Friday, September 19, 2008

Semantic-Content Management

We've been developing a tool set, or framework, or whatever for several years. We call it "Tractare" which is Latin for "to handle, manage, perform". I'm a sucker for that kind of naming.

Anyway, what's it all about? Well, as the Internet becomes more saturated with raw information, keyword search engines really aren't enough to locate that needle in the haystack. We (content providers) need to describe our content in a way that users "get" -- we need to describe the "aboutness" of our content.

An example I like to use when speaking on this subject is this: If you were to use google to search for "retarded", you would get a gazillion hits. But few, if any of those hits would have come up using the politically correct phrase "intellectually challenged". This is because a keyword engine like google depends on the actual presence of the keyword, either as text in the content or as metadata. Now, you could encode both forms of this concept as meta-data on your web-page and it would be found. Now, if you are a psychologist or someone working in mental health, you'd probably be getting the results you want. But if you are a firefighter, the word "retarded" has a whole different meaning. How do we express that? The answer is in several parts of course. But first, we need to capture the meaning of the content; the "aboutness". We need to associate the "firefighter" concept with the content that pertains to fighting fires. This is what Tractare permits us to do.

Tracare is a framework. It's not an off-the-shelf product. It is built on the idea of topic maps -- organizing content around indexes and concepts. It's true power lies in a combination of searching and navigation tools that allow the user to narrow the scope of their work to a set of concepts. We build custom CMS and delivery solutions on top of it.

The CMS systems we build usually include features found in social networking, including folksonomies (as well as traditional taxonomy and classification support) and ranking/commenting. These features allow content providers to apply semantics to content in a number of new and different ways.

The delivery systems we build often include a number of search and navigation interfaces that web users have come to love, including mashups, classification searching, semantic browsing and so on.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Advertising-Based Publishing

In a previous post, I was exploring new trends in electronic publishing (April 30, 2008). One of the key points was that traditional subscription and publishing revenues are shifting away from subscription fees towards "free" information supported by advertising revenues.

"One well known revenue shift is towards advertising revenues. This is an old model, of course. Newspapers have been at it forever, and online search engines for years. But more recently, we're seeing a larger shift of revenue away from subscription sales for information resources and towards advertising."
I had this reinforced recently when I realized that even traditional reference book publishers such as dictionaries and encyclopedias were increasingly garnering revenue from advertising rather than from subscription sales. Wow -- that was an eye-opener. It makes sense though -- if I'm looking for an informative article on "Chocolate", am I going to pay for access to Britannica or would I go to the free Wikipedia? I guess the answer (for me at least) depends on how authoritative my answer needs to be. But in general, I would go to the free site. And I suspect I'm not alone. So how is a traditional reference publisher to compete in the age of Wiki-whatever? Product quality alone isn't enough. It has to be free too. Enter advertising.

On the surface of it, it seems easy to generate advertising revenues. Especially if your area of publishing is targeted - in fact, the more specialized your content, the more valuable you are to advertisers? I'm not sure that this is true, but it sure looks that way. Virtually anyone can establish a Google AdSense account and tie it into their content publishing operation (as I've done to this blog). But who's actually making money at this? That's the hard question.

It always comes back to the same basic principal - supply and demand. I loosely translate the supply side to "timely, quality content". Timely doesn't necessarily mean frequent, it means "frequent enough". And demand is partly driven by the content and partly by your sales/marketing operation. Demand is partly the number of visitors to your web site and partly by the number of visitors who pay attention to your advertising. So, we need quality content and we need to advertise its presence.

These sound like the principals as those by which we've been driven forever.