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Northern Light Debuts New Business Research Engine
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Posted On September 11, 2006


Northern Light (http://www.northernlight.com), the company known for years for its search folders that cluster results, has announced that a new version of its Business Research Engine (BRE) is available. All visitors to the www.nlresearch.com site now have free access to the Business Web and can browse and search the proprietary business content for free. A subscription or a day pass—a new option with this version—is required to read articles from the journals and business news sources and to take advantage of advanced functionality such as Search Alerts, Public Alerts, and user preferences. The company hopes that access to the fairly extensive free search and editorial functionality—not to mention the lack of advertising, pop-ups, paid inclusions, or consumer content—will be an attractive enticement to subscribe. In addition to the open availability, the new BRE offers additional content, a reorganized design, new topic browsing, toggling between content sets, Public Alerts, and more.

A monthly subscription costs $9.95; the new 24-hour day pass costs just $4.95. Subscribers have unlimited access to all content and features. There are also annual enterprise licenses available for $5,000 for up to 50 seats and $36,000 for an unlimited number of users. The service is targeted at individual researchers, market research and professional services firms, and enterprise licensees.

C. David Seuss, CEO of Northern Light, explained the history of its research engine and why this might feel like déjà vu for longtime searchers. "Ten years ago, Northern Light launched our first publicly available search engine with the idea that business professionals would prefer to search industry publications, business news, and the Web from one site using one user interface. Northern Light has been providing business search for a decade now. In 2002, the company's then new owners discontinued free public access to the search engine and focused solely on enterprise users. When the employee group bought the company back in 2003, we immediately decided to return the free public access to our search engine as soon as we had the right product to offer. You cannot imagine how proud we are of this day when we are able to invite the public back. The Little Blue Folders are once again at your service!"

In addition to its celebrated folders, which organize search results and enable drill-down and narrowing of topics, Northern Light is also renowned for the quality of its editorial staff—many of them trained librarians. The new BRE continues this tradition. Editors create and maintain topic searches—some of them fairly elaborate and detailed—so that users can browse more than 400 topic searches spanning every industry in each content collection—Journals, Business Web, and Business News. As Seuss explained: "These editorial features help the user make maximum use of the content and search technology. Our idea is to do as much of the work for the user as possible."

Users can now opt to subscribe to e-mail alerts (Public Alerts) for any of these 400 topics. Users can also easily create a personal Search Alert by clicking the "Save this Search as an Alert" link from any results list, or use "select a datasource" and then click the "Create New Alert" button.

Users can now toggle searches between the content sets (with no re-entering of terms) just by clicking on the relevant data set in the upper left-hand corner of a results page. By the way, in addition to keyword and natural language searches, BRE supports full Boolean capability ( AND, OR, NOT), including parenthetical expressions and nested queries, truncation symbols, and field searching (TITLE:, COMPANY:, TICKER:, URL:, etc.). It's a system that works well for both business end users and information professionals.

Editors also carefully handpick the content for the 20 Market Intelligence Centers (MIC) that cover the landscape of industries. At one time, the company had planned for a possible 50 MICs, but Seuss said that they have worked closely with their customers and the current set is meeting customers' needs at this time—though more could be added as required. (The company first introduced the MICs in February 2005.)

Each MIC provides an overview of selected industries and business trends, with a detailed picture of market segments, issues, breaking news, companies, and government regulatory actions. The editors identify substantive analysis, commentary, and resources and provide daily updates of important stories.

An unsubscribed user can read many of the stories on the MICs and the featured reports and resources from the Web. An unsubscribed user is also able to use the Business Web search without limitations, as well as the new white paper search, which includes access to some 5,000 case studies, Webcasts, company-submitted white papers, and IT product information. Just getting free access to the list of key companies in an industry is a nice bonus. There is actually quite a bit of functionality for the unsubscribed user.

Seuss said the content in the BRE's Business Web has increased dramatically—growing from just 30 million or so a few years ago to more than 100 million pages. This comprises some 22,000 Web sites of public companies, private companies, venture-funded companies, venture capital companies, trade associations, trade journals, MBA programs, corporate law firms, and agencies of the government that regulate business. Shopping, e-retail, and consumer sites such as MySpace are excluded.

Subscribers can access 1.3 million articles from more than 1,400 premium publications that are mostly industry trade journals. Several hundred new publications have been added as part of the product upgrade, including a group of American Banker publications. The service also provides 3 million articles from archived newspapers and newswires stretching back 3 years and 100,000 business news stories from more than 70 newswires, updated every 2 minutes.

Seuss said that future plans for BRE include new content, such as company and investment information, and text analytics capabilities.

Investor Group Services (IGS; http://www.igsboston.com), a 30-person consulting firm that provides strategic market insight for private equity and corporate clients, has been an enterprise customer for BRE for several months. Mindy Berman, managing director, said she had used Northern Light years ago and was delighted to see the current service offering. She praised the powerful yet very easy-to-use search engine, calling it very intuitive. It is available at the desktops of all company consultants who do their own research. She also noted that the Business Web content results were very well-indexed. While BRE doesn't encompass the range and depth of sources of services such as Factiva or LexisNexis, it provides the basics of what IGS requires. "But," she said, "the service from Northern Light is unbelievably cost effective for us. I don't know why everyone doesn't have Northern Light."

Northern Light's other products include the Northern Light Enterprise Search Engine, SinglePoint Market Research Portals, as well as search application professional services, including both development and hosting for custom search engines. All products use Northern Light's patented, proprietary clustering engine, classification engine, and subject taxonomy. The company is privately held and based in Cambridge, Mass.

(Historical notes: Northern Light announced it was discontinuing the free public search and concentrating on enterprise customers just 2 weeks before it announced the acquisition by divine, Inc. in 2002, which was undoubtedly in process. See the NewsBreaks at http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=17271 and http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=17260. For news of the employee buy-back, see http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=16692. Two years ago, on Sept. 30, 2004, Northern Light officially introduced the Business Research Engine and offered it to individuals in addition to enterprises. At that time, a subscription for individuals was $50 per month; a 5-seat license was $2,500 per year.)


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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