Factiva customer service just called …

I guess my earlier comparison with Highbeam struck a nerve, because a nice guy from Factiva just phoned to tell me I wasn’t looking at Factiva the right way.

The “individual” account, which whales the subscriber to the tune of $2.95 an article is not for me, said the Factiva rep. I need to ignore the individual account and take the corporate flat-fee model. Okay. I’m game. I’ll check the pricing structure and report back. First glance doesn’t tell me much, but I’ll keep digging in the interest of fairness.

Kind of weird getting a call from a blog post. Struck a nerve I guess.

Little mammals in the bushes eating the dinosaur eggs …

I’ve been flirting with the technology research world for the past year, consulting for two of the biggest names in the business on a few editorial projects and discussing a full-time position with one of the big players.

Today’s (2.14.05) NYT has a piece in the business section by Eric Pfanner on the disruptions in the market for paid IT research, pointing to the wide availability of information through trade pubs (who I also have been consulting and considering a full-time position with) and good old Blogs.

The kickers in Pfanner’s piece are:

“”The costs of entry in this field are very small,” said Mark Newman, chief research officer at Informa. “A bunch of guys with good contacts in the industry can do an awful lot with very little.” That dynamic could threaten research companies and trade publications alike, particularly as the open-source ethos spreads on the Internet.”

The furry rodents in the new world of IT information are the Glen Fleishman’s and Om Malik’s of the blogging world, who are not only faster than their big counterparts at Forrester, Gartner, Meta, etc., but a heck of a lot cheaper. The trade press is already getting kicked around by printless players like TechTarget, but it’s further down the food chain, at the niche tech news blogs, that the first cracks in the information monolith are beginning to show. Team up a few strong tech bloggers with a conference program, a print newsletter for the browser-challenged, and the fun could really begin.

To continue with Pfanner’s piece in the Times:

“After all, a free blog is cheaper than a magazine subscription … [out of sequence] Analysts say corporate executives increasingly turn to technology publications, which sometimes offer similar information at a small fraction of the price. Particularly on the Internet, the distinction between an expensive research report and a low-cost piece of journalism is less apparent.”

The fix is in. Crack the economics of supporting smart tech information bloggers by banding them together to present a unified sponsorship model, put them on stage at their own conferences, and continue to undersell, undersell, undersell the big boys and the dinosaurs will be wondering what happened to their eggs.

Path dependence

While researching a chapter on railroad gauge standards for my book on the history of technology standards I was overwhelmed with the persistent urban legend that the standard gauge of 4′ 8.5″ is derived from the span of the wheels on a Roman war chariot.

It’s amusing how many technology columnists (usually writing in the IT trades) and keynote speakers have propagated this cute piece of misinformation and all deliver the same punchline that the space shuttle travels to its launch pad on rails derived from a standard set by a “horse’s ass.”

The true basis of the standard — which was based on the width of a Welsh mine’s rails and adopted by English railroad pioneer George Stephenson in 1810 — is not so interesting as the story of its spread throughout Great Britain and across the Atlantic to the United States. I was intrigued to learn that the standardization of gauges is the basis of the economic theory of “path dependence,” which posits that technology adoption is tied to the inertia of history more than specific attributes. Example: driving on the left or right side of the road. The issue isn’t why one country selected one side or the other, but the persistence of the two approaches is assured by the immense switching costs over time. In other words, a “bad” standard will live on if the cost of switching to a “good” standard is too high.

It took an act of Parliament to standardize track gauges in Great Britain as a matter of national economic interest and efficiency. In the U.S. it was the lessons of the Civil War that pushed the South to standardize its incompatible system of three incompatible gauges to the north’s 4′ 8.5″
over a single Memorial Day weekend in the 1880s. Path dependence theory says standardization of incompatible standards will occur when the economic benefits hit a critical point where cooperation and interconnection is to the advantage of all participants.

I wonder what current information technology standards live on due to path dependence. QWERTY keyboards? The Navy tested and learned that switching typists to the Dvorak system yields an efficiency payback within ten days, yet, I still type away on good old QWERTY.

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