OVERREACH - How to handle a whole World Wide Web of Junk
By Donald Roll, managing director - europe, Portal B
Junk. Tons of junk. A world of junk, in fact. If you're reading this at
home, you know what I mean. Think of your attic,
basement or garage. Makes you cringe, right? All that stuff gathering
dust, taking up space, getting in the way. You don't want it. You don't
need it. But it's there, nonetheless. And you can't seem to get rid of
Think you're better off at the office? Think again. There's junk (more
than likely) in your bottom drawer, in your briefcase, in your filing
cabinets?everywhere you look!
But the worst junk of all-clutter that has the most direct impact on your
job-isn't in any of those places. It's in your computer, on the Internet
to be more precise, a place that's beginning to resemble your garage or
attic more than your once immaculate view of Cyberspace.
It's a disturbing trend. For an increasing number of accounting, finance
and other professionals, the secret to success in the workplace is access
to timely, high-quality information on topics such as business trends;
companies and industries; and accounting, tax rules and business transactions.
And we need to access the information with a few swift clicks of a mouse,
without delay or distraction.
Valuable Resource or Endless Clutter?
With 2.8 million public websites and approximately 800 million web pages
(and counting), the challenge of finding the right business information
quickly and easily is difficult, at best. "Despite the many benefits
of the Internet, there is no question that companies are now suffering
from information overload," is the way Patricia S. Foy, director
of Global Knowledge Management at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, describes
the situation. Information overload is, by my definition anyway, volumes
of information you don't want or need. Junk, in other words.
The situation is particularly alarming because professionals in many industries
are increasingly turning to the Internet to conduct important business
research. Countless sites have been developed for accountants, financial
executives, attorneys, physicians and management consultants, not to mention
agricultural specialists, hospital administrators and office managers.
Trade associations and trade publications often have sites that can be
searched to retrieve vertical market-specific and job-specific information.
Accountants and auditors have special needs when it comes to business
information, largely because their work can span so many different industries,
subject areas and geographies. Accounting and taxation standards vary
by location. Transactions in different industries can receive different
accounting treatments. And while the rules do not change in real-time,
they change frequently enough that a professional needs to have up-to-date
information on a range of topics close at hand. That information is available
on the Web today. It's just not easily found.
Until recently, there were two web choices when it came
to finding the right background material or the answer to a specific business
question. A search could be conducted using one of the established search
engines or directory products such as Alta Vista, Lycos, Hotbot or Yahoo!
Then came the process of scouring through thousands of page hits for the
right information, all the while looking at ads and e-commerce opportunities
(more junk!). Given the size of the web (Alta Vista, for example, has
more than 250,000,000 pages indexed), using popular search engines-all
originally created just for consumer use-to find very specific business
information is like using a butter knife to perform delicate surgery.
The alternative is navigating from one familiar site to another to see
what information is available. The advantage of this approach is that
there is less "useless" information to sift through. The disadvantage
is that it is
Breaking the Search
Barrier: Less is More
Portal B (www.portalb.com <http://www.portalb.com>), which provides
a set of search tools for hand-selected and hand-indexed websites that
focus solely on business, is one way to solve this problem.
Based on the premise that finding relevant business information online
is a major challenge, Portal B addresses the issue by providing a single
point of access to high-value business information that allows users to
combine search results from three distinct sources: the web, premium databases
and a company's proprietary content.
To ease searching for business and financial information, Portal B provides
detailed abstracts for each Web site and has the ability to turn them
into customized directories that can be named-and searched-by users. In
addition, it offers access to more than 20 proprietary site directories,
and the company's clients have the option of subscribing to and accessing
more than 70 premium databases.
In the financial area, Portal B is especially powerful for searching across
accounting firm websites, as well as business school sites for the latest
in accounting research. Portal B also has developed company "finders,"
or handy links to more than 25,000 global public companies and 100,000
international private companies. You can even retrieve groups of URLs,
based on industry or company size.
A Major Dilemma:
Indexing More or Fewer Web Pages?
To be successful (i.e. attract users), search engines have traditionally
cast as wide a net as possible in terms of the services they offer and
the pages they index. Unlike Portal B, the prevailing theory is that more
Northern Light, which targets both consumers and the general business
public, is a perfect example. It offers users what it calls a Special
Collection of premium content, which includes archival news and press
releases, plus access to investment research and economic data. In terms
of site selection, Northern Light claims to have well over 250,000 web
pages spidered. "While many of our competitors are content to only
index a portion of the Web, our software and technology are optimized
to continue to grow our database," the company states on its Web
Site, concluding that its customers are "getting the most information
available, organized and presented in the most useful way."
Dowjones.com, another business-oriented search engine, takes a more selective
approach. It provides premium content through access to the Dow Jones
News Retrieval service. Its 2,000 or so sites are organized by industry,
which is a plus for some types of business users. These sites have been
selected by the Dow Jones editorial staff, which underscores the
importance of the human element in the entire searching process
The value to users of indexing "more" or "fewer" pages
on the Web was a hot topic in Steve Matthews' May 5, 2000 article in Traffic.
A professional librarian and founder of BPubs.com, Matthews described
a three-step process
for finding information that people need on the Internet:
(1) Go to appropriate portal website;
(2) Enter keyword terms; and
(3) Begin to drill down through 47 million web pages!
The 47 million figure might seem like an exaggeration, but it often doesn't
feel like it. "There is little doubt that the number of indexed pages
on the search engines has become unwieldy," Matthews explains. "Those
who laughed at the 47 million number can try searching for 'business'
on Alta Vista and get back to the rest of the group later." Then
Matthews adds the kicker. "This situation gets even more puzzling
when one considers the continued criticisms of the search engines for
only indexing 20 percent of the available pages on the Net, or 25 percent
or 30 percent. The search engines should be indexing fewer pages, not
In his article, Matthews adds an exclamation point. "Technology is
great," he writes, "but unless the general population is willing
to take the time to master 'Boolean Operators,' the best methodology available
is going to be plain old human classification."
It's ironic that human participation is indispensable to the searching
process at a time when technology seems to increasingly dominate our lives.
But, in some ways, better, faster, more efficient searching for business
information means going back to basics, and using human talent, not just
computers, to provide us with the best information that we need to do
Most important, it sharply reduces the amount of junk we encounter on
the Internet - an exciting development that will help make our business
lives much more productive.