January 11, 2010
WEXIS Meets Web 2.0 & Web 3.0: Will Cobalt Satisfy the High Expectations of the Not-So-New Generations of Experienced Researchers?
Jason Wilson reports on what's known and unknown about Project Cobalt, the soon to be appearing new platform for Westlaw at Westlaw 2.0: Project Cobalt. This is a highly recommended post for its detailed information. Greg Lambert is reporting the new platform will be released in February, probably at LegalTech, Feb. 1-3 in New York. Even if Cobalt is merely demonstrated at the trade show, not officially launched then, the timing is just ahead of the Company's 4Q and FY 2009 earnings report.
Both Jason and Greg link to this powerpoint presented at Thomson Reuter's 2009 Investor Day meeting on Oct. 1st. Cobalt was demonstrated at the meeting but no archived webcast is available this year. While there is no road-map for Project Cobalt, the powerpoint also discusses the new but more widely known plans for staging the implementation the Project Utah platform for the financial industry, from version 1 in 2010 to version 2 in 2012.
One catch phrase used in the TR Investor Day powerpoint presentation in connection with Cobalt is "New Generation of Users with Higher Expectations." Essentially the same was said at the unveiling of Utah last August: “People who grew up with Google have totally different expectations of how to interact with information and media. We can’t ignore that" -- Devin Wenig, head of TR's Market Division. See From Messenger Pigeons to the Web. See also TR CEO Tom Glocer's remarks. Obviously true. Equally obvious, the not-so-new generations of Westlaw users have had to lower their Westlaw expectations based on what Westlaw offers and what web innovation makes available so TR is taking a huge but absolutely necessary risk. Time has passed by Westlaw.
I expect we all will be shifting through information once the marketing blitz hits to sort out what Cobalt is really offering when launched. Call me cynical but I think that West agreed to share pricing information for AALL's annual price index last year so that West Thomson Reuters Legal could be an AALL gold sponsor in Denver; it's big splash time. This would be an excellent time for AALL to increase its gold sponsorship threshold to six figures (not including ".01"). I'm predicting the Thomson Reuters Legal party will last longer than two hours this year!
No Chevy Cobalt. Let's start by saying that we're not talking about some Chevrolet Cobalt model of Westlaw. It seem fairly obvious that TR intends to leverage it leading assets in a much more integrated way. Note the "nearly all high-value content exposed & used" language used in the Future of Legal Research slide of the Investor Day powerpoint (#14). About this Jason writes "I’m assuming this means that you will now have access to most of [Thomson Reuters Legal] catalog, perhaps even backlisted items."
Maybe if you are willing to pay for that. My hunch is Cobalt will modularize TR's law, financial and news. Note the Westlaw Business slide in the powerpoint re: the Global platform for the global business lawyer (#9). I'm inclined to think that Cobalt will be packageable to suit institutional needs or versioned like Cobalt Home, Cobalt Professional, Cobalt Uber Premium. Seriously, more likely the former than the latter where package plans will be offered with premium options. For example, TR's Professional Division identifies governments as a growth market. Government users probably won't want to buy or need some of TR's information services.
BigLaw may be interested. Now that "Lexis or Westlaw?" is no longer a blasphemous question at BigLaw firms, Cobalt is clearly intended to regain and increase TR's market share in this very important market segment. Note the TR Professional Division's market forces analysis (left); note which side of the equation large law firms and print products are located.
Content Still Rules. Content, however, will remain king, particularly editorial content added to primary resources and the original content of secondary legal publications. Cobalt will not vaporize the value-added, high quality online content offered by BNA and Wolters Kluwer no matter how much TR Legal may want professional legal researchers to forget that they exist. If "core online legal" in the Company's market forces analysis includes editorial content, TR Legal still has a long march to competitive quality ahead. Perhaps the Company should try to buy BNA (again). Good luck with that.
It will be very interesting to see if TR opens all of Cobalt to law schools as a way of addicting students to it's new feature-rich search service or waits for law profs to demand some facets of Cobalt regardless of the additional expense. If TWEN isn't not fully integrated in the Cobalt experience, LexisNexis may have an opportunity to gain some momentum in the law student addiction marketing objective of electronic course management services. Only "may have" because it really is a pretty poor alternative to TWEN.
