An EContent Interview: Four Chief Executives and an Analyst--Online-only Extended Version

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Michelle: What are some of the growth markets you see?

Randy: From our perspective, we see ourselves as enablers. What we really do is help people make their content more usable. Like if we ship it off to someone like COMTEX, we tag it appropriately for that client. We work with anybody who has content that they want to, for one, wrestle away the manual processes of traditional indexing that was employed to make it usable. Or, we work with people who have never done that and want to make their content more usable, be it a browsing scenario, or a searching scenario, or a search engine scenario. Because we are an enabler, we have to try to do two things: For the traditional market, we have to change the belief that computer indexing doesn't have the wherewithal, that the systems and services now exist. Two, we are going to new people and saying search engines aren't everything. Great searching is only possible with great indexing and, in fact, if you invest in some of our enabling technology, your information will be more easily found. We're going out to the new world and saying that these basics are valuable and going out to the old world and saying we can apply technology to what you've always believed was impossible. We really see our market as anyone in the primary publishing sector, syndication, including corporate syndicators, and the aggregation space.

Dan: We target the high-level market, the 800-plus organization, business-to-business technology companies, professional, and financial services firms. We redistribute Charlie's content, for example, so we represent an enterprise market. Our whole company, all the content, integration, software, service, and support is geared to that particular market. Their most relevant characteristics are, while they certainly have financial pressures, more productivity sensitive, ROI, value, and price sensitivity. They are the people who, as much as anybody, can turn these nuggets of information into money.

Don: Is that market growing enough? The Outsell information shows that 70% of people go to free information, principally Yahoo!, for their business information. So, if you will, those of us who charge for content and value are addressing 30% of the market. Is that 30% growing enough?

Dan: I think it is useless to discuss segments. That 30%, if that's what it is, represents a gigantic market. We are a small- to medium-sized public company and there is plenty of room for us to grow in that space. And even within that, for example, our largest segment is corporate sales forces at places like Microsoft, Cisco, and Oracle. I think even if you go back, it wasn't that many years ago that these people still got their information through intermediaries like secretaries and corporate librarians. We're still very early in this cycle of the corporate end-user. Most of the innovation and growth is still to come.

Flip: I think I come at it from another angle. I think that, over time, not only will the 30% grow, but also the other 70% will become volume consumers at the right price.

Don: Which is more than free, which is what they are paying today.

Flip: That is correct. They are going to pay more for the analysis and in-context delivery than they will for the physical content itself. And that's a subtlety. divine's purpose is to try to come up with the broader technological solution for content, which includes things that, for enterprises, are very important. To illustrate, in the financial services sector, they want to reach out to their customers and give them as good a reason as possible to come back. And yet, the legislative environment in these firms is that they are just hammered in randomly-distributed content and they have to manage it, document it, and be able to recover the instance of how they delivered the content so they can defend themselves if there are any regulations that are called into question. divine envisions giving a toolset to the enterprise that would allow them to manage, deliver, analyze, blend, categorize, store, and retrieve content. But all of those things don't need to be there unless content is there. So content is the core of the effort and it isn't necessarily going to be free. Content must be delivered in a way in which the consumer gains a lot more value than by being inundated with a blanket of free content. What we've analyzed is that, though Yahoo! is free and somewhat convenient, it is but a shallow version of what could be derived if done appropriately.

Charlie: And that is actually good news because it frustrates the user. We were talking yesterday [at the BSEC conference] about the Internet having awakened the user. The Internet has set the expectation sky-high and it hasn't been met. I was at a conference, with a librarian type of audience, and I asked them how much of their searches get done for free on the Internet. They said half. That is bad news for Dialog and Factiva, who are paid search engines. It is great news for companies like COMTEX who touch that news and then take the next step and pull out a credit card. You can create a transaction at that point, when they are reading one thing for free and they take the next step.

Flip: Charlie, there are two things that confirm exactly what is being said right now. One is that the approach to getting that information by enterprises is frustrated by a certain lack of infrastructure that has never been inside an enterprise. Example: Though there are certain folks who provide search engine or search capability, they don't provide research librarians who make the search.

Charlie: Useless

Flip: In my limited experience, and I'm not in this business the way you guys are, I'm coming at it from a technology point of view. There's no chance of using a certain set of products, Verity and others come to mind, without a skilled set of librarians and there's no budget for these employees.

Don: You need a driver's license.

Flip: So where does the value come in? From the technological application of a solution that says, "How do we technologically make sense of that information and provide the taxonomy in a way that doesn't require the human component?" Once you do that, you raise the level of the content value where the 30% will pay more. But frankly, you now can make a lot of money as long as you make peace with the fact that a penny, multiplied by all of those in the remaining 70%, is a lot of money. It is really getting past the hurdle where you differentiate the content.

Don: What is the future of platform? Will it be the Web or is it going to be implemented through the PeopleSofts, the sales force automation systems, the customer…

Flip: All of the above. It's every device, every phone, every device with digital capability… eyeglasses, televisions, whatever new-fangled thing you've got.

Charlie: If we all had the same personality and the same job, we could do it one way.

Randy: But I think we can't forget that adding great technology on top of ho-hum content is never going to sell that content. I think one thing the Internet brought out was that there was a lot of content. I think one of the reasons Yahoo! is shallow is that they don't have a lot of great content. I think that part of the challenge is to add value to content. Good content will bubble to the top. So all the technology in the world can't sell poor content.

Flip: Let me tell you what I've gotten back from enterprise customers. This is a truthful analysis by them. I may get in trouble for this not politically correct analysis. Just as the O.J. Simpson trial exposed the flaws in the criminal justice system, the Internet has exposed that nearly every bit of content people read is grossly inaccurate.What has really become the case is that, at one end of the spectrum, what used to be editorial discipline that tried to concentrate on factual reporting, turned into so much interpretive biased promotional delivery. You end up with even the Wall Street Journal becoming victimized by the fact that if you take any of its articles and do the research to see how accurate it is, and you get within 20% accuracy, that's about as accurate as today's content on this side is being viewed. It may have been that way 50 years ago, but I don't know. I do know that now people know that it's not accurate. Today people read and wonder where the truth is. That adds a level of complexity to content. Not only is there so much of it, but also most of it is wrong, inaccurate, biased, and propaganda. This is the worst part of the credibility gap.

Don: So you think we may have had a generalized decline in the credibility of content?

Flip: I don't think the word is "may." It is absolute and it is exposed.

Randy: I think at least in the perceived credibility. I think the infomediaries out there have been the gatekeepers of good and bad content. If you look in an academic or corporate setting, if you've gone to an information specialist, they vetted the quality of the source: "This comes from the American Association of Physics and that doesn't." I think that the end-user coming up, trying to vet content on his or her own, has been a problem.

Charlie: I'm not sure it's a relevant question whether content is good or not. It's back to the eye of the beholder: What am I using it for?

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