In the cold, wet and dark of an English summer it can be hard to remember that elsewhere matters digital are progressing at breakneck speed. In these circumstances spending last week in the US and getting sundry updates from European colleagues was like a punch on the nose. Everything and everyone is getting cleverer, and everything that was once the standard and the value  point is now commoditized. Even the poor old science journal, protected treasure of countless publishers , can now be launched out of a box, by any university, research team or laboratory with an internet connection ( The commoditized article, meanwhile, realizes new potential if you envisage it not as the final outcome of the science process, but as an interface itself to a deeper understanding of the knowledge pathway.

If I had doubted this then I had a rude shock when looking at what Jan Velterop and his colleagues have been up to at Utopia Docs ( In its first manifestations this company was about getting more linkage and metadata value from science articles, and I wrote about it under the heading “I Can See So Clearly Now” ( in October 2011. Then I tucked it into the semantic publishing cubbyhole, until warned by one of Jan’s colleagues that I was in danger of not seeing very clearly now at all. And he was right. Utopia Docs 2.0 is worth consideration by anyone as an operational interface for lab research users. Different to but just as valid as Mendeley, and indeed incorporating information from that service as it shows users the relationships an article may have – from Altmetric as well as Mendeley, from Cross-Ref as well as Sherpa/RoMEO (best recommendation for Open Access – use this to move from article to article, opening each one without recourse to a source site or permissions form or subscription barrier/validation.) But the real joy is in the way it handles figures, graphs and chemical structures: if all of this referencing, rotation, reconstituting can be done with figures, then connecting in complex datasets should be easy as well. Add some “social” – bookmarks and comments from other readers/users – and some searchable aids like Wikipedia cross references and lab products directories, and  then you can see the huge distance travelled from beta. As we all now contemplate the science desktop and the service interfaces which will dominate it, here is a another real contender.

It seems to me that science and technology are now moving rapidly down this knowledge handling and referencing track. Yet everything done here is fully applicable to B2B in general, and that just because “publishing” was different in these narrow segments, there is no reason why information services should be different at all. Looking at Innovadex ( this week, I realised that there are now very few business, industrial or scientific sectors without full service vertical search, hugely well attuned to definable client requirements, with service values attached to front and back end. We all still use Google/Bing et al, but when we have heavy duty knowledge-based work to do, there is usually a specialised can-opener to hand now ready to do the job. And these will begin to coalesce with content as the continuing consolidation of our industry takes place. Step up this week’s consolidation case study: IHS and GlobalSpec.

As one who has long carried a torch for GlobalSpec (, I want to congratulate Jeff Killeen and his team on an outstanding job, and Warburg Pincus, who have backed this company since 1996 , for extraordinary foresight and resolve en route to this $136m reward. As someone who knew IHS when they had BRS Search and the biggest and most unwieldy filing cabinet in engineering history, I also want to offer recognition credits to the buyer. This really is a winning solution, in the sense that both of these services together now comprise the complete engineering workflow; that over 10 million design briefs and specifications, and some 50k supplier catalogues, 70 e-newsletters, 15 online shows  and 7 million registered users all provide a huge barrier to entry in this sector; that the barrier is as great in terms of the sector vendors as well as sector buyers; and that none of this was based on technology unique to engineering, but on the tools and analytics that are available to all of us in every segment. And it all took 16 years to mature. And it worked because the difference between the winner and a number of losers was simple: the winners understood better than their competitors how engineers worked, how they communicated and how they solved problems and behaved.

And just time for a footnote along these themes. I was fascinated to see the merger of Yippy Inc ( with MuseGlobal this week. I have known Muse for many years and admired their advocacy of Cloud-based solutions and their patient pursuit of data virtualization solutions at a time when it was only the spooks and the internal security people who were interested. Yippy, formerly Clusty, has a licence from the Vivismo patent (recently bought by IBM, who own 10% of the new company) for the data clustering vehicle, Velocity. So we are in Data-as-a-Service as well as SaaS country here. And here we locate the other trend line which we must watch with care. In this note we have seen user-based solutions bringing public and private content into intense analytical focus on the desktop; we have seen industrial scale vertical search and content alignment resolve workflow issues for professionals; and here we have data solutions which enable major corporates and institutions to impose their own private order on information and intelligence regardless of source. All of these will deploy in all markets at the same time. The clever game will be second-guessing which prevail in which verticals and in what horizontals of organizational size over what time periods.

