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Forrester misunderstands its 'intellectual property'

Analysts who think their analysis becomes more valuable the less they give away miss a crucial point: the most valuable analysis is the live application of knowledge, not the packaging of it.

The conventional wisdom is that scarcity makes a product worth buying.

Whether in software development or software analysis, the thinking goes that making your products freely available extinguishes the desire to buy it.

It's a great thought. Unfortunately, it's not true--at least, not to the extent that its proponents would like.

Take Forrester. The venerable analyst firm has decided to stop letting analysts maintain personal blogs and instead to aggregate their blogs on Forrester.com. The content will still be free and viewable by anyone.

In and of itself, this isn't particularly controversial. However, the aggregation will almost certainly rein in the amount and type of information that individual analysts will share.

Thus, some of the thinking that feeds into Forrester's decision strikes me as wrong-headed and counter-productive.

Take Forrester analyst Nigel Fenwick's defense of the move:

Companies like Forrester that rely upon the knowledge of their employees to create tangible client value and associated revenue (this could include consulting firms, newspapers and publishers) must protect their intellectual property. Without doing so, the business model would cease to function--clients would have no reason to pay for the expertise of analysts. So how we blog, and how much we blog, requires a fine balance between using social media to stimulate interest in our expertise, while still leaving readers wanting more. Stimulating demand for our services by delivering client value is at the heart of our business.

If only it were that simple. Forrester seems to realize that its research gets better the more it engages with those outside the firm--i.e. the more smart people the analysts interact with, the better the research will be. But Forrester seems to want the conversation to be a one-way value-creation machine.

In other words, Forrester wants to connect with outsiders to get information it can sell, and it wants to interact with those outsiders to stimulate them to want to buy back their knowledge. But what value is Forrester providing in this exchange, beyond the $4,995 reports that clients can purchase?

More pertinently, why would I want to purchase Forrester's expertise if I have no real taste of what the company has to offer? I don't get that taste by reading teaser blog posts that promise "a wealth of knowledge--but first you pay!"

That's not the way it works.

If I were going to engage an analyst today, it would either be anyone from Redmonk, The 451 Group's Matt Aslett, Forrester's Jeffrey Hammond, or Gartner's Brian Prentice. Why? Because each of these actively blogs or, in Hammond's case, speaks regularly at industry events. And each of them gives more, not less, content/thinking away.

Why is this important? Because that's what I'm buying. When I engage an analyst, I'm not interested in paying for what they thought. I'm paying for what they're thinking. About my business problems.

I have no way of measuring that ability except by what they reveal about their ongoing engagement with others' business problems, which is best revealed through blogging and other public communications.

Forrester's decision to aggregate its analysts' blogs on Forrester.com isn't the problem. The problem is Forrester's belief that clients will continue to pay for prepackaged access to past thoughts.

I'm interested in talking with Prentice because he openly tackles the difficult questions in open source; with Aslett because he talks regularly with open-source business movers and shakers and then shares his findings publicly; with Hammond because he makes his data freely accessible and invites you to engage with him on what it means for you; and with the Redmonk team because they give everything away...except that which is most valuable.

I want to know what everything they know means for me right now. That's what 21st-century analysts do. Perhaps the Forrester team should try that.