It’s All About the Content, Part 1: It’s NOT About Pages
Not long ago, The New York Times ran a piece on IBM’s Watson.
Watson is their latest version of an artificial intelligence machine. Remember Big Blue? In 1997, Big Blue played chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov … and beat him. Unfortunately, a machine that understood chess did not translate into something that business was crying out for.
Undaunted, IBM went forward with Watson—focusing on question-answering. It's somewhat similar to Google and the many search engines, but goes much further.
To show off Watson’s capabilities, they had it play Jeopardy against former champions. Yes, it won. Yeah, we all know Jeopardy is dumbed down these days, but still an impressive technological feat.
How did they prepare Watson for this? A quote from the article: “Over its three-year life, Watson stored the content of tens of millions of documents, which it now accessed to answer questions about almost anything.”
Where did they get this content? Heck, where does Jeopardy get it’s content? If you said, “mostly from published content or content owned by publishers,” you’d be correct. (Assuming of course, you remembered to phrase it in the form of a question.) Obviously, some of this also comes from public documents, court rulings, etc.
And there’s the rub. Publishers have not yet made the transition to grasping that it’s not about book or magazine pages. It’s about pieces of information that their authors are collating, creating, publishing. Publishers sit on a treasure trove, but they (and their customers) have not figured out yet different ways of delivering and using that content. And the business model is certainly unclear.
And, by the way, this also just screams the importance of XML tagging. My colleague Jabin White recently posted two excellent blogs on this site on that topic. Publishers large and small, if you’re still trying to decide if you should get your content tagged, think about what you own, not the printed (or electronic) page.
Watson may not translate today into something that IBM can sell, but we’re close. And it’s one more step in the paradigm shift in what we call “publishing.”
He is currently Production Director for Teachers College Press. Previously, he was Vice President, Global Content and Media Production for Cengage Learning. Prior to that he was Vice President of Production and Manufacturing for Oxford University Press, Pearson/Prentice Hall, Worth Publishers and HarperCollins.
In those capacities, he has been a leader in managing process and content for delivery in as many ways possible.