Now, class, this is a moment of real liberation. You are now free to learn on your own or collaboratively using new methods of learning which are as old as the hills and which depend on the acknowledgement of two Lessons:

LESSON 1: all learning is narrative. Unless it is conveyed in a story form we have no way of relating odd facts to each other.

LESSON 2: all true learning is enjoyable, whether it is done alone, in groups of learners, or by learners grouped around an inspired teacher.

We are now watching the far from inspiring sight of the world’s educational publishers, at all levels, trying to breathe fresh breath into the calcified corpses of print textbooks by recreating them as eTextbooks. This will fail. While we cannot recreate learning itself in the digital environment we can provide an entirely new learning experience, and it is an insult to the intelligence of learners to give them a book-look-alike format that apes print without adding value from digital. And to say that notes and bookmarks are significant value is rubbish. Only if you build a textbook ab initio online (Nature’s Principles of Biology is a case in point) can you claim some credit from instant updating and lifelong ownership. I spent a year of my life – 1969 – 1970 – editing and structuring Biology: A Functional Approach, which became a bestseller at its level for a decade. The narrative created was around deserting the study of plants and animals as classifications and species, the rote learning of a previous generation, and building a storyline around the way life on earth functions – from respiration to reproduction. A narrative about how life works. But that was telling stories then, in the great age of print. This week, I have seen two glimpses of the future, one expressed as as business organization, and the other as highly innovative technology. Both of them undermine completely the idea  that the future has anything to do with the reconstituted formats of print.

In the first instance I found myself this week in the prestigious Mayfair offices of Direct Learning Marketplace ( This, in the jargon of the investor, is a “buy and build” vehicle for acquiring future-facing business assets in the field of business education. Driven by the entrepreneurial energies of Andy Hasoon, it has at its core an idea about learning which is one sustainable arm of  the two-pronged approach to what I now believe are the only viable metodologies for recreating learning in a networked society. By his purchase of Pixelearning, a Coventry company long on my map as an ideas centre in serious gaming, Andy signals an intention to place games at the heart of the learning experiences that he is tackling across the hugely fragmented territory of training, development, in-servicing etc in the business and industrial context. And since scale is a vital component here, and he works in a country with a gaming design tradition to be proud about, the acquisition approach is very appropriate. So to those traditional book publishers who have always said to me “Gaming is interesting but you can never build a big business around it”, I can now say “watch this space”!

And alongside gaming lets place the other future development strategy. In the 1990s, as a external director at Dorling Kindersley before it was bought by Pearson, I revelled in the development of CD-ROM-based multimedia learning experiences. The fact that this year, with the arrival of ePub3, we are at last able to do online what we could then do on disc in 1995 is surely a signal for something to happen. And it has, in Boulder, Colorado. There, a team with huge experience in multiple media development for education, led by Jeff Larsen, Larry Pape and Kevin Johnson, have begun to create video-based narratives that to me exemplify where we are going with tablet-based experiences. Their focus has been the iPad, and their initial field of engagement has again been business education (says a lot for how stroppy businesses can be when served “same old, same old” by training companies?). If you have reached this point please go immediately to and then play the demo video (also on YouTube, where we, as learners/students, download 4 billion videos a day!). Here you will see a narrative core in video on one side of the iPad screen, with chapters, references and linkage on the other. Here you will also see navigation to other related resources. This is a licensable technology, backed by Cloud-based storage and streaming, and surrounded with the developer tools needed to create narrative based video learning on the TellIt technology.

And I thank this team for something else as well. They have avoided the over-hyped, near-meaningless term “multimedia”, which lost its meaning and its way in the dotcom boom/bust, and settled for Transmedia to express what they are doing. This is a good term for a new age of narrative-led, video-based, learning experiences and I hope it catches on. And one last note: everything spoken of here fits wonderfully onto the infrastructure of LMS/VLE/digital repositories that we have oversold to schools and learning institutions, and which now comes into its own. Alongside and around the installation of that infrastructure we also failed to persuade teachers, as well as learners, that learning could be recreated in the network, and improve in the process. Here are two initiatives – in games and video narrative – which at last make good that promise.

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