Becoming A Value-Added Information Professional

Those who search for and provide information, particularly for a fee to others must consider how value can be added to their products. Clients will be much more motivated to become repeat users of services if the output is user friendly. Frequent speaker Mary Ellen Bates outlined some ways of adding value.

It is important to get a different mindset and examine how you appear to your clients. At a minimum, are you as user friendly as a search engine? If there is no added value to your services, there is no perceived value to your clients. Here are some of Mary Ellen’s suggestions for adding value to your information products:

• Don’t just dump a long block of text on the user. Make the output user friendly.
• Use the special output features of the online services. Create customized attractive output formats. Users may not know that this is possible, so educate them.
• Find and use the hidden commands of search services. Most of them are not readily obvious on web-based interfaces. For example, Dialog has User Defined Output features and formats for producing reports from textual and tabular databases. The searcher can determine what gets printed and in what order.
• Design your own format to save yourself time cleaning up output. DataStar has WebCharts and (new) ReportAid, which creates title pages and tables of contents, and formats all articles automatically.
• Use RTF, XML, and/or HTML output.
• Think about how you can extract meaning from a database. For example, instead of simply looking up data on a single company, make a report to compare data on companies. It is possible to data mine many Dialog files that have directory or numerical data (D&B Market Identifiers, etc.).
• Add value to Web content. Look for “information-dense” files that have charts, graphs, or analysis. (One way to do this is to limit your search to files with the .xls extension.) A useful rule of thumb is that if a file is information-dense, it is probably not formatted in plain HTML.
• Look for sources your client does not have or know about (public records, phone research, podcasts, wikis, etc.)

Information about the information is often extremely useful to clients, who often want to know how something has changed over time. For example, BlogPulse’s Trendsearch will tell you how blogging activity on a top has changed over time. Google Trends watches search word trends over time and also maps news articles on topics and explains why there are spikes by providing links to news stories (which can help in preparing for a search in a fee-based service by suggesting time periods limitations for searches).

Furl is one of Mary Ellen’s favorite web sites. It can export bibliographies in different formats so they do not look like standard search results. You can keep the page up to date using Furl.

Here are some useful postprocessing strategies:

• Don’t just download a dump of data. Highlight the good material and extract it.
• Use Excel to generate charts and graphs and make something that people can visualize.
• Always write a cover memo, table of contents, and executive summary.
• Make the information as non-dense as possible.
• Brand everything. Seal the results in a PDF file, and put them in a distinctive cover. Hiring a graphic designer to produce a format and logo for your service is money well spent. To get branding ideas, look at the formatting of market research reports.

Finally, here are some useful tools:
• Shorten URLs with SnipURL or DigBig
Copernic Summarizer is useful for starting to analyse a report. One can give it the original data and it will produce the summary. Several options are available.
NewsBlaster (still in beta testing) performs a similar function. It extracts words from articles and indicates where it found them in the original material.
• Dialog has a workshop on adding value, the literature is available on its training Web site. . Also see Dialog’s “Successful Searching” documentation for information on the Report and User-Defined Output capabilities.

Mary Ellen’s presentations are always very practical, useful, and information-dense, and this one was no exception. The complete presentation will soon be available on her website.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today

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