Information Today
Volume 17, Issue 7 • July/August 2000
IT Report from the Field •
21st National Online Meeting
This event focused on cutting-edge technology and content 
by Paula J. Hane

IOLS 2000 Conference
by Marshall Breeding
Electronic Publishing XVIII
by Paula J. Hane
It’s hard to believe that the National Online Meeting (NOM) celebrated its 21st year as one of the information industry’s premier events—and that I’ve been to most of them. The conference and exhibition, held May 16–18 in New York, continues both to witness and influence the course of developments in this industry. It also provides a forum for information producers and users to come together and share ideas—and arrange partnerships, license content and technologies, or contract for services. Based on the groups of people I saw having earnest discussions, I’d say there were a lot of deals made that week.

The event drew 120 speakers and a total attendance of 5,200. There were also more than 100 exhibiting companies, slightly fewer than last year, reflecting perhaps the consolidation occurring in the industry. I was happy to see some new companies in the exhibit hall this year, including netLibrary, NextPage, SageMaker, and Semio Corp. Tom Hogan, president of Information Today, Inc., welcomed attendees and noted that four companies had been exhibitors at NOM for all 21 years: IFI Plenum, ISI, Dialog (now under its fourth owner), and IAC (now Gale Group).

Martha E. Williams, program chair for all 21 years of the event, was unable to attend because she had broken her arm. She usually opens the meeting with her annual “Highlights of the Online Database Industry and the Internet,” so she videotaped her presentation and Hogan played a few minutes of this for the audience. Information Today, Inc. will mail a copy of the videotape to all meeting attendees. Williams’ full report includes detailed statistics that track the growth in the industry and can be found in the Proceedings volume for the meeting, available from Information Today, Inc. (800/300-9868).

Jane Dysart and Richard Hulser, both respected speakers and industry observers, then stepped up ably to the podium and shared their ideas on the state of the information industry and on coping with new technology. We are seeing growth in areas like virtual research, intranet development and management, internal and external content selection and management, and development of lexicons and taxonomies. This is creating new roles—and titles—for librarians, including cybrarian, information architect, trainer, product developer, Webmaster, portal manager, and knowledge manager.

Hulser noted that one trend he sees, through the use of enterprise portals, is content-management convergence, uniting Web content management with integrated document and media asset management. He also predicted that pervasive devices, such as hand-helds, will become the dominant means of information access within the next 3 years, as Web applications are able to adapt their appearance to different devices automatically. He ended by wishing for an immune system for cyberspace that would automatically detect and eradicate viruses.
 

Mirchin’s Keynote
Protecting Internet users was also the focus of the keynote presentation given by David Mirchin, vice president and general counsel for SilverPlatter Information, Inc. A frequent and popular speaker, Mirchin has the ability to take complicated legal issues and make them accessible to everyone. He’s also witty and entertaining, and provided good visuals and examples, including some wonderful clips from old Saturday Night Live skits.

His talk, appropriately titled “Spam, Can It Be Canned?,” discussed the growing threats from spam of all kinds, including junk mail, unwanted ads and promotions, bulk e-mail, and even company gripe sites and e-mail to employees. These annoying and invasive practices have disrupted service, crashed servers, impacted revenues, and threatened the growth of e-commerce. Mirchin said that the way we address the issue of spam can be a model for addressing other issues on the Net, such as privacy, gambling, and music distribution. His answers to what we can do to handle spam include buying the offending site, using contracts, taking technological measures such as filtering, subscribing to blocking lists, taking legal action, or enacting legislation. He urged librarians and information professionals to become aware of current legislative efforts and to get involved.
 

Breakfast with Ron
My favorite part of this conference is the annual breakfast presentation on the second day by Ron Dunn, president of Thomson Learning. In the world of e-banking, e-commerce, and e-learning, Dunn appropriately titled his talk “e-GADS!” After humorously reviewing the e-vocabulary of the recent e-craze, he discussed some Internet business strategies, and specifically educational business models, such as portals and distance learning.

He dispelled some popularly held myths, among them that all students understand and use technology, that all universities are “wired” for learning, and that distance learning is simple and profitable. He noted that in making the transition from books in classrooms to electronic courseware anywhere, there were some tough questions to work through. Content providers will need to ask how long will it take, which technologies will prevail, what new competencies will publishers need, and what to build vs. buy?

He reviewed the following three Dunn’s Internet Maxims from last year, and added a fourth.

  1. The Internet is just a channel, or, it’s the content, stupid! (though he would now modify this statement somewhat)
  2. The worst level of service that an Internet customer will accept is the best level of service that customer has ever seen. (The bar goes up all the time.)
  3. The laws of economics have not been repealed by the Internet. (It’s not enough to have an IPO. Companies still need to focus on the long-term business proposition.)
  4. And, new for 2000: Thou shalt not confuse publicity with real business.
Visual Information Seeking
The second day’s plenary session presentation was given by Ben Shneiderman of the University of Maryland, a prominent author and speaker in the fields of interface design and information visualization. He tantalized the audience with examples of the importance of interface design and the usability of products, and of the next generation of information search and visual data-mining tools. Shneiderman promotes the idea of direct visual manipulation of data, encouraging product developers to get past the vague notion of “user friendly” and use an approach that is more scientific, predictable, controllable, and consistent to provide better results. He sees “opportunities in this ‘Internet Renaissance’ era where visual design combined with scientific thought can give us novel products, beautiful designs, and helpful tools for many people to use.”

He advocates following the Visual Information-Seeking Mantra: overview first, zoom and filter, then details on demand. He looks for compact graphical representation and user interfaces that allow for manipulating and exploring large data results. He advocates a “throw the keyboard out” mentality—let’s do it visually. In an interesting twist, visualization can tell users what queries to ask because it shows them things that they may not have known.

Later that morning, Elizabeth Liddy of Syracuse University elaborated on some of the visualization ideas in the Search and Retrieval Technology for the 21st Century track. She talked about text-mining techniques and how visualization can contribute to knowledge discovery. She said that visualization can show correlations, relationships, relative importance, anomalies, trends, and patterns.

Coincidentally, I noticed that one of the companies mentioned by Liddy, i2 (http://www.i2group.com), announced that same week that its analysis software had been used by U.S. federal investigators to track down the suspected author of the “ILOVEYOU” virus. The investigators took the abundance of data they had collected from the Web and processed it using i2’s Analyst’s Notebook. According to the company, the software produced a visual representation of the path taken by the virus that enabled it to quickly focus in on the source.

Other speakers in the technologies track discussed some of the challenges of search-and-retrieval technology and some of the new tools being developed. Sue Feldman noted that today’s information-retrieval systems do a pretty good job of matching queries to documents, but this isn’t enough. With so much information out there, we need to work on refining the query, making sense of the results, manipulating the data to find patterns, and distinguishing good data from bad. Basically, the systems need to move toward retrieving answers, not documents.

Another speaker, Matthew Koll, AOL Fellow and founder of Personal Library Software, expects the searcher community to have more impact on search results due to expression popularity and automated feedback. Automated agents that understand the user’s paths will become more important. He also commented on the importance of visual interfaces