|The online information industry has come a very long way, and there's
no place where it's more evident than the Online Information conference,
organized by Learned Information, Ltd. and held every December in London.
The impressive view from the gallery of the National Hall in the Olympia
2 Conference Centre shows the large and lavishly decorated exhibit stands,
the pulsing crowd of attendees, and the eager exhibitors. I've been attending
this conference for the past few years, and that sight never ceases to
amaze me. It might be a good place to contemplate the progress of our industry,
but the constant buzz of activity leaves little opportunity for reflection.
The Online Information 2000 conference, held December 57, was no different.
The popularity of the event was evident in the block-long queue that formed
just before the opening of the exhibits each morning.
With distinct areas for displays, meetings, and demonstrations, some
of the exhibit stands approached the size of a small house. Many were well-equipped
to host visitors, some had refreshment counters, and others had theater-style
seating for demonstrations. (The abundance of seating provided a welcome
respite for the tired feet that inevitably accompany the exploration of
an event of this magnitude.) The LEXIS-NEXIS stand even had a second level,
which was used for meetings and serving refreshments to invited visitors.
The conference featured events that attendees have come to expect: programs
on a variety of topics of interest to information professionals, social
activities, and award presentations. However, with a steep attendance fee
of over £800 (approximately $1,200) for the full conference, many
delegates opted to pass on the talks and limit their attendance to the
exhibit hall, with its nominal fee of £15 (about $22, which was paid
only by those who didn't register in advance on the Web or receive one
of the many complimentary tickets given out by exhibitors). But exhibits-only
attendees didn't miss out on the sessions. A series of hour-long tutorials,
seminars, product presentations, and workshops was presented in a small
theater in the exhibit hall. These covered subjects such as search strategies,
online communities, intelligent agents for searching, and presentation
techniques. The exhibit hall also contained two "exhibits within an exhibit"--areas
with stands dedicated to e-content, digital publishing, and e-libraries.
One of the more striking observations to be made at this conference
reflected a significant industry trend: the prominence of a few large company
names on the exhibit floor and the breadth and diversity of their products.
One delegate commented that it would be interesting to calculate the percentage
of floor space that was occupied by the Thomson and Elsevier organizations.
I'd add that another interesting statistic would be how much that number
has grown in the past few years. Certainly, those behemoths of the industry
were veryprominently in evidence. Many of the Thomson companies had their
own stands, but they were tied together by a display of the Thomson logo.
Information professionals go to conferences for a variety of different
reasons, but one always seems to be near the top: keeping up with new products,
services, and technologies. My professional friends and acquaintances frequently
ask me, "Seen anything new this time?" With approximately 300 companies
represented in the exhibit hall, the probability of finding something new
was high--one reason why making the trip to London for this show generally
pays significant dividends.
Besides the many new products and the improvements on existing ones
that are showcased by the large companies, it's always interesting to visit
the new, smaller entrants to the industry because they may well own the
next breakthrough application. I found the following three products to
be the most impressive.
a subsidiary of Teldan Information Systems, presented its new e-journal
management system of the same name. Based in Tel Aviv, Israel, Teldan is
well known in the Middle East as a full-service information provider and
also as the organizer of the Israeli INFO conferences that are held every
spring. Formally launched at the IFLA (International Federation of Library
Associations and Institutions) 2000 conference in Jerusalem last August,
TDNet's first appearance at a major online information industry event outside
of Israel was at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2 months later.
TDNet is hosted by and all searches are operated on an organization's
intranet, which provides links to the host sites of the journals to which
the organization subscribes. It has a database of over 13,000 titles and
associated URLs from which it constructs a customized list of the organization's
holdings. Each URL is then linked to the corresponding record in the organization's
catalog so that its users can quicklyand seamlessly access the electronic
version of the journal, whether it's located on the publisher's Web site
or is available through an aggregator. TDNet's customers can also search
across the list of journals at the article level and receive alerts when
new articles of interest enter the system. TDNet currently offers this
service for approximately 23,000 titles. The system also provides useful
administrative features, such as the ability to update journal holdings
listsand monitor organization-wide traffic on the e-journal site. Further
details and a demonstration are available (after registering for a demo
password) at http://www.tdnet.com/take_look.html.
TheScientificWorld, Inc. (http://www.thescientificworld.com),
a Florida-based start-up information company, demonstrated its new SciBase
of articles drawn from over 20,000 technical journals. Initially, SciBase
is focusing on the life sciences and over 7,300 journals in that area.
Users can search the database and establish a Personal user Profile (PuP)
to alert them to new material in their area of research. This service is
free; users only pay when they wish to purchase the full text of an article.
One of the unusual features of TheScientificWorld is a publishing platform
for individual scientists, where they can disseminate the results of their
research in the form of e-journal articles. The articles are peer-reviewed
by a board of editors before being published. The system allows readers
to interact with the authors and provide feedback quickly and easily (which
is awkward at best in the print world).
TheScientificWorld has also constructed a database of technical conferences.
Subscribers can search the database by numerous criteria to locate events
of interest, and they'll soon be able to register online, review proceedings,
and visit virtual exhibit halls of the conferences. Also under development
are a Methods and protocols Exchange (MapEx) database and an e-commerce
system in which users can find vendors of scientific equipment and make
purchases. [Editor's Note: For more information about TheScientificWorld,
see the news story on page 26.]
A new British start-up, Wordmap, Ltd. (http://www.wordmap.com),
showcased a knowledge-mapping system, which helps users categorize information
and guide them to what they're looking for. The system provides knowledge
maps that can be deployed on the Web, a corporate intranet, or other knowledge
management system. Users can customize the maps to meet their own needs
or integrate in-house data. Linguistic technology is employed to guide
the user and improve navigation and retrieval. Wordmap claims that its
software is more effective than other products already on the market and
will help improve the efficiency and productivity ofWeb information retrieval.
Among other characteristics, it's visual and easy-to-use, and it permits
extensive cross-referencing and development of relationships among terms.[Editor's
Note: For more information aboutWordmap, see the news story on page
These products are obviously just a sampling of what was on display
at Online Information 2000. The conference is large and almost overwhelming,
but it provides an excellent overview of the electronic information industry
because most of the major players, as well as many new and interesting
start-up companies, are there. In addition, the large number of attendees
provides an excellent and fertile ground for networking and establishing
contacts. The Online Information conference is indeed the place to see
and be seen in London in December. Added to that, of course, are the many
attractions of London at the start of the Christmas season, including unparalleled
For more information about Online Information 2000, visit http://www.online-information.co.uk.
Copies of the Proceedings of the technical program will soon be available
for purchase, and many of the presentations can also be viewed on the site.
See you December 46 at Online Information 2001.
Donald T. Hawkins is editor in chief of Information Today, Inc.'s
Information Science Abstracts and Fulltext Sources Online.
He is also editor of the ASIDIC Newsletter. His e-mail
address is D.T.Hawkins@att.net.