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An important and on-going challenge for publishers during 2008 will be the continued 'atomisation' of website content, data and functionality.
Atomisation in the context of the digital landscape was the subject of Ashley Friedlein's keynote talk at Internet World earlier this year when E-consultancy's CEO talked about how website content is being parcelled up and re-distributed with unprecedented ease.
Related terms such as 'widgetisation' and fragmentation are increasingly being bandied about in this context as marketers realise that content must be more than just a destination on a website.
Efforts need to be made to ensure visibility on the digital radar by offering something useful through feeds and widgets which people value as part of their personalised homepage real estate.
Of course, there are related challenges around measurement and monetisation but these are obstacles that publishers must surmount.
A survey conducted as part of the Vertical Search report found that 80% of internet professionals are already using industry or sector-specific RSS feeds and more than half of them (54%) are already using personalised homepages.
These high percentages partly reflect the early-adopter nature of E-consultancy's user base but we like to think that the figures are also a useful indicator of what the wider internet-using population will be doing en masse further down the line.
In the quest for off-site visibility, another potential win for specialist publishers could come via a branded search toolbar. The vast majority of our survey respondents said they would 'definitely' or 'probably' use a search toolbar which was specifically relevant for their industry or profession.
Of course, take-up of such a toolbar requires search functionality that serves up better results than popular search engines. Examples of successful vertical search applications in the professional arena include Scirus for scientific research and GlobalSpec for the engineering industry.
Vertical search is an intriguing model for publishers who want to create new advertising revenue streams and build their brands although it remains to be seen whether the model will take off across a broad range of sectors and industries.
Going back to atomisation, it is worth stressing that the broader challenges and opportunities are relevant not only to specialist publishers but also to any brand with a digital presence, for example online retailers who are in the business of producing content in order to sell their products.
At the E-consultancy Digital Resolutions breakfast briefing this week, Ian Jindal talked about the emergence of 'pub-tailers' which is a great portmanteau term to describe how the boundaries between publishing and retailing are becoming increasingly blurred.
He gave the example of IPC's 'housetohome' portal which is not dissimilar to The Sun's online shopping portal based on Affiliate Window technology.
Further reading: Vertical Search Report 2008