I have to be “moved to speak”, which is why the progress of this blog is so jerkily irregular.  A childhood fascination with George Whitefield, the eighteenth century hedge preacher in my native Gloucestershire, taught me about the compulsion to speak out.  Whitefield once spoke to a crowd of 10,000 (it is said) at Kingswood outside Bristol, and “men and women answered his call with their voices, compelled to speak as the spirit moved them”.  (My father preferred the more refined oratory of the nineteenth century society preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who reduced vast audiences to tears, but my father’s daily observances were more moved by prunes than prayer so I take this reference lightly.)

You are being taken down this track by someone under pressure, from friends and colleagues, allegedly “interested in what you will say about the sale of the Guardian’s regional newspapers.”  I am not so moved.  The deal is trivial and, given the UK regional press, inevitable.  The consideration is only interesting if you recall that two years ago DMGT refused an offer of  £1 billion for its Northcliffe regional company: valued at the the price point established by this latest deal they would now get, by my calculation, £220 million.  One of the disadvantages of reserving all voting rights to A shareholders, and they all being family and friends, is that you lock in a sentimental regard for the past as well as defending yourself against predators.  Meanwhile, back at the Guardian, we have all long acknowledged that the not-for-profit trust at GMG can only act to protect the newspaper.  More locked in sentiment.  The Guardian has 37 million registered online users, but exists to keep the print.  Then I, who love the paper, say turn print into the offshoot of the web and create custom newspapers deliverable  from local print centres working on contract to deliver to subscribers within 12 hours of  customization.  The next attack must be on the print works.

But the voices I am really moved to write about are on mobile phones.  Two discussions this week convince me that we are not taking the mobile or the mobile network seriously enough.  We are still in the Stone Age of mobile content.  Is there not something faintly ridiculous about Steve Jobs telling the media last week that they were doing a grand job, and their content was ” invaluable”?  And the media having an attack of the shivers about Apple not giving them enough user data, or allowing them to connect print or web subscriptions to the Apple store subscription.  Truth to tell, I cannot think of a single media property that is “have to have” on an iPad.  You buy the device , and then it is “nice” to be able to read a Murdoch newspaper on it (possibly nicer there than anywhere, given the obliterating possibilities of “delete”).  Sports Illustrated seems to be taking the platforms of mobility seriously, but for the most part inflexible real world content , or lightly reheated web content is the menu on offer.  When the content/service/solution is so hot that you can give away the reader with the subscription, then we will know that we have cossed the great divide.  Until then, the content industry just has a crossed line.

So who does know anything about this?  Well , the B2B boys are well down the track.  Here is the voice of the head of IT at the US insurer Nationwide, talking to the FT about his mobile apps: “For the best experience, it is better not to have a web-based version [of the application] but one that is specific, depending on what the user is doing. It is about having right functionality.”

“It is not just a question of designing applications so they fit on a mobile device’s smaller screen, he says, but providing the right amount of task-specific information to field-based staff.  Too often, re-purposed PC or web applications produce cluttered screens, and frustrated users.”

So this will be our test bed.  B2B publishers will want to quickly integrate content into mobile workflow models.  Apps will become cheaper and cheaper to originate and customize and a great deal of current workflow and process content work will migrate into mobile, after existing for a while in both fixed line and mobile networks.  Commercial users will “publish ” for themselves, and content originators will become systems integrators ( proprietory and third party content integrated with process software to drive solutions), as well as sellers of key standard pieces of functionality.

In the course of time those who survive these troubled media years will be publishing fluently to all of the networks.  I do hope the Guardian is one of them.  And I am certain that by then the hegemony of the keyboard will have been broken, and we shall be communicating with these platforms in the most natural mode possible – our Voices.

I am getting into serious trouble.  Previously kindly critics of this blog are ganging up on me. “Why all this Death, Doom and Disaster?” writes one.  “Are there no positive trends in your dystopic vision?” says another, “try hitting the keyboard after opening a bottle of wine”.  And again, “You are running out of traditional media to write obituary notices on, so why not write about some successes, not the trend to media failure?”

Ok , guilty as charged.  I have become too used to having to shock traditional media owners into action through prophecies of instant decline.  And I do claim to be an individual of sunny and optimistic disposition.  So I am going to write about a 1996 start-up which now has a commanding market position in its sector. It announced its global registered users for the end of 2009 in a statement this week, and though it is a success story well worth telling, for traditional media players in engineering, manufacturing and the science and technology segments attached to them, it is a filter placed between themselves and their users which few can now avoid or supplant.

The company is GlobalSpec.  Here a now hugely experienced team under Jeff Killeen have slowly but surely created a category leader through the simple device of treating engineers as a community, and encouraging them to do so around the data content of the sector.  Put all the product catalogues and listings with the product specifications in one place (25,000 catalogues, with 2.2 million products and 184 million searchable product specs).  Make them parametrically searchable, and you have a result that slots into engineering workflow as a must have component. Then add a vertical search engine alongside this, where all sources of engineering information available on the web can be categorized and found, where the design specifications of working engineers can be sourced, and where third party content as well as freely available public content can be obtained ( if you own an engineering journal, you face the agony of being here – or of not being seen).  Then add over 60 emailed engineering sector newsletters, all pushing industry news and announcements to self-qualified audiences.  And from this year, add eEvents, meetings, conference and exhibitions) .

So they have got a tiny segment well sewn up?  You could say that.  This week’s announcement about this “tiny segment” indicates that their registered user count rose during 2009, recession notwithstanding, by some 900,000 engineers. They now have 5.6 million registered users. In that same year of slowdown and industrial decline globally, registered readership of  the e-newsletters went up 21% , to an astounding total of 9.1 million.  And still new users are coming on board: the company indicates an accretion rate of 80,000 new users a month.

So something fairly significent is happening in places like this.  This is not about whether people will read their engineering newspaper on their laptop or their iPad, or whether there is still a place for long-form narrative in engineering texts, reference books or white papers.  It is about solutions to information handling that increase productivity, improve decision making and ensure better and less costly compliance with the regulation that bedevils the sector.  It is about the nature of the network: a community identifying itself, and communicating with and between itself.  GlobalSpec is the result of the painstaking work of people who now understand exactly how engineers work on their desktops within their enterprise systems.

So the engineers have congregated at Globalspec: how do you make money out of them?  With their willing co-operation you create sales and marketing services that suppliers in this marketplace will pay for.  Real-time sales leads from the database which give those suppliers who put their content in lead generation which is filtered, measured and immediately contactable.  Do not contaminate this with the word Advertising, but it is paid for from the same budget.  The newsletters, now moving down into highly fragmented sub-sectors of product and service types in the industry (and providing more inventory as they subdivide), also give more traditional promotional opportunities, as do the e-events.  Ask yourself: as a seller, do you go to the traditional engineering newsheet classifieds page to place your product in the community eye – or do you come here?

And this is truly Global.  If you want to speak to engineers in Shanghai instead of Scunthorpe or Spokane, then come here. The questions about it are many: How many GlobalSpecs can a sector sustain?  What happens to traditional media players who now supply their customers through this interface?  Do “old media” buy these success stories and could they run them if they did?  The fact is however that a new world order has arrived, and we all need to recognise it.  A colleague said recently “You never write about vertical search anymore – did it fail?”  No.  I don’t need to write about it anymore , because it has succeeded.

Footnote : Warburg Pincus, and Mark Colodny, the Managing Director who has been responsible for Globalspec, deserve recognition for patient and consistent support through the growth period.  As a result they now have a property of high value.  The exit is the real test!

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