For a writer, strategist or researcher, or anybody looking for information with purpose, the internet is a phenomenal tool.
Even if search engines only provide access to less than 1% of what’s out there on the web (see Bright Planet white paper on Deep web), what is accessible is, on its own scale, overwhelming. It’s also overwhelming to work with.
Who hasn’t run even an obscure search only to be bombarded with thousands more results than wanted, not counting the irrelevant, the unwanted, or the obtuse. And what do you do once you’ve found what you were looking for? Print outs reams of pages? Cut and Paste a quotation from a document to another? Manually plug stock quotations into a spreadsheet? Or maybe you bookmark a page for later, even though basic book marking functionality is nothing more than a questionably organized archive who’s files sometimes get lost (page not found error?).
Admittedly, none of this matters if the question is a one time thing like the lowest airfare from New York to Boston, or whether the Red Sox beat the Yankees at Fenway. The challenge is with data reused over time like: if you’re writing a business plan and need reams of market data; if you’re a Venture Capitalist trying to evaluate that business plan; if you’re an analyst, an amateur journalist, a compulsive vacation planner, a student …. if you are anyone looking for more than instant gratification.
Among the tools that have been around a while are web capture utilities. Snagit is pretty neat. Using it is like cutting and pasting on steroids, minus the roid rage. It helps with presentations, anything where cutting and pasting from a browser to a document. The introduction of 3D windows and transparent windows in Windows Vista may help work with multiple data sources too (and Mac users already have similar functionality in their OS). The latest Web 2.0 fad – Social Clipping Services, which are sprouting up everywhere, will help a little bit too.
In the past year there has been a proliferation of these clipping service companies. Most require free registration and then provide a shareable network repository for saved data – specifically clipped pieces from a website. It’s an expansion of the features first offered by Social (or peer based) Bookmarking Services like Delicio.us which let users store their favorites in an online archive (rather than on the local PC) and tag the content with keywords for indexing and search.
The hook for social clipping services is that they allow users to capture bits of data smaller than a single page. Imagine book-marking a paragraph from a news article, instead of the whole thing and annotating it with a memorable key word. You can then access the bookmark from any computer, share it with others, or organize by the tags you annotated with. Some of these companies are specializing: focusing on shopping markets, sharing recommendations, or working with specific types of web content
Kaboodle is one of the companies offering these kinds of services. Their published mission is “makeit easy to collect, organize, and share information for shopping, travel or any other research.” Google is also in the arena with a service called Google Notebooks.
Most of these offerings are what I think of as "features" and not products or complete services. Their rightful place seems in the middle of a broader portfolio of services (as is the case with Google Notebooks), still I’m happy to see the innovation. Clipping Services are like a digital highlighter. They let me mark what’s of interest and save it for later more efficiently than bookmarks. And they are also useful in collaborative work environments too. I can share data with fellow researchers.
I expect social clipping services will become features in broader social networks (MySpace, Facebook, etc) or major web portals (Yahoo, Google, MSN etc). I think some users will find sharing functionality a fun novelty, others a functional utility.
I don’t expect many Social Clipping Services will survive independently in the long term. The means of revenue generation are limited. An “if we build it they will come and advertisers will pay” approach is sketchy given how few barriers to entry there are in the marketplace. There are no real technological leaps preventing competitors from offering similar services. All but a few who go for advertisers are likely to fail. Only those able to get, and sustain, a large user base have a shot.
Clipping services are among a number of companies riding on the tail wave of social networks. It’s like the cottage industry of accessories spawned in support of iPods (minus the tangible product).
Some of these adjunct service companies are part of a trend with some venture investors to build companies for acquisition and not stand-alone success. The focus in such an environment can be on offering features, not products; on building user base and not revenue. The fact that these services get venture funding is neither a validation of a business model nor suggestion of survivability. It just means there’s money being gambled.
Winners will be sold off for someone else to monetize or roll-up into a larger service. Losers will disappear. And the fact that Google is already in the space takes away one potential buyer but it may spur its competitors to buy rather than build.
Still, regardless of whether these succeed as companies, I’m happy to see their innovations. Anything that makes working with the net more efficient is an improvement by me.