Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Confusing a Silo with a Business

The strategy of organizing content around a common topic such as legal or medical information is mature in information publishing. As other publishers mimic the strategy of organizing their content into silos they would be wise not to confuse their efforts with community building or market making. Users are interested in accessing validated, useful and important topical information but this could just as easily be web based content as it is published content. Often it is just that.

Whereas information companies formally organized their businesses around topics (medical, tax, legal, etc.) more than 15 years ago they quickly understood that their customers needed more. Initially, it was often the integration across what had been independent databases that produced the most utility for their users and, their early work led to the development of taxonomies, search techniques and applications which enabled work flow integration. But nothing stands still and as the information business continues to evolve what is happening currently in information should be of interest to all publishers. In short, their experience suggests it may be simplistic to believe establishing a silo of content will produce a community of willing publishing consumers.

Having built platforms supporting information products, information companies now recognize that their customers are looking for integration across subject areas. Importantly, the customers are looking for ways to validate a much wider pool (ocean) of potentially useful and important information. To Thomson Reuters (and others) the silo increasingly looks like a pyramid and they have have begun to conceptualize the management of information and data using this framework. In part, this has to do with the excessive growth of information: Increasingly information providers are as useful to their customers as filters of a vast catalog of information as they are providers of tools, techniques and proprietary data. Consequently, information providers are beginning to see themselves providing access to as much content and information as possible - available on their platforms - and then progressively adding value to the consumer as they move up the pyramid in terms of need and application.

At the top of the pyramid are those publisher specific technologies and content that provide the most value to customers. Companies like Thomson Reuters recognize customers have broad needs and thus there is business logic to providing different services at each level of this pyramid as well as integration points with companies outside the Thomson Reuters family. Inherent in this approach is the recognition by Thomson Reuters and others that it may not be possible to operate in a closed environment any longer. The information space is simply too large to organize in the manner in which information aggregated content in the 1990s. The more addressable issue is to provide consumers with the information critical to their needs and filter that information or content such that it is unambiguous.

The lesson for less advanced publishers is that building a concentration around siloed content is not enough; in-fact, aggregating consumer interest and appeal around publishing content will fail unless that concentration includes content from the web, television, radio, newspapers, magazines, etc. which is also organized, validated and served up in the most effective manner for the consumer. Information publishers have been able to evolve their model to support the needs of their professional customers but the consumer market is more anarchic and it remains to be seen whether trade publishers can pull it off. Silos may not be worth the effort.

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