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Personalized News Services Come of Age

IF newspapers try to deliver "all the news that's fit to print," computerized news services are heading in the opposite direction: news tailored to the individual.

Personalized news services will be the "next thing to take off" in workplace computer networks, predicts Doug Kester, president and founder of Reach Networks Inc. in New York.

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The performance of such information services needs to be improved, Mr. Kester acknowledges. But he says the potential market is huge: "The need is universal."

With up-to-the-minute information becoming more widely available, companies that make use of it will have an advantage over the competition, analysts say.

"Most companies are just at the stage of providing electronic mail," which allows messages to flow easily from one office to another, Kester says. "These systems are going to get more comprehensive," including news as well.

A view of the future, he suggests, is the accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand, which installed a news system last summer for its 4,000 partners and managers nationwide. Reach provides the software "interface" by which users can get access to breaking news or retrieve stories several weeks old. The news itself comes to Reach from DowVision, a division of Dow Jones & Co. that distributes its own and other news wires. Coopers & Lybrand negotiated separate fees with DowVision and Reach, which allow unlimited u se of the system.

"If you're interested in railroads and Argentina," Reach's computer system will sift these news wires for items on those topics, Kester explains. When a user "logs in" to the Reach system, he will find a blinking signal if there are new stories on these topics.

"It's very user-friendly," says David Nestor, Coopers & Lybrand's public relations director. He uses the service to monitor news about the company and the industry. Others keep tabs on tax issues or news about clients they work with.

The basic rate for Reach's service is $10 per user per month in a company with 1,000 users, Kester says. With more users, the price drops further. DowVision's list price for 1,000 users is $12 per user per month. DowVision offers the text of the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones News Service, Professional Investor Report, the Business Wire, and other news services.

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Founded in 1990, DowVision forges alliances with companies such as Reach, which often package the news with features such as electronic mail and "bulletin boards." One DowVision partner, Desktop Data of Waltham, Mass., also provides news on its own through its NewsEDGE product.

DowVision sees its mission as getting news straight to the end user, bypassing corporate libraries or clipping services. About 14 million workers in North America have computers on their desks, but only 600,000 workers have access to "on-line" news services, says Greg Gerdy, assistant director of DowVision services.

"DowVision has been courageous in making that migration" toward serving a mass market, Kester says, since that has meant undercutting traditional prices. Many information services charge hefty by-the-minute fees, not a flat monthly one.

DowVision and similar products do not spell the end of database searches by corporate libraries, analysts say. The newer services generally cannot search more than a few months back.

"People simply cannot process all the information that's available right now," adds Linda Ashley, corporate librarian at BIS Strategic Decisions Inc., a Waltham research firm. She sees a growing need for information specialists like herself.

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