When itís safe to use free information
Wednesday, 15th August 2007
What is the secret of making a success of free information Ė whether for users or suppliers?
Itís probably no great surprise that the New York Times is abandoning its charged-for TimesSelect service. But the rival New York Post http://digbig.com/4tkcb reports that charging was apparently unpopular not just with users but also with some of the paperís own columnists, who complained that it limited their web readership.
For suppliers, free information can mean exposure for their business. Writing in her Egg Marketing blog for small business http://digbig.com/4tkch, Susan Payton sensibly points out that although people may hate advertising they love free information.
However, to ensure brand credibility, the free information has to have value. One good example is the law firm Pinsent Masons, which freely publishes information of considerable value to information professionals in its Out Law http://www.out-law.com/ online newsletter.
Now the British Library http://www.bl.uk/news/2007/pressrelease20070807.html
has got together with Yellow Pages to run a series of free Knowing Your Market workshops for entrepreneurs. The aim is to promote the benefits to business of using both Yell and the BLís Business & Intellectual Property Centre Ė but the advice they offer will also be of high value to the entrepreneurs who attend.
End users need to know where they can get hold of intelligence they can trust without having to pay premium prices. In his article in the current VIP http://www.vivavip.com/, competitive intelligence specialist Vernon Prior cites handfuls of trustable free information Ė competitors' job vacancies, promotional material, movement or promotion of people, requests for tenders Ė all potentially available through mass media.
Not all commentators are so authoritative. Free Information for the Taking http://digbig.com/4tkcr is the title of an article by staff writer Candace Lombardi on Cnet News.com. The first source she cites Ė Intute Ė is free at the point of use, but the second Ė Associations Unlimited Ė certainly isnít; thereís no disputing its quality, but itís a fully commercial service from Thomson.
The reason for this becomes apparent later on; sheís talking about information that you can access for free in public libraries. But a casual reader would probably go away with the wrong impression.
Notwithstanding, the message to end-users from both these examples is clear: what it takes to use free information effectively is a bit of imagination and creativity. Information professionals need to be nurturing such ingenuity and discernment among the end users with whom they deal.
But we also need to keep a critical eye on what others are saying about free business information, to make sure that advice from non-specialists doesnít inadvertently mislead. And we particularly need to be able to say with authority when you can trust the free services and when a premium source is the only option.