Tizra was founded in 2006 based on "the simple idea that online information distribution should be fast, flexible and efficient—both for the managers and for the consumers of that information." Co-founder Abe Dane discussed the company and the state of online content with us.
What is Tizra?
Tizra is web software that makes it fast, easy and cost effective to put documents on the web in a form that is secure, searchable and highly flexible. Publishers like MIT Press use it to sell and provide access to electronic versions of hundreds of their books, and now Tizra is finding applications in corporate, professional, government and educational organizations where documents—whether reports, contracts, PowerPoint presentations, manuals or even spreadsheets—are a key way of exchanging information. Tizra is unique in that every page of every document is independently manageable and has its own web address, so you can link directly to the desired part of a document via email, bookmarks and social software like Twitter and Facebook. Tizra also makes documents much easier to search and access via handheld devices like the iPhone.
With competing services like LexisNexis already in existence, why is there a need for Tizra’s service?
Companies like LexisNexis are actually more likely to become customers of ours than competitors. LexisNexis obviously has huge amounts of information to organize and needs to be able to provide easy search, combined with precise control over who has access to what information. We help companies with exactly that problem. Our software is designed to be re-skinned, so it can look just like part of a company's existing website, and can be integrated with other web applications, so it can extend and complement them, rather than necessarily replacing them. And for smaller companies, the case is even more clear-cut, because unlike most of the document management software currently available, we don't require that our customers have their own IT experts and software developers to set it up and maintain it.
In an age of unprecedented access to free media and information, why is archiving content behind a pay wall a viable model?
Well, to start with, even though we do offer very sophisticated content marketing and commerce capabilities, many of our customers use us to deliver free content, as well as to put content behind a pay wall. Our system can be used with advertising-supported business models, and can be used with all kinds of business documents, such as contracts and internal reports, that are not intended for public consumption at all.
That said, it's important to remember that there are many kinds of published information that have never been free, whether in print or online. All kinds of professionals—doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers and scholars—rely on information from specialized books, journals reports and other materials that are vital to their work, and are priced accordingly. Even among more general-interest consumer offerings, we are seeing things like the iTunes Store and Amazon's Kindle which are gradually reminding people that some kinds of content needs to be supported through a paid business model. Remember, it wasn't that long ago that people thought the idea of paying for television was a crazy idea!
What were some of the challenges you faced in developing your software, given the scope of your archiving capability?
We had tremendous advantages from the fact that our team had the experience of building multiple generations of publishing software, and then when we started the company, got to start over completely from scratch. That meant we could use all the latest technologies, and could build the software in a very integrated way, with every piece designed from the outset to work with the all the other pieces. It also meant, however, that there was a huge amount of work to do in building a complete system with all the capabilities our customers wanted. We had to create a complete access control system, a complete content management system, search, commerce, etc. That took a lot of time.
We also had to deal with the fact that our initial customers in the scholarly publishing world are very demanding, and very careful. Understandably, organizations like MIT Press don't like to take risks with their very valuable intellectual property or brands. That meant that as a new company, the bar was very high when it came to earning their trust. Of course, now that we've established ourselves with customers with standards and reputations like this, it's much easier to bring in new customers.
Given the number of media producers and potential clients in New York, why did you decide to keep your business in Providence?
I spent most of my working life in New York (and have also worked at MIT) and Providence has a pool of software product-development talent unlike anything I've seen. There's a great fusion of design and technology that comes out of the combination of RISD and Brown, and of course it's a small place, so there's a lot of interaction. Technology by itself isn't enough. And design by itself isn't enough. But when you bring the two together, you get amazing capabilities that are usable, elegant, and beautifully adapted to the real needs of real people.
I should also note that we have excellent organizations to nurture and encourage startups based on the local talent, including The Slater Technology Fund, Providence Geeks, and the RIEDC, all of which have supported us in key ways, and have helped to provide a real sense of an entrepreneurial community.
Also, the food is great!