Magazine article Information Today

The Surround Stuff

Magazine article Information Today

The Surround Stuff

Article excerpt

Jesse Kornbluth is the content director for AOL, and thus influences one of the most-read online resources in the world. I heard him address a conference, which he started this way: "I propose we find the guy who first coined the term 'content,' and kick the living %$*# out of him."

It's a funny line. Everyone cracks up. And then he proceeds to talk about the difficulties in talking about "content" as though it were a single identifiable substance. It's not, and if there's any better proof necessary, take a look at the assorted lot we have in this "content" white paper.

As if to mock me in my futile search for a central theme to the content marketplace, the three executives I spoke with provide three distinct and unique views of this stubbornly difficult-to-pigeonhole marketplace.

One message is fairly constant, though: The challenge faced by content providers today has little to do with the content itself. Oh sure, they each have a great "quality" story to tell. Their ability to create proprietary, exclusive, important stuff is one of their hallmarks. And the editorial component-the skill with which they verify, aggregate and concentrate relevant information-remains a competitive necessity.

But the real value, they all agree, is not only the product itself, but what my old boss used to call "The Surround Stuff." How can the content add meaning to a business process? How completely and seamlessly can it be combined with other information? To what degree is the content delivered intuitively, as though the provider could read your mind and seem to know exactly what you wanted? It's another way of saying customer service, I suppose. But it's more than that. It's something deeper, more meaningful...

If I had to identify the single most impactful trend among the content market leaders today, I would say, thankfully, that "the Surround Stuff" really matters to them.

At the Customer's Threshold

Wendy Beecham is senior VP for LexisNexis, Enterprise & Library division. Because the E & L division is responsible for the corporate, Federal and academic markets, Wendy is focused on a diverse set of market segments that don't immediately seem especially compatible. And because she's only been at the job since February, Wendy is also focused on learning right now...especially when the subject is the cross-leverage potential of her various content resources.

"The statistical and government information we provide can be very valuable as back-up to create proposals, or to do a business analysis, for example, on cost-of-goods sold," she explains. "We also have very valuable information to help with risk assessment across countries, for instance. There are some real hidden gems in there. We've just never packaged it that way before."

Other examples of cross-pollination emerge from the overlap between the academic and business segments. LexisNexis produces a business-news service ("LexisNexis Universe") that, with the exception of a Yahoo!-type service-is the only service that provides access to news for the academic community. Now they plan to re-purpose some of the business services they currently package for the corporate market and make them more applicable for use by the key business schools.

(And by the way, this is premium content that goes way beyond run-of-the-mill Web content. "This kind of data isn't available publicly. If you're going to make strategic business decisions that have revenue impact, you need to go beyond Web sources," stresses Wendy.)

Seeing the value in existing content, and thoughtfully considering how to help customers use it to greater effect, is part of the Surround Stuff ethos. Wendy uses this example: "We have domain experts who can get into such levels of detail with our customers' taxonomies that we help make sure they don't miss any future trends or opportunities. And we continue to keep them updated, working together."

So the role of the information provider, already evolved beyond that of a mere general-reference source or database service, is showing more promising signs of maturity and complexity. …

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