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Dialog Gets Smart with Outsmart Company Profiles
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Posted On May 30, 2000


Searchers will soon be able to buy extensive company profiles from Dialog (http://www.dialog.com) that are replete with information extracted from a range of its business databases and arranged in a handsome, downloadable Microsoft Word document. How much? A mere $100 per company. Though this price may appear high to a Web end-user audience who expects free or almost-free content (such as Hoover's subscription fee of $130 a year), experienced professional searchers will probably still see it as a bargain price. Look at all that time saved in re-packaging masses of downloaded data into a presentable package. An interview with Dialog executives, including president and CEO Patrick Sommers, revealed that this is just the tip of the iceberg in the company's future plans. Dialog expects to build more products that will provide customer-driven, value-added packages of data culled from its 9 terabyte collection. Sommers also indicated that he plans to offer free copies of WebCheck—what he considers "the best Web search software"—to supplement searching of traditional databases with high-quality Web research.

At present, the Outsmart Company Profile allows for searching only by company name or stock-ticker symbol. In time, Dialog may produce services that develop lists of candidate companies based on user-defined criteria, similar to the customization profile offered by NEXIS' Company Dossiers. [For more on this competitive product that's currently in the marketplace, read the November 8, 1999 NewsBreak at http://www.infotoday.com/newsbreaks/nb1108-3.htm.]

The Outsmart Company Profile document has a table of contents, handsome fonts and graphics, and integrated tables and graphs. It includes the following:

Snapshot
Corporate Officers
Stock Price
Other Information
Latest News
Financial Overview
Income Statement
Balance Sheet
Annual Statement of Cash Flows
Detailed Quarterly Income Statement
Detailed Quarterly Balance Sheet
Stock Performance
Bond Information
Industry Financial Comparison
Financial News
Company Description
Corporate Background
Corporate Structure
Corporate Management
Patents and Trademarks
Product News
Mergers, Acquisitions, and Alliances
Joint Venture News
Analysts' Reports
Legal News
Recent SEC Filings
Sources for the information come from a range of Dialog business files, including Thomson databases as well as Disclosure, EDGAR Online, and even Reed Elsevier (owner of LEXIS-NEXIS). Currency, according to product manger John Loyack, is as immediate as Dialog's loading of the data. If the system carries the data, so will the Outsmart Company Profile. At present, most of the business news data appearing in the sample report available now on the site consists of press-release abstracts. Sommers indicated that in the future Dialog wants to tap all the 300,000 trade journal sources available on the service.

Other reports currently under development include Corporate Intelligence Update, Drug Classification Report, Drug Pipeline Charts/Reports, Foreign Investment Outlook, Legal and Regulatory Guide, Mergers & Acquisitions, Pharmaceutical Patent Report, and Sales Management Analysis. Dialog plans to integrate new products with the Company Profile with clickthrough layering that allows users to shop around for the information they want, as well as offer the new products directly.

Dialog has more online business directories on its system than any other traditional information service, and, as a rule, its field-driven architecture allows for sophisticated slicing and dicing. Sommers said: "This type of company report or service is irrevocably tied to an information provider's (IP) content, limiting the scope of the reports that can be created. Because Dialog has access to a larger dataset, we are able to offer an all-embracing report for users who need to see the complete picture without recourse to searching across multiple sources."

Only users with credit cards can purchase Outsmart Company Profiles at present, though Dialog plans to market to corporations and through other concerns, possibly with other pricing models. For example, the company suggested merging Outsmart products with its Dialog Intranet Toolkit to allow customized content and formats. Sommers indicated that it was too early yet to release exact marketing plans. Dialog had a 90-day task force set up to look at new opportunities stemming from its newfound status as a Thomson subsidiary.

Sommers clearly was impatient to start the Outsmart product process. He was also relieved that access to Thomson resources would allow Dialog to push high-quality products already on its shelves, particularly WebCheck. Though praised in concept by initial reviewers, many searchers who have tried to access the Dialog/BrightStation Web searching tool have been frustrated by very slow speeds and small output. Sommers explained that though Dialog had 400 million Web pages reachable through its database, in the past the company only had one server handling it, which restricted the number of pages reachable at any one time to 100 million and slowed the search process. That will change and soon. Sommers plans to make WebCheck available for free and add it to Outsmart products where appropriate.

How useful is the Outsmart Company Profile? We'll have to wait and see. Initially the product will only cover the Standard & Poor's 500, though they expect to cover 25,000 public, private, and international companies by the end of the year. Corporate librarians may find it more useful when Dialog completes plans to offer the documents through intranet connections.

Already experienced searchers seem to view the new package with some anticipation. Amelia Kassel, a leading information broker (and "Web Wise Ways" columnist for Searcher magazine), said: "I looked at the sample … it is definitely more all-inclusive in terms of topics covered than other packaged company reports I've seen in the past. It's more expensive, but could be worth it if the quality of all the reports is like the sample, including when comparing it to those from OneSource or Hoover's. Gale and LEXIS-NEXIS have some similar products in the market that I have not seen yet. I must say that if these products develop fully, they may have the effect of putting Dialog on top again as one of the premier vendors—not that I ever lost faith in them, but I've worried a lot." On the other hand, Kassel thought the price a little high for Web users.

How stable is the product? What if database producers object? Sommers admitted that Dialog may face some challenges from information providers, particularly when they want to select specific data elements rather than whole records, due to some superior quality or the greater currency of one database producer's product over another's. However, he hoped the company could work through any such difficulties. At this point, Sommers was just glad that Dialog had finally gotten over the initial hump of getting a product to market.

In time Sommers expects that Dialog will generate a range of products from this project, some with significant value-added from human contributions and others with reduced content and reduced prices. He also expects to let users customize their own products, specifying sources and formats. The product is built using a modular architecture that should allow for substantial flexibility. The issue of pricing is still open, according to Sommers, in terms of what price is optimal in the marketplace. He expects different gradations of prices will probably prevail.


Barbara Quint is contributing editor for NewsBreaks, senior editor of Online Searcher, and a columnist for Information Today.

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