WEXIS Meets Web 2.0 & Web 3.0: No Boolean Searching in Cobalt. Both Jason and Greg report that Cobalt is a boolean-free zone. Initially, I thought, "OK, Westlaw has the best natural language search engine in legal search." But much more is probably going on here. In the category of unknowns, Jason writes "How much is the system relying on opencalais for improving semantic search? How much time will it take for the system to learn, and eventually when over the hearts of boolean diehards?" Diehards like me, but a new day is dawning in very expensive legal search and if Cobalt is powered by metadata in some version of Calais, one can be hopeful of a much improved search experience. For more on Thomson Reuter's version of the semantic web, check out the Calais website and this video.
Cobalt is intended to be a landmark development that will result in very expensive legal search competition becoming based on services offered, not more of the usual "tabs and sidebars war" for the near-term. We'll be making comparisons of Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 features when LexisNexis launches its revamped search search, rumored to appear in 2010. The Utah platform offers some such tightly integrated features but comparisons of Utah and Cobalt should be made with extreme caution because of the substantial differences in user populations and platform purposes.
2010 is the year that WEXIS meets current generation web technologies up to and including the semantic web as a component of Tim Berners-Lee's "Web 3.0." Expectations are high. TR Legal's marketing campaign will characterize Cobalt as "evolutionary" to avoid stimulating high anxiety in Westlaw's user population but legal information professionals may very well view Cobalt as revolutionary -- from dedicated terminals to web-based services to this, whatever this really is -- assuming Cobalt meets our expectations.
Pricing. Jason asks and speculates "Does Cobalt come with a new pricing structure? One would think not because it is described as a 'new search tool and design layout.' But then it is suggested that the platform will help the company 'justify premium pricing,' presumably by quickly showing more and more relevant results. Not sure, but it’s a guess."
I expect TR to extract premiums for feature-rich Cobalt. There is no free lunch here. I've seen no mention of how much it has cost TR to develop Cobalt, but in the context of the new Utah platform for the financial industry it was reported that TR made a $1 billion technology investment to upgrade its systems. Cobalt may be part of that $1 billion investment or its costs may be in addition to that figure. Don't know but TR's Market Division is separate from its Professional Division.
TR Legal (will we be forgetting the West brand name soon?) is the major player in TR's Professional Division. See the Division's 2008 pro forma numbers, left. Westlaw alone generated $1.5 billion in global revenue in 2008. Early indications aren't quite as good for 2009. For the first nine months of 2009, operating profits for Legal were down about 1%. As noted above, FY 2009 earnings will be reported in February, around the time Cobalt may be featured at the Legal Tech trade show.
We can expect the Company to extract Legal's profit-maximizing potential. My bottom line prediction -- if TR starts out slowly in premium pricing for Cobalt, that won't last beyond 2012. From then all, full steam ahead for Westlaw 2.0 [insert new brand name here].
Do check out Jason's very informative what's known and unknown about Cobalt post and both Jason's and Greg's blogs for updates. Both are on top of developments and may have published additional information since the writing of this post. [JH]
Surf to http://www.seewestlaw.com
Posted by: R Barrera | Jan 13, 2010 2:44:13 PM
OK. I'm a 44 year old appellate defender, which puts me just short of being a baby boomer, so maybe I'm not supposed to understand.
But do not for the life of me understand how one could do legal research without Boolean searching when one is trying to put very specific ideas together, as opposed to getting the gist of what a case is about.
The lack of proximity searching always strikes me as a problem in Google etc.
Posted by: Michael Orenstein | Jan 11, 2010 12:20:17 PM
Terrific post, and some very well-thought out points. I like the idea that we will see Cobalt packaged like a Microsoft product, with tiers depending on what you need. Although, I'm still baffled as to how all of the different databases are actually going to be served up without TRL being worried about cannibalizing existing sales. The add-ons are so segmented now, I just don't see how it's going to work. Plus, are they going to sell directly to the consumer, or is it still rep-based sales? If the system truly is Web 2.0, then I would expect those features as well.
Posted by: Jason Wilson | Jan 11, 2010 12:16:23 PM