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This may be the age of data, but the questions worth asking about the market viability of information service providers are no longer about content. They are about what you do to content-as-data as you seek to add value to it and turn it into some form of solution. So, in terms of Pope’s epigram, we could say that the proper study of Information Man is software. Data has never been more completely available. Admittedly, we have changed tack now on the idea that we could collect all that we need and put it into a silo and search it. Instead, in the age of big data, we prefer to take the programme to the data. Structured and unstructured. Larger collectively than anything tackled before the emergence of Google and Yahoo!, and then Facebook, and inspired by the data volumes thrown off by those services. And now we have Thomson Reuters and Reed Elsevier knee deep in the data businesses and throwing up new ways of servicing data appropriate to the professional and business information user. So shall we in future judge the strategic leadership of B2B, STM, financial services or professional information services companies by what they know about the decisions they need to make about implementing which generation of what software to have what strategic effect on their marketplaces? I hope not, since I fear that like me they may be found wanting.
And clearly having a CTO but not having the knowledge of the right questions to ask him, or what the answers mean is not sufficient either. In order to get more firmly into this area myself I wrote a blog last month called “Big Data: Six of the Best”, in which I talked about a variety of approaches to Big Data issues. In media and information markets my first stop has always been MarkLogic, since working with them has taught me a great deal about how important the platform is, and how pulling together existing disparate services onto a common platform is often a critical first step. Anyone watching the London Olympics next month and using BBC Sport to navigate results and entries and schedules, with data, text and video, is looking at a classic MarkLogic 5 job (www.marklogic.com). But this is about scale internally, and about XML. In my six, I wanted to put alongside MarkLogic’s heavy lifting capacities someone with a strong metadata management tradition, and a new entrant, with exactly those characteristics, is Pingar (www.pingar.com). Arguably, we tend to forget all the wonderful things we said about metadata a decade ago. From being the answer to all questions, it became a very expensive pursuit, with changing expectations from users and great difficulties in maintaining quality control, especially where authors created it, fudging the issue for many information companies.
So Pingar, who started in New Zealand before going global, appropriately started its tools environment somewhere else. Using the progress made in recent years in entity extraction and pattern matching, they have created tools to manage the automatic extraction of metadata at scale and speed. Working with large groups of documents (we are talking about up to 6 terrabytes – not “biggest” data but large enough for very many of us) metadata development becomes a batch processing function. The Pingar API effectively unlocks a toolbox of metadata management solutions from tagging and organization at levels of consistency that we all now need, to integration of the results with enterprize content management, with communications and with collaboration platforms. Sharepoint connectivity will be important for many users, as will the ability to output into CRM tools. Users can import their own taxonomies effectively, though over time Pingar will build facilities to allow taxonomy development from scratch.
As members of the Pingar team talked me through this, two thoughts persisted. In the first instance, the critical importance of metadata. Alongside Big Data, we will surely find that the fastest way to anything is searching metadata databases. They are not either/or, they are both/and. I am still stuck with the idea that however effective we make Big Data file searching, we will also need retained databases of metadata at every stage. And everytime we need to move into some sort of ontology-based environment, the metadata and our taxonomy become critical elements in building out the system. Big Data as a fashion term must not delude us from the idea that we shall be building and extending and developing knowledge based systems from now until infirmity (or whatever is the correct term for the condition that sparks the next great wave of software services development in 2018!)
And my other notion? If you are in New Zealand you see global markets so much more clearly. Pingar went quickly into Japanese and Chinese, in order to service major clients there, and then into Spanish, French and Italian. Cross -linguistic effort is thus critical Marc Andriessen is credited with the saying “Software is eating the world (which always reminds me of an early hero, William Cobbett, saying in the 1820s of rural depopulation through enclosures and grazing around the great heathland that now houses London’s greatest and slowest airport: “Here sheep do eat men”). I am coming to believe that Andriessen is right, and that Pingar is very representative of the best of what we should expect in our future diet.