Reaping Information: Dynamic Navigation Helps Users Separate the Digital Wheat From the Chaff

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Yet the massive dominance of Google hasn’t quelled innovation in the least. The desire to quickly find the right information in public domains, in internal company databases, and from licensed data has spurred a variety of search approaches. Witness the growth of dynamic navigation, which is being leveraged by information providers to help clients better find exactly what they need.

"With Google, everyone thinks they’re an information reference expert," says Ned May, lead analyst for research, aggregation, and syndication at Outsell, Inc., a provider of analytics for the information industry. "But users are not willing to use advanced search capabilities, which information manager and librarians know how to do. So what works fairly well in the open web works poorly in the enterprise."

May says that the total number of searches being performed has dropped slightly, and he gives two reasons. First, users are more sophisticated and are navigating to the sites they want instead of using search. Secondly, more content is being provided dynamically, allowing users to select from a list of items more closely tailored to their needs.

He points to the work done by Dow Jones Factiva, which has long has been a leader in the enterprise content industry, aggregating information from more than 14,000 credible sources—everything from relevant local newspapers to key news and business sites and a growing number of social media outlets and multimedia resources. The company’s products are used by information professionals and business researchers who search for a living, but often Dow Jones Factiva products are found throughout the enterprise, according to Julia Mair, executive director of solutions marketing, Dow Jones.

Enterprise flat-fee subscriptions are designed for organizations with large numbers of information workers and individual departments in an organization, including corporate and government libraries and corporate communications departments. Custom solutions take advantage of Dow Jones Factiva’s growing range of integration products, consulting and taxonomy services, and role-based applications where text mining and visualization technologies are utilized to help customers maximize the value of their investment in the content. The service is highly customizable, based on customer requirements, and is priced accordingly. Individual plans also are available.

"What Factiva is doing is almost the return of the portal, using search underneath to drive the content that appears," May says.

Dow Jones Factiva leverages a taxonomy called Factiva Intelligent Indexing, which is available in 22 languages. Instead of active searching, users can establish alerts on certain topics and have those sent via email, RSS feed, or portable device. An advance unveiled in February allows translation of text to streaming audio, and the company is looking to push custom content to podcasts.

"The concept of visualization and discovery relieves information workers and executives of a significant pain point, giving them the tools to check up on competitors and save them time," says Brigitte Ricou-Bellan, manager of destination solutions for Dow Jones.

InfoNgen powers its InfoNgen Discovery Engine with a proprietary, patent-pending classification system that automatically adds business and financial-specific tags and topics to all inbound content, says John Mahoney, co-founder and CTO of the company. Proprietary tagging and advanced filtering capabilities ensure that users receive only information that is relevant to their specific interests.

Mahoney and co-founder Isaak Karaev were also responsible for Multex.com, which they sold to Reuters in 2003. Multex provided investment research and pretrade information that financial institutions used to make trading decisions.

In its custom version, InfoNgen sits inside a company’s data servers to act as a clearinghouse for financial information, integrating and disseminating web-based data, content from other providers (such as partners TheMarkets.com and Standard & Poor’s), and a company’s internal documents. Information is analyzed with a consistent taxonomy and tagged appropriately, allowing information about a particular topic, person, company, or keyword to be found in a central location.

"The key benefit is that it lets people do very granular searches," Mahoney says. "It’s tagged at a rich level, topical, not just structural." Users also can define their own tags. "Eco-friendly," for example, might have a different connotation, depending on the user. By offering custom definitions, users can hone the information they receive.

In February, InfoNgen added nearly 30,000 private companies to its coverage universe, enabling users to find information about hard-to-follow private companies. By assigning a unique global "symbol" to each private company, InfoNgen can identify companies based on such factors as spelling variations, subsidiaries, key executives, and products from more than 15,000 online sources.

Search information can be accessed directly, or customized searches can push results to a customized website, periodic emails, an FTP feed, or a client-branded site. A newsletter feature allows companies to share information with clients, vendors, and others.

"Dynamic navigation is about helping the user find the information he’s looking for, arranging it in a way that makes sense and linking to other information he might want," Mahoney says.

Delivering information in ways that make the most sense to users is a key characteristic of Mark Logic Corp.’s MarkLogic Server, an XML content platform that allows users to store, manage, manipulate, and deliver information to print or the web in a number of ways.

