Connecting for Growth: SIIA Information Industry Summit 2005

Article excerpt

More than 350 people arrived at New York's Gotham Hall, a converted bank on Broadway, for the fourth annual SIIA (Software & Information Industry Association) Information Industry Summit, held Feb. 1-2. The nametags dangling from lanyards and pinned to lapels reflected a broad spectrum of technology experts, CEOs, press members, entrepreneurs, and investors.

Under the umbrella of Connecting for Growth, the eight-session summit from the SIIA Content Division focused on the business trends, strategies, and challenges now facing the industry, and how giants such as America Online and entrepreneurs such as Bruce Murray plan on dealing with such change.

The Health of the Industry

The feedback from various industry sectors was good overall and provided a positive spin for continued growth in 2005. "I think that the industry is moving in many healthy directions," said John Blossom, president of Shore Communications, Inc. "[There's] less resistance than ever in core business content to using the Web for serious business content and Web-driven concepts as elements of business models."

Content, branding, blogging, and online advertising were recurring topics at this summit. The phrase "content is king" was replayed in the discussions as panelists reviewed their specific game plans for using content in context. Times are changing, and company growth and survival relies on meeting the changing needs of the consumer.

Opening keynote speaker Michael Wolff, an award-winning journalist and now a columnist for Vanity Fair, hit a collective nerve with his portrayal of the industry's future, triggering a buzz from panelists and audience members alike. He discussed how control has been passed along to the consumer; how content brands have switched from the corporate to the personal (via blogs and other vehicles); how blogs have lowered the value of information; and how players, including The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and Consumer Reports, have lost their "clout" since the 1990s.

Of course Gordon Crovitz, president of electronic publishing for Dow Jones & Co., Inc. and a panelist in the Alternative Business Models session, challenged Wolff's last statement. Crovitz countered the claim with a detailed list of WSJ's online successes and offered a forecast of company online revenues, which are expected to approach 30 percent this year. Online revenues of 20 percent would be somewhat disappointing, said Crovitz. Branded content, he said, has become more valuable than ever before, especially using content in a context that serves the needs of both users and advertisers. Likewise, Mitch Rouda, president of Hanley Wood e-Media, which specializes in B2B information for the commercial construction industry, challenged the audience to see what results a search for "weather stripping" would turn up on Google versus his site.

And when it comes to funding, venture capitalists have plenty of money but limited time. "There are only so many boards they can sit on," said Shoba Purushothaman from The Newsmarket, so a cohesive business plan is vital in charting the potential for growth and profitability. She cautioned companies to be wary about funding sources that may be asking for more control than a company is willing to surrender.

The buzz about blogging infiltrated most of the sessions and culminated in one titled What's Hot, What's Not? Rafat Ali, editor and publisher of paidcontent.org, saw technological progress occurring by means of broadband services and Weblogging tools. Steve Wildstrom, technology columnist for BusinessWeek magazine, predicted that blogs would remain a hot commodity. He expected them to continue growing, but reminded the audience that continued growth relied on maintaining accuracy and quality of content. …