Tim Buckley Owen The happy knack of finding unknown unknowns
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Saturday, 16th February 2008 Sign in to MyJinfo or create an account be able to star items Printable version Subscribe via RSS to get updates as soon as Blog items are added

By Tim Buckley Owen

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However else history treats him, Donald Rumsfeld will surely be remembered for his remark that there are known unknowns and unknown unknowns. It’s worth remembering while we consider the findings of last month’s IRN report on the European B2B information market. One perhaps surprising finding http://digbig.com/4wjxd is that, of the three segments surveyed, magazines & directories are still the biggest – suggesting, perhaps, that there is still perceived business value in the serendipity of magazine browsing, a classic way to encounter unknown unknowns. Equally surprisingly, conferences & exhibitions are growing fastest – faster than the third segment surveyed, databases & directories. ‘In the Internet age, businesses are increasingly valuing face-to-face contact and are also looking at exhibitions and conferences as ideal platforms to build and promote brands to highly targeted client groups,’ IRN suggests. It’s certainly nice to see the conventional wisdom that the internet is now the communication medium of choice given a timely dent by both these findings. But IRN’s subsequent comment – ‘Niche rather than mass marketing is a growing preference’ – should perhaps ring some alarm bells. It’s all about targeting and focus. Take Reuters’ new Calais service http://www.OpenCalais.com which allows any organisation to make use of semantic tagging to organise their own unstructured documents. ‘Web 2.0 applications have set content free to a great extent, but the explosive distribution of information doesn’t always help users find exactly what they need, when they need it’ points out Reuters’ Search & Content Technologies President Gerry Campbell. True enough – but what web 2.0 does do is encourage the unstructured exchanges from which new business ideas are born – more unknown unknowns. Or take Prospect Portfolio, a new service in which content provided by LexisNexis is integrated with AppExchange from Salesforce.com, one of the world’s leading customer relationship management application suppliers. According to Salesforce.com’s chief marketing officer Clarence So http://www.lexisnexis.com/media/press-release.aspx?id=1037.asp the link with LexisNexis will ‘help their sales teams increase the amount of time selling and decrease the time prepping for the call’. True again – but a focus on leveraging existing prospects to create new leads, no matter how cleverly it’s done, seems to offer no mechanism for spotting the new opportunity that springs up from a totally unexpected direction. Unknown unknowns again. Ironically, it was a member of Salesforce’s own staff, Clara Shih, who referred in her blog http://blogs.salesforce.com/the_appexchange_blog/2008/01/b2b-social-netw.html to the ‘creative destruction’ that unstructured web 2.0 exchanges could generate. What’s more, she was reporting on her experiences at a face-to-face exchange – the Software Information Industry Association conference in New York. So perhaps it’s time to pay a bit less attention to niches and targeting and a bit more to how we can rediscover the serendipity of unknown unknowns.

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