I generally dislike the "map of the market" approach to describing a software market because the actual use of software is too specific to be generalized into abstract dimensions like "high and low end" or "innovative." However, during a recent Content Here leadership offsite (OK, I went on a bike ride), I was thinking about Content Here's positioning in the marketplace and I found a picture to be quite helpful. This is what I came up with (click on the image for a larger view).
The primary point of the diagram is to show that consumers enter the information marketplace with different types of questions and information providers offer different types of answers. The intent of the question appears on a continuum that ranges from problem focused to solution focused. Technology buyers are focused on their business problems. As you progress towards the "problem" end of the spectrum, the questions get more specific and require intimate knowledge of the context and domain to answer. On the other end of the spectrum, the consumers (software vendors and investors) are trying to understand trends that will inform a business strategy for managing (or investing in) a solution. The information on the solution side gets very abstract and speculative because the solutions themselves are designed to be re-usable across many different kinds of problems and software companies need to build products that will be sold in the future. In the center of the spectrum is where the interests of the buyers and sellers converge. Here the buyers are thinking a little beyond the specific problems they are trying to solve today to where they need to be in five years. Here vendors are thinking beyond how their solution measures up today to what buyers need going forward.
All of these questions are important and the marketplace for answers has evolved to answer them. On the sellers side of the diagram, you have the major analyst firms who primarily serve the technology vendors. Their information can also useful to the CIO that is trying to understand trends but it will not be useful for a decision faced today. I didn't put too much thought into the positions of the "sell-side" analysts on the right side of the diagram. I would love input here.
I am more interested in the left side of the diagram — in particular, where Content Here is focused. My unofficial tag line for Content Here is "Content Here helps technology buyers be awesome at making decisions" (format borrowed from the Joel on Software article: "Figuring out what your company is all about"). Content Here tries to help client's answer the questions of what technology to buy and what do to with it. To play this role, I need a deep understanding of how the various technology products work — but not as deep as a systems integrator that specializes in that technology or the software vendor's technical support. Consequently, my reports are very technical compared to other analyst reports. I tend not to go as broad as CMS Watch because I stop keeping up with a product once I realize it is not relevant to my potential client base. Only when I hear that something has changed with the product do I check back (and this is why I don't publish a list of technologies that I follow or don't follow). Most importantly, I need to be able to rapidly discover a client's requirements through an efficient consultative process.
This hybrid approach puts Content Here in between a systems integrator and an analyst company in terms of detail. I am not surprised by low number of competitors because this is a hard place to be. I need to dig into the many technologies I cover by building prototypes and talking with implementors. I also need to understand the business aspects of how the technologies are used. I am always on the challenging slope of the learning curve. I can neither sit back and pontificate on the abstract nor enjoy the luxury of knowing every detail. As difficult as it is to be in this position, I can't think of a more stimulating business to be in.
That is as far as I have thought things through. I would love to hear your feedback on the usefulness of the concept and the positioning of the different players. In particular, if you are a consumer of information, is the information marketplace serving you with the appropriate level of detail?