The MarkLogic Server can access data through phrase, Boolean, wildcard, proximity, parametric, and range searches, as well as such language processing features as stemming, thesauri, and spell-checking, says John Kreisa, director of product marketing for the firm. By converting data from various formats into XML, searches can hone in on information that less robust search capabilities might miss, Kreisa says. Information from various sources can be brought together in new ways, offering mashups with Google Earth or Google Maps.

Media company ALM uses a MarkLogic Server for its enterprise content repository, which holds more than 2 decades worth of news and analysis for and about the legal market from its newspapers, magazines, and newsletters. The central repository and dynamic search functions also support the launch of new products and services.

Oxford University Press has organized its reference works on African-Americans into a central repository it calls the Oxford African American Studies Center, which allows researchers the ability to search through images and articles, arranging them in chronological order.

Another Mark Logic customer, O’Reilly Media, allows users to build custom books from pieces and parts of other materials in the publisher’s catalog that can be viewed online or printed, generating a table of contents, end of book notes, and even an ISBN, Kreisa says. "Google has trained users to think about search," Kreisa says. "Now it’s about getting them to relevant content quickly."

Large organizations compile an extraordinary amount of research data from far-flung sources, including internal market and competitive intelligence resources, secondary market research studies and commentary from external market research firms, trade journals, and other places.

More than 2 dozen clients such as HP, Cisco, SAP, and Verizon rely on Northern Light Group LLC’s SinglePoint Market Research Portal to bring that information together in a single interface, according to CEO David Seuss (pronounced "cease"). A typical SinglePoint has 20 external market research sources, an internal content repository, a business news feed, and 30,000 employee users.

"How do employees search market research? A company may subscribe to 35 sources, but an employee will go to his favorite one, his second favorite, his third favorite and never go to sources four through 35," Seuss says. Even if the employee visited all 35 sources, who could remember 35 passwords?

Northern Light has relationships with more than 5 dozen companies that provide $1 billion in premium content each year. As long as a client has legal rights to the data, Northern Light can incorporate research information from those vendors in one user interface with one password. As a document is accessed, password verification is performed in the background to ensure the company, and the specific user, has the proper authorization. While newsfeeds can be added to the interface, Seuss says the company does not recommend that. Research can also be separated by division: In a pharmaceutical company, for example, scientific research and market research appeal to widely diverse sets of users, Seuss says.

Bringing internal and external research together in a common portal allows for smarter searches. Northern Light’s MI Analyst add-on builds a lexical chain about the companies listed in a search, creating a sentiment about the company from +20 to -20. The text analytics engine performs meaning extraction to reveal what the business issues each company faces in areas such as corporate strategy, product marketing, market share, and pricing.

Getting the right information to the right person at the right time is a concern in the business-to-consumer space, too. In fact, many of the earliest (and clearest) examples of dynamic navigation came from the B2C market. Since 1999, Digital Element has been in the business of helping web marketers identify the location of each IP address for visitors to a particular site. This allows sites to dynamically customize the content based on geography.

This type of geo-targeting has been shown to improve click-through rates from 30% to 50%, says Rob Friedman, executive VP and one of the founders of Digital Element. "The Internet has no borders; it is anonymous," Friedman says. "But, to me, in order to conduct business, there has to be some real-world parameters around it to give it more meaning for users."

Video-streaming companies use Digital Element’s technology to monitor syndication and distribution parameters, while ecommerce companies such as GSI Commerce use Digital Element’s technology to tailor website offerings for such companies as Ace Hardware, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Linens n’ Things, and NASCAR.

"Websites can automatically change looks for different areas, which increases the likelihood of a sale," Friedman explains. Additionally, it helps companies track where they are permitted to sell certain products, all without confusing the consumer. "Retailers may have distribution rights for a product only in a certain area, so if the IP address is out of area, that product won’t show up for sale."

It is clear, however, that dynamic navigation has expanded its reach well past helping customers sort through goods online. Ultimately, search is about finding necessary information—be it about a product, an investment, or that essential piece of data required for sealing a deal. While the novelty of technology tools may wane, the need for information and the pace of innovation will only increase.


Companies Featured in This Article:

Digital Element
www.digital-element.net

Dow Jones Factiva
factiva.com

InfoNgen
www.infongen.com

Mark Logic Corp.
www.marklogic.com

Northern Light Group, LLC

www.northernlight.com

Outsell, Inc.
www.outsellinc.com

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