среда, 1 июня 2011 г.

Staying ahead of trends in business

A new article written by SKOLKOVO Library Project manager Helen Edwards.

What is going on in business today? What are the trends and hot topics? Data analysis is fast becoming a cultural phenomenon as the richness in the vast amounts of data generated online is being exploited. Business information providers too are turning their attention to how they can make more sense of the huge volumes of data in business databases to surface this key information and help users stay ahead of trends. Over the last few weeks both factiva.com, the international news service, and Euromonitor, the market research company, have announced major revamps to their products aimed at adding value by including new trending functionality and interactive infographics for data visualization.

Until now most business databases have focused heavily on search. They expect users to know what they are looking for, and once found, to evaluate the content for themselves. Some products, following Google’s famous example, start with an empty search screen; others put new or featured content on the home page or provide navigational guides to help the user browse. But they have not provided any indication of how any particular piece of content fits into the larger picture. It’s true that search results themselves are open to interpretation for trends. If a would-be trend spotter has a hunch, search results can be used to confirm it. Results can be counted, arranged by date or by material type and can be compared with each other. Some products include tag clouds or “more like this” functionality aimed at helping the user explore the database further and perhaps chance upon further useful content.

The new trending tools are different. They aim to look at the reservoir of data as a whole using analytical techniques, identify trends and insights and visualize these for users. factiva.com is introducing Snapshots which provides a single page dynamic view of essential news. Based on news volumes, Snapshots shows trends for people, companies and topics for 31 industries and 19 regions and, coming soon, the ability for users to customize snapshots based on keywords. The new factiva iPad app, coming mid May, has 11 snapshot modules including Radar for companies and topics, Trending to show what is making news now and News by Region, an interactive map to reveal global hotspots. Euromonitor Passport GMID has introduced dashboards which visualize statistical data, for example by interactive maps. Available for industries, countries and consumers, dashboards help users explore the data, for example by showing company growth within its industry category.

But what these tools are not addressing is the other aspect of trends - user interest. The whole social media environment is a non stop popularity contest with content being “liked”, rated, followed, retweeted. Even in the academic world citation counts have long been a measure of influence: the number of times an article has been cited by others is a useful indication of its significance. Unfortunately this importance only evolves over time. Other mechanisms include showing download counts as in the Social Science Research Network or, as Elsevier the journals publisher does, providing lists of the most popular articles. Web 2.0 enabled library catalogues can be configured to list most popular books and to allow users to tag items and, as in Amazon, to add reviews.

All the usage data is available to business database providers. Indeed it often forms the basis of charging. So why would it not be of interest to business database users to have access to usage information as another dimension when deciding what content to focus on? Why shouldn’t social media functionality be introduced to allow users to rate and comment? Why should the providers not include social media monitoring tools to aggregate this data in a meaningful way? Of course there are downsides and not all user generated feedback is useful, but this has not stopped it becoming a major force on the internet and one no brand can afford to ignore. Until business database providers incorporate these capabilities in their products, trend spotters will be increasingly turning to Twitter analysis and its like to see what is really going on.

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