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Monitoring the Net
by
Posted On June 1, 2001
Companies have long used an assortment of services for monitoring what is said about them and their competition. This has included services like newspaper clipping, broadcast monitoring, database research and online alerts, professional research services, and consumer opinion research. Recently, Internet monitoring has emerged to join the choices for attempting comprehensive coverage of news and opinions, which are usually scrutinized for market research, brand management, or competitive intelligence applications. A number of companies now offer Internet monitoring services that vary widely in coverage, features, and cost.

At the recent InfoToday 2001 conference, a new market intelligence service was launched that purports to deliver not only news but also the buzz on the Internet about companies and products. Netpinions is a new custom subscription service from CyberAlert, Inc. (http://www.cyberalert.com) that offers daily market intelligence reports to companies. In a press conference at the show, William Comcowich, CyberAlert's president and CEO, stressed that the service provides an automated, cost-effective way for companies to tap into the Internet-"the largest repository of news, reviews, and consumer opinion"-not as a replacement for but as a supplement to their traditional market research techniques, such as focus groups and surveys.

Netpinions automatically monitors the Internet daily for news, reviews, opinions, attitudes, facts, and insights on topics with search terms specified by clients. The CyberAlert staff works closely with clients to set up their search queries, which can be quite long and complex, to achieve very targeted results. Search terms can include brand name, issue, trend, product category, or other subject. The system gathers and filters news and consumer opinion from more than 4,200 Web publications; over 64,000 message boards and forums; and more than 5 million commercial, government, and academic Web sites, including corporate attack sites.

Comcowich noted that the daily feedback can provide early warning of problems in brand perceptions, product features, positioning, pricing, customer service, distribution channels, trademark infringement, and other aspects of brand management. He mentioned that a software firm found dissatisfaction with specific product features and was quickly able to design a patch to fix it that customers could download. Other companies found out about misrepresented products, customer dissatisfaction with policies, and competitor strategies.

CyberAlert originally developed its technology in 1997 while working on a custom development project for a pharmaceutical firm. The company gradually evolved from just providing clippings for PR purposes in earlier versions of the technology to providing expanded coverage of consumer opinion sites. The Netpinions service includes more Web forums and discussion groups than the also available CyberAlert 3.0 product and provides enhanced market research capabilities. According to Comcowich, its major users are in the technical and financial areas. He also said, "We expect to be adding other features specific to market research shortly, including more data-mining features, that will further differentiate the service."

A Netpinions subscription with daily intelligence reports for one topic is $4,865 per year, including setup charges. A search topic can be any Boolean-type query with multiple search terms. During the initial launch period for Netpinions, CyberAlert is offering trials consisting of five Netpinions searches with daily intelligence reports for a total cost of $5,865 for 3 months. Additional information is available at http://www.cyberalert.com/netpinions.html.

Netpinions is designed as an enterprise system. According to the company, it features a built-in text retrieval, knowledge management, and data mining system (part of the CyberAlert 3.0 technology). It also includes special features that permit corporate clients to make notations, share retrieved information with colleagues, and apply their standard measurement and content analysis tools to the cached full-text database. Information gathered from the Internet by Netpinions can also be integrated with results of other consumer opinion research, including surveys and focus groups.

As I mentioned, there are other options for Internet monitoring services that vary widely in coverage, features, and cost. Choices can be as simple and bare bones as using a free news alert service, such as Northern Light's or Yahoo! or Excite's NewsTracker, to the much more costly and comprehensive capabilities of a service like NetCurrents (costing from $1,500 to $7,500 per month and offering strategic analysis and recommendations). Other service choices include CyberClipping,

Webclipping.com, eWatch, and CyberScan. You might like to review the two Searcher articles (in the July/August and September 2000 issues) by Amelia Kassel last year that provided a roundup and some testing of Web monitoring and clipping services [available at http://www.infotoday.com/searcher]. Stay tuned as we continue to report on developments in this area, in both Information Today and Searcher.


Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.


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