By Jason Wilson
I find people who aren’t in the business of creating original practice-oriented content have some funny prognostications about what the future of the legal publishing (read: creating, broadcasting, and syndicating) business holds. Take, for example, Kevin O’Keefe’s recent post brazenly titled “Legal content on iPad and tablets: What’s the business model for publishers and law firms?” From the piece, O’Keefe has this to say:
You’re in the media business in that you share your intellectual capital via blogs. You’ve led with content for client development for years, and that will become increasingly important with the iPad, and tablets. [¶] If you think you’ve seen wide distribution of your content via the Web and blogs, you haven’t seen anything close to what iPad, tablet, and other mobile devices are going to enable you to do as far as content delivery and distribution. [¶] Your target audience of clients and influencers will expect to see the type of content you share on blogs for free. Properly filtered and curated, your audience’s demand for free content may surprisingly put you ahead of traditional legal publishers, whether they be Thomson-West, LexisNexis, or ALM who are looking to be paid for their content. [¶] As [Fred] Wilson says, the onus is on developers and publishers like us at LexBlog to filter and curate the best in legal blog content and to build business models that support that. For you as lawyers and law firms, that’s great—you get wide spread distribution to your targeted audience.
I suspect that O’Keefe, who is in the business of selling blogs and law firms as internet brands, intends “properly filtered and curated” to mean outlets such as LexMonitor or perhaps LexisWeb, which is vastly different from what I understand the idea of curation to be. Several months ago, I wrote a column for Slaw titled Curating the Legal Web? It was in the form of a question because the task of doing it (curating) properly—even with advances in text mining—seems near impossible (BUT not an unworthy goal) given the size of the database and the public’s desire for free consumption. In other words, it is difficult to make a business case for curating it. But what was most important about my post was this observation (referring to the ever growing body of law(yer)-created content):
Curating this growing body of analytical content will be difficult. It suggests a person-machine process of locating and separating good content from bad, and categorizing, verifying, authenticating, and editorializing that content.
People like O’Keefe don’t care about verification, authentication, editorializing, or rigid taxonomies. Their faith is placed in the corpus of “intellectual property” their clients create, and the tags, indexing, and search engines that help you (the “clients and influencers,” whoever you might be) access it. This is the supposed threat to Thomson Reuters, Reed Elsevier, Wolters Kluwer, ALM, and the like. But in the end, system’s like O’Keefe’s leave you, dear lawyer, law professor, law student, etc., to separate the chaff from the wheat, to determine whether, for example, a search for “deadlines federal motion for summary judgment” that pulls up a seemingly relevant and intelligent piece from 2008 hasn’t been rendered obsolete by the 2009 amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, assuming you knew about the amendments. This is the crux of true curation, at least if we are to pay any homage to the museum crowd.
If you subscribe to the notion that as lawyers, law professors, law students, paralegals, and on create more digestible web content, access to (and understanding of) law will flow as easily as water from a fountain, then you are a fool. It won’t happen unless there is a greater organizing and authenticating system at work, which is something that doesn’t currently exist for the vast Tubes.
One of my favorite observations of 2010 comes from Bill Pollak, CEO of ALM. In talking about ALM’s transition from a traditional print publisher to “digitally-focused” media company he made this observation:
ALM’s Transition from Technology-Constrained to Content-Constrained. For years we have viewed technology as a major constraint on our growth, and that belief has driven the investments we have made in web technology and basic digital publishing infrastructure. With those investments now on line, and further important investments scheduled for the coming year, we are rapidly approaching the point where a lack of up-to-date technology will no longer be our problem. Instead, as those who sat in budget meetings may have heard me say, the new constraint will be content. We’re going to need to create, curate, license and otherwise gain access to the content we’ll need for our rapidly growing family of websites and data products. Some of that content may be “news” in the traditional sense, but I suspect only a small part. More will be substantive, must-have information that our audience values either on its own or when integrated with other content that makes it more valuable. Content is the new constraint, since without it we cannot launch all the new products we have in our plans for the next several years. And that’s a very big transformation for this company.
I hope you heard it. “Content is the new constraint.” And as I read Pollak’s post, “content” isn’t akin to O’Keefe’s version of filtering and curating. It’s about substantive, authenticated, and valuable information that users of ALM’s Smart Litigator platform and other digital products will find relevant, important, and useful. It may come from blogs, but it may also come from other (gasp!) traditional publishers. But wherever it comes from, making lawyers and legal professionals feel smart and current after reading it will be job number one, which is something I can’t say for the Tubes (or it’s current filters) now.
[Image (CC) by Alien-TJE]