Sunday, July 08, 2012

BPN 1605: Software directories

The Dutch Softwaregids (software guide) exists 12,5 years. In September 1999 the Softwaregids started. From 1999 till 2001 the online guide was as a private initiative part of several websites within the VNU Portfolio. But after the bursting of the internet bubble the Softwaregids went on as an independent website and with success. Since its start in 1999 no less than 5.000 software companies have registered  over their 20.000 software products. Annually about 2 million searches are performed. Since 2010 the Softwaregids is multi lingual and active in Belgium and increasingly more software products are registered from abroad, which are not yet represented in The Netherlands.

The objectives have been unchanged since the start. Suppliers of business software can register their products for free. But they have to be validated regularly to guarantee being up to date. Visitors can also search the database for free  for functionality or for branch specificity. Filters can be applied such as price, OS, etc.
The Softwaregids has a history with VNU in internet, but it has even a longer history with VNU since the eighties. VNU is one of my former employers. In 1980 I worked for VNU database Publishing International B.V. (VNU DPI), based in Amsterdam. It was a greenhouse for electronic publishing within the division VNU Business Press Group (VNU BPG). This division was the owner of the weeklies Intermediair for college and university students and alumni, Computable, Textilia and PW (Human resources). Internationally, outside the Benelux, VNU BPG aimed at dominance in the domain of computing, these days called  ICT. One of their first bases abroad was London. English language computing titles were bought from Haymarket Group and a company set up in the heart of London. But as VNU BPL wanted to grow fast, it bought CUYB Ltd in Bournemouth, the publisher of computer year books with the original title Computer Users Year Book, a publication with hardware and software information. It was a profitable acquisition, but their production method was halfway between  the lead era and the photo typesetting.

At that time in 1981 I was asked to be a consultant to the project. With the experience of automation of production processes in reference works like encyclopaedias, this was a real challenge. So the company was moved to HQ in London, but the changing of the production method in order to produce printed reference works and online databases took more time. I was seconded to the London firm to accompany the change op process. But soon after my arrival I found out that there was a new publisher who brought his own advisor with him. He had knowledge of new software (Mapper) and this software had to do the job – without examples and shadow processing. As I could not accept such a situation, I accepted two other projects: a PC software directory and the bringing online of a daily newsletter, a blog avant la letter. The Computer Users Year Book project with Mapper failed badly (as expected). So VNU lost a year of revenues, except for the PC Software directory. However in the year after a new production method was found and the directories existed till the first decennium of 2000 era.

In the meantime the publishing company Tosco had started up the Dutch Software guide and started to collect, maintain, enrich the profiles and is now leading the market. The company has now the impressive database of profiles of 11.000 software companies, 26.000 contact persons and 30.000 software products.

Lesson of this story: small companies can do a specific job better. Congratulations to the Dutch Softwaregids.

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