Does Data Defy Definition?


An increasing challenge in InfoCommerce Group's business of monitoring the data publishing industry is to maintain a good working definition of what constitutes a database product. In the good old days, it was easy to spot a data product because it was held in database form. But now, it seems almost all content is stored in a database, from press releases to magazine articles.

The simplest definition of a data product focuses on the fact that it is highly structured and fielded content. But since publishers of news and textual materials have gotten wise to the power of taxonomies and content tagging, and with the widespread adoption of XML, that definition no longer serves.

Most recently, it seemed that workflow integration could uniquely define a data product. While lots of publishers have jumped on the workflow integration bandwagon, it was clear that only data products could truly become integral to a user's workflow, because they alone could be married with software to not only provide information, but take action.

Well, two recent deals by Congressional Quarterly, just days apart, are now challenging this definition as well.

A number of years ago, Congressional Quarterly saw the writing on the wall and began migrating its print publication, which provides news and analysis on Congress, politics and public policy, to its flagship website CQ.com. It all seemed oriented to news and not data, and particularly when you applied the workflow integration test, it didn't seem to qualify as a data product.On July 25, however, Congressional Quarterly announced the acquisition of Political Money Line, a database of election campaign contributors that will be integrated into the CQ.com offering. Now a database will sit alongside text-oriented content, complicating an otherwise easy label for CQ.com.

Then on July 26, Congressional Quarterly announced it was teaming up with Potomac Publishing to provide a new service that will greatly reduce the time it takes to determine how legislation will affect existing public law. Called CQ Legislative Impact, the service brings together CQ's enhanced Bill Text service with two new databases provided by Potomac Publishing -- the U.S. Code and Public Laws.

CQ Legislative Impact will allow users to call up a bill -- from this Congress or previous sessions -- and instantly see which parts of Public Law or the U.S. Code would be altered, or were altered, by the bill. Similarly, users can find laws they care about and easily see how various bills have been amended in previous years. Certainly, this is automating work processes previously done manually, and probably quite slowly. Smells like workflow integration.

Some poking around on the CQ.com site also led me to another existing service that tracks changes to the text of legislation as it moves through Congress -- still another example of adding workflow integration capabilities to what traditionally would be viewed as full-text products.

So what is CQ.com? Is it a data product? Is it a text product? Both? Neither? The answer is simple: CQ.com is one very smart product, and that's the message here -- none of us should be afraid to move outside traditional media boundaries or definitions if we are creating products that meet real and important customer needs.

We Are Please to Announce
Rick Wainschel
VP, Marketing Research & Brand Communications
Kelley Blue Book
Will Be a Speaker at
InfoCommerce 2006
Philadelphia, October 10-12

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