The Business Information Services: Old-Line Online Moves to the Web
O'Leary, Mick, Computers in Libraries
You would have had to be doing a Rip Van Winkle over the past year to have missed the biggest story in the information world: the spread of the Web. Anybody involved with business information was (pick one): 1) on the Web, 2) moving to the Web, or 3) wondering why they weren't doing 1 or 2. Even though much of the hype surrounding the Web is beyond excessive, it's easy to understand its attraction as a platform for information users and producers. Consider the following points:
* Easy Entrance, Right Price: Anybody with a personal computer can become an electronic publisher on the Web. Compared to the costs and difficulties associated with proprietary online systems, putting up a Web site is an inexpensive no-brainer. Compared to the connect-rate pricing they find on consumer and professional online services, users get a double benefit from the Web: flat rate contracts from Internet access providers and free Web sites.
* Easy Use and Upgrading: Another great cost-saver for producers is the ease of upgrading their systems, because there are no costly disks to send out. And the Web environment is easy for users to master and for Web site managers to maintain.
* Linking: The marvelous hypertext capabilities of the Web can create powerful cross-site synergies. Users effortlessly get lots of information, while producers create link-based alliances that draw trade to their sites.
* Multimedia: The Web easily handles graphics, photos, sound, video, and animation.
* Public Acceptance: Beyond the Web's tangible advantages, it has captured the imagination of the public to a degree that exasperates older online services. This has translated into millions of users, which publishers see as a lucrative and expanding market.
"Everything" on the Web
As a result, groups of all kinds have rushed to put up information-laden Web sites, and business organizations have been at the forefront. Many thousands of companies have sites that provide information on products, company organization, news, and -- for public corporations -- extensive financial data. The Web sites of trade and professional associations cover markets and business conditions. Banks and investment firms provide statistics and reports on the financial, equity, and commodities markets. Numerous publishers have free sites with business and financial news. And don't forget the feds, who have placed vast amounts of economic and business data on their agency Web sites.
This information is often thin, sometimes unreliable, and dispersed among thousands of individual sites. Nevertheless, it is there, it is free, and thousands, if not millions, of people are using it. This has created the perception that "everything" is on the Web and that it's free for the taking.
This explosion of free information has placed the traditional, fee-based proprietary online services on the defensive. Well-regarded commentators have predicted that the Web will mean the extinction of the old online order. Also, the older services have not been at the forefront of the movement to the Web, leading to claims that they are technological dinosaurs that will die out because they cannot adapt.
Old Trunks, New Growth
"Not so fast" has been the reply of the old-line online services. "We're not dead yet, and maybe we can even teach the Web a thing or two." Indeed, over the last year, most of the major online business services have staked out territory on the Web; and what's more, they've brought along their traditional strengths of information depth, quality, and search power. The outcome is that, for the first time, "everything" in business information really is on the Web. It may not be free for the taking, but it has given Web users a complete range of choices, from top-of-the-line fee-based services to all sorts of freebies.
The older powers have followed different strategies. Some have versions that closely resemble their proprietary predecessors; others demonstrate a more Web-like character. …