Positioning to Capture Context

Guest Column: View from (the) Shore

The annual EContent 100 list provides an opportunity to consider the industry as a whole, and it reflects the content industry’s need to look at its present and its future from many perspectives. Long gone is the era in which print, online, audio, and video media formed distinct publishing markets, as is the time when enterprise firewalls defined the boundaries of where professionals discovered professional-grade content.

Today, we see convergence from all angles of the content industry. Enterprises are using social media platforms and open web resources aggressively as well as enterprise content tools; media companies are striving to merge video, audio, and text content into integrated services; and personal publishing services are rapidly moving toward mass communications and collaboration via social media platforms.

In the middle of this changing marketplace is the struggle to deliver content in context—that elusive characteristic of getting the right information and experiences in the right place at the right time for the right audience. It is evident that portals, search engines, and content management companies are recognizing that context means far more than delivering a page of links to potentially relevant documents. Fast Search & Transfer, for example, is positioning itself as an enterprise information solutions company instead of just a search technology vendor, while Ask.com increasingly positions itself as a destination site for people seeking high-quality content. Familiar EC100 names, as well as new ones, are moving quickly to position themselves to deliver more valuable contexts for content in more venues than ever before.

One of the biggest winners in the quest for context is social media. In addition to everyday people becoming increasingly empowered authors through these tools, social media also enables people to create new contexts for other people’s media via embedded content. On the open web, social media communities such as Facebook and MySpace build context through user-embedded text, video, and images from various web sources. In enterprises, content management systems and social media tools are also being equipped with embedding capabilities to make it easier to integrate content.

Companies are also moving to make acquisitions that enable them to generate useful content from any number of sources for a wide range of audiences. Business deals such as Reuters’ acquisition of ClearForest, AOL’s pickup of Relegence, and Business Objects’ purchase of Inxight (many names from past EC100 lists) demonstrate how players with broad market penetration continue to seek new approaches. These companies strive to generate valuable contexts for content to move past the traditional paradigm of enterprise and subscription databases to on-the-fly content mining and analysis capabilities that can contextualize content from any source.

In enterprise content, the pending merger of EContent 100 alumni Thomson and Reuters and the acquisition of CSA by ProQuest point to the challenges of positioning contextual value through subscription database services. Both of these mergers promise to provide customers with more contextual value through their content integration services, but it’s no secret that enterprises are challenged to justify the value of subscription services. However, the potential of software-as-a-service brands, such as Salesforce.com, points toward lasting relationships between enterprises and premium content providers.

At the top of the contextualization mountain still stands Google, which remains unsurpassed for online content search audiences, and which continues to move aggressively into new and traditional content markets. Google is building its market position via an expanding network of marketing alliances for the enterprise, mobile, and media sectors, feeding user-generated mashups and widgets and expanding its own social media with Blogger blogs, Orkut social networking, and the relaunching of former EC100-lister JotSpot for community publishing. Add in its expanding array of contextual advertising services and it’s no surprise why Google’s efforts to position itself at the heart of valuable contexts is hard to match.

So the industry—like the list—continues to excite, led by a group of fast-moving companies that demonstrate the trends that matter most in the content marketplace. Congratulations to all of this year’s EContent 100—may all your contexts be valuable.