Kathy Yates: Publishers must mirror search engine model

HIistorically the focus of publishers has been on the creation process and not distribution. Because of this, publishers have left users with the burdensome task of storing and digging up information once they are ready to put it to use.

The moral of the story is publishers need to think like a search engine, said Kathy Yates, CEO of AllBusiness.com.

“AOL killed the mass media,” Ms. Yates said. “It’s taken 12 years for publishers and broadcasters to realize it, but mass media as we’ve known it was doomed the day AOL made Webcrawler available to mass audiences through the Internet. Webcrawler was the first true Web-based search engine, and search technology challenges the basic principle of mass media: that a publisher can direct the attention of millions of users to the content that the publisher thinks is most important.”

Search returns control to the reader and in the process identifies the intent-driven user who is selective about what to read.

Intent-driven readers value content that they can discover and recover when they want to use it. They place less value on content that publishers may think is important if they are not interested in it.

Ms. Yates said the mass media model doesn’t account for the intent-driven user; however, search technology is fulfilling the intent-driven readers’ needs.

“Without search, users need to make scrapbooks of clippings in order to have access to relevant information at the time that they actually need it,” Ms. Yates said. “Sophisticated commercial and academic search systems have assisted in that process, but to the average person they can be unfriendly or inaccessible.”

Google claims to be the search king, it says it catalogs all of the world’s information in order to allow users to find it on demand, when it is most valuable. This new model offers a new source of value in advertising.

“The promise of accessing exactly the right information at exactly the right time is intoxicating to both advertisers and readers and they have made Google the most important verb of our day,” Ms. Yates said.

Publishers have the opportunity to provide a valuable service to users by aggregating, cataloging and storing relevant information for them. Many publishers make their own content available by on-site search. However, users often want a broader view than just the publisher’s branded content.

“They want an integrated package of relevant information that includes multiple sources and points of view, including professional and user-generated content, vendor information and content available in multimedia formats,” Ms. Yates said. “They want information to be presented to them dynamically and according to its relevancy to their interest, and not just upon completion of the publisher’s creation process.”

Publishers need to rethink how they can play a role as content aggregator and packager, in addition to the traditional role of content creator.

To do so, publishers must first improve their site search capabilities and develop systems that can put together integrated packages of information from various sources.

“They must be willing to present content that has not been created by their own processes,” Ms. Yates said. “Some publishers, bound by the idea that their distribution systems should be reserved only for their own proprietary content, won’t make this transition. Publishers who reapply their specialized understanding of content to engage the critical needs of on-demand users are truly redefining media. Their reward will be to keep their businesses as relevant as the content they deliver.”

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