@ GIIS: Dow Jones Sees Whole New World In Crawling Other People’s Content

Dow Jones (NYSE: NWS), which in April bought web biography crawler Generate, reckons there’s a compelling hypothetical argument for paying creators who author that underlying content – but it’s probably not about to start doing so…

Strategy and biz dev SVP Simon Alterman told the SIIA Global Information Industry Summit in London this morning that Generate, now less snappily rebadged Dow Jones Business & Relationship Index, heralds “potentially a very interesting new business model, a new path” for the publisher. But it’s one with a subtle ethical dimension…

Generate crawls public web pages for company exec profiles, mission statements etc, then reassembles this metadata as an interlinked database that will be sold to DJ customers. If that sounds like a B2B manifestation of the “should we pay for UGC?” debate which sometimes appears in consumer media, well, Alterman, too, has wrestled with the issue a little: “There’s a part of me that says the original author always ought to benefit from it – but it’s difficult to see in practical terms how you would do that.”

Indeed, this is no Backfence. Alterman and Dow Jones Enterprise Media Group VP Greg Merkle later told me they see Generate as akin to the Google (NSDQ: GOOG) model – the companies whose sites it crawls are happy to see their information repackaged for a wider audience, and many actively solicit their attention.

Alterman said professional content production and aggregation is expensive, but: “Generate takes us down potentially a new path … to go out and harvest content that you can find – not take it lock, stock and barrel, but just the interesting bits – take names, put them in a structured database and create new content assets simply by extracting the juice that we can find elsewhere. It has the potential to change the cost side of the equation without affecting the revenue side.” I think that’s a way of saying, scooping up and repackaging information other folk have written is a cheaper way to make money.

The service will continue to operate in its current guise but is likely also to be integrated in to some existing DJ offerings. As for whether those original creators should be paid? In the end, it’s a sociological question, Alterman suggested: “What people are able to do depends a little bit on what society finds acceptable – you can think of it like the law governing narcotics.”