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Factiva chief: Google not a threat

CEO of paid search service asserts: "It's a long way before quality information is free."

Factiva's top executive has dismissed suggestions that the company's paid search services are under threat from high-profile free rivals such as Google.

"Google has actually complemented Factiva," CEO Clare Hart told ZDNet Australia, adding that while it was useful for generic information, news access required a more sophisticated approach. "Our customers recognize the value in the comprehensive service they're getting and the time that they are saving. Time is one of the most important assets to business people.

Factiva, which is owned by news providers Dow Jones and Reuters, sells access to news archives to businesses for inclusion in corporate intranets and knowledge management systems. Hart has recently been traveling through the Asia-Pacific region for a series of customer conferences.

One restriction on a service such as Google News, which claims to index more than 4,500 news sites, is that it can't provide access to articles on subscription sites. "More publishers are recognizing that there is value to their content," Hart said. "It's a long way before quality information is free."

A second challenge for companies such as Google, Hart argued, is their reliance on technology as a means of sorting and classifying information. Factiva processes around 4 million articles every month, and while 70 percent of those can be tagged automatically, the remainder require human intervention, she said.

Eventually, corporate search systems will be able to anticipate queries based on other data such as meeting schedules, Hart predicted. "In the future, the technology behind the search box is going to be much smarter. A lot of the technology is already in place. The challenge is now at the applications level."

"It's going to be a dynamic front end, and it's going to depend on who you are and what you do," Hart added. "I don't even think Bill Gates would say that one size would fit you all the time."

Search systems could certainly bear improvement. A 2003 study by market researcher IDC found that 50 percent of business searches were not successful.

Hart's comments came the same day that Microsoft launched its revamped MSN Search, designed to make it more competitive with Google and other providers. "The format of the site will change and so the quality of what you get and the way it'll look is dramatically improved," Chairman Bill Gates told Australian journalists earlier this week.

Angus Kidman of reported from Sydney.