ORGANIZATION: Dow Jones & Co., www.solutions.dowjones.com, www.factiva.com
VENDOR OR SOLUTION PROVIDER OF CHOICE: FAST, www.fastsearch.com
From ‘Flimsie’ to Foremost
By definition, "flimsy" doesn’t mean much. But for Charles Dow, Edward Jones, and Charles Bergstresser in 1882 New York City, it was everything. The first product the trio generated through their newly formed Dow Jones & Co. was a handwritten daily news bulletin—a "flimsie"—they then delivered to subscribers in the city’s financial district. Numerous iconic business information resources would follow, including The Wall Street Journal (in 1889), the Dow Jones Industrial Average (1896), and Barron’s (1921). Today,Dow Jones & Co.’s market position as a business content and information services powerhouse is irrefutable, especially after its late 2007 acquisition by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
Formed in 1999 as a joint venture of Dow Jones and Reuters, the Dow Jones Factiva subsidiary of the Dow Jones Enterprise Media Group (EMG) aggregates and sells online business news and information to global enterprises in the financial, corporate, professional services, and government sectors. Its flagship product, Factiva.com, debuted in 2001 as a means of delivering"world-class content alongside an organization’s internal data to enterprise in formation solutions," says Bill Flannery, director of strategic technologies for Dow Jones EMG. Solely owned by Dow Jones since 2006, Factiva offers role-based applications and tools (among them Factiva iWorks and FactivaReader) tailored to meet the information needs of professional and nonprofessional researchers and entire organizations. It services nearly 1.8 million paying subscribers, including BP, Cisco, and Ernst & Young.
Overcoming Information Overload
According to IDC, business professionals spend more than 25% of their workweek looking for internal and external information to support business decisions; more than 50% of those searches are unsuccessful. In a 2005 report on text mining, IDC drew attention to the "alarming fact" that "there’s already more information flooding into most organizations than any one person,or even a large team of people, can get through in a day. Most individuals manage to survive this deluge by ignoring large parts of it. But organizations can’t afford to ignore it."
Flannery acknowledges that information overload "has long been a problem for all businesspeople, who are also pressed for time to make decisions." For the information and PR professionals, knowledge managers, CIOs, and marketing and product management executives who rely on information to do their jobs better, success is inextricably tied to the quality of searches. Flannery says Dow Jones Factiva’s customer feedback-driven product development convinced company executives that "customers needed new methods of sifting through large quantities of content and quicker ways of retrieving information."
In 2003 Factiva began looking at available technologies that"would expand our capabilities to meet these requirements while delivering meaningful content that was relevant to customers’ job functions." Factiva was looking specifically for a scalable solution that would deliver backwards capability with Dow Jones’ existing search services; retain sophisticated Boolean search capabilities; and support relevancy ranking, contextual snippets, intelligent indexing, and other parameters and controls that tinformation experts have come to rely on. "We knew users would quickly adopt technologies that speed their access to content, which is where current websearch engines fall short," Flannery explains. "Newer technologies—like information visualization and text mining—and the sophisticated use of taxonomies and ontologies had made the process of scrolling through lists of headlines and websites obsolete."
Giving Factiva subscribers a better search experience wouldmean deploying those technologies in new ways. "We believed enterprises would demand a role-based environment," Flannery says—one in which systems "are smart enough to understand knowledge workers as individuals— their industries, their jobs,and their daily tasks—and then help them accomplish relevant tasks more effectively."
The Dow Jones Factiva team spent much of 2004 looking for a technology partner to help them achieve those goals. After considering four vendors and an open source candidate, they tapped Fast Search & Transfer (FAST) for the job that December.
Headquartered in Oslo, Norway, with offices on six continents, FAST delivers enterprise search technologies and solutions to innovative companies such as AOL, Dell, and LexisNexis. Its core product, FAST ESP, is a flexible, scalable enterprise search platform that allows for the production of searchable indexes. According to Flannery, FAST was "strategically aligned with our thinking in terms of metadata and provided new ways to link unstructured content with the structured assets we already had in place."What’s more, its suburban Boston- and Oslo-based development team was"willing to extend FAST ESP’s search capabilities to support our needs and legacy search capabilities."
Factiva and FAST worked together throughout 2005 to leverage Factiva’s key assets using the "Contextual Insight" capabilities FAST ESP provides. "Most of our focus was on system engineering with respect to scale, content volume, and update and query rates," Flannery says of the development process. "Equally important were the extensions FAST gave its engine to support functionality. Results are still based on the company’s extensive collection of business information, but in Search 2.0, "the way you see them is far more useful," Flannery explains. A central feature is the Discovery Pane on the right side of the results page, which delivers a graphics-driven "visualization of company and industry news, highlights at a glance, and issues and trends "that are relevant to the user doing the backward compatibility with our legacy search products. Through our source-processing of the content, we had valuable metadata to populate the fields with, which FAST calls ‘navigators.’
For Factiva Search 2.0, we created a ‘charting’ service in our platform to drive visualization as a tool for discovery to provide a more intuitive user experience. Selecting the number of navigators in a FAST-based system is an important configuration step, as a balance must be struck between system resources consumed and the other parameters of the search system you’re building."
Other configuration aspects that impact the user experience "are the creation of rank profiles for relevancy ranking of results and the choice of a teaser configuration to define a dynamic contextual snippet of text for each hit in a search result," he continues. "For rank profiles, we chose a balance between document relevancy based on [the] location of query terms in a document, the proximity of the terms to each other, and the freshness of the document. For the teaser, we had to have a configuration that met the contractual obligations of our information providers."
Dow Jones Factiva unveiled Factiva Search 2.0 on Jan. 18, 2006. Product highlights included true web searches ranked by relevancy or date; contextual snippets that determine article relevance; powerful filters that organize search results into logical clusters by subjects, companies,industries, sources,and news concepts; and data visualization search (based on his or her role within the organization). Because the pane is intuitive and interactive, users can easily navigate to deeper levels of information as needed.
By leveraging text-mining technologies, advanced content visualization, and Factiva’s patented Intelligent Indexing taxonomy, Flannery says Factiva Search 2.0 helps business pros "quickly find the information they need to support critical business decisions." With it, they "can now see relationships among various pieces of information"— an outcome, he adds, "that would be extremely labor-intensive to identify without the new technology."
Three Years Later
As with all Factiva products, Search 2.0 delivers content (much of it updated continuously) from more than 19,000 publication, website,and picture sources worldwide. A few things have changed since its launch,however.
In August 2006, Simba reported that Dow Jones Factiva had reached the No. 1 market position in the Current Awareness News and Research Online industry. In April 2008, FAST became a Microsoft subsidiary. And in August 2008, Outsell’s "Search, Aggregation & Syndication: 2007 Final Market Size and Share Report" ranked Dow Jones Factiva "above our top traditional competitors and among the likes of Google and Yahoo!," Flannery says. "Examples like these lend credibility to the market growth we’ve experienced since Factiva Search 2.0’s inception."
The breadth and depth of Factiva searches have changed as well, he continues, with multimedia, visualization, alert widget, and newsletter enhancements now available that "not only give users the ability to gather relevant content, but also give them the option to disseminate it."
And although it was originally intended "to enhance the user search experience" for Dow Jones Factiva subscribers (who in 2008 reported a 50% increase in Search 2.0 usage over the previous year), Flannery says the company "now uses the solution across many EMG product lines."
About the Author
Marla Mesek Clark (firstname.lastname@example.org)is an editor and freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va. Her work has appeared in EContent, EventDV,and EMedia magazines, among other publications.