reverse chronological. Inktomi will give us much more flexibility in being able to offer multiple results-display options. The same with number of search results. This past fall we reduced the maximum number of search results in Advanced Search to 40. We decided that PLS simply took too long to return more results than that. With Inktomi the number of results that will be returned instantaneously will be unlimited.Powerize has a known date lag. Mick O’Leary explains it this way: “Powerize.com’s greatest search shortcoming… is its lack of timeliness. Search results, at least in the major business text databases, lag significantly behind the latest data in the database itself…. The only sources that are consistently up-to-date are the press release databases, PR Newswire and Business Wire. This is a major, inexplicable problem for a business information service, especially since most of its content is fee-based.”
By the way, the
date lag may explain why Powerize could not deliver the missing articles
from Information Today. As we went to press, I tried my search one
more time after working with the system, on and off, for several months.
Both of the missing articles appeared in the system that day, but a new
problem came to light. I found two versions for one of the articles, one
free as an abstract and the other pay-per-view in full text. The abstract
did not indicate full-text availability, which would certainly have been
nice to know.
On the Simple Search Form, the date range selection is misleading. Although the drop-down menu lets you choose from 15, 30, 45 days, or “unlimited,” the choice of unlimited, in fact, is limited. Does it sound like I’m speaking double talk? It’s not me, honest. I chose unlimited for several searches but this retrieved only up to six months back. After talking to the Powerize representative, I learned that the “unlimited” option covers a relatively short period of time, even though some sources on Powerize go back 5 years. To access the older archives, use the Advanced Search Form and specify the dates in the date range box.
One Final Recommendation
I’m not sure everyone will agree, but I’d like to see Powerize provide a searchable subset of all its free sources. This would give users an opportunity to take advantage of what’s unique about Powerize — and what’s caused all the interest — the free information. [In the meantime, for a description of entry points to the free content, see the “Free Content” sidebar. It contains a brief description of each Powerize feature or section with free information and points out value-added direct links to Web sites and articles.]
One feature I found
particularly interesting was the Industry Updates for a quick overview
of several key industries, covering Banking & Financial, Computer &
Internet, Energy & Utilities, Healthcare, Insurance, Media, Pharmaceuticals,
and Telecommunications. Along with articles for each industry category,
a generous list of major players is provided. Click on the company name
and you see company news, profiles, research reports or free related Web
sites. These Powerize features and links as shown in the Sidebar, along
with a more powerful search engine that is projected to arrive soon, are
the major ways that Powerize.com can live up to its name in the future.
Ideally, Powerize should be a first choice for business and news research, especially considering its free content and an online searcher’s responsibility to serve users and clients with the best information at the lowest possible price. Unfortunately, Powerize’s effectiveness for professional researchers — a market it has spent much time romancing in recent months — currently has its limits. Put simply, Powerize has lots of terrific sources with an inadequate search engine. Hopefully, the partnership with Inktomi will make me eat many of my words. Apart from search engine problems, the date lag described by O’Leary is troubling, as is the issue of which “cut” of a well-known database is actually provided to Powerize, an all-too-common problem in these days of slice-and-dice content channeling. Information professionals and business users alike cannot afford to waste time figuring out whether they are searching the most complete and current database. As mentioned, however, by the time this article is published, some of this may have changed.
I don’t like to rebuff an up-and-coming young company that has been particularly helpful in responding to my probing questions, and I do look forward to the promised changes. Nevertheless, similarly to P. J. Carlesimo, the recently fired coach of the Golden State Warriors, who says he won’t change his taskmaster approach that displeased some of his players, I too must maintain certain standards even by risking my own popularity. Although my current efforts have unmasked frailties, the critique was meant for everyone’s good. I encourage all those who provide us with information services to create the quality tools we need to accomplish our goals and, in turn, will permit us to become loyal and lasting customers.
On the other hand,
perhaps Powerize doesn’t care one way or another about this information
professional’s opinion. Clearly the company targets the mass market of
end users rather than the niche market of information professionals. In
that broader arena, Powerize has had considerable success. In January 2000,
Powerize announced that membership on its Web site had more than quintupled
since November 1999, bringing the total of registered members to over 200,000
with a growth rate of up to 20,000 people per week. Just as important to
Powerize’s owners, the site is generating over 2 million advertising impressions
each week. On the other hand, if the end users they work with are anything
like the end users I have worked with all these years, loyalty and continuing
use of an information service depend on the value elements offered: accuracy,
relevance, currency, speed, ease of use, and price. End users want the
best in all those categories. I hope some of the comments in this piece
will help Powerize to improve an impressive array of content and an awesome
is the president of MarketingBASE Associates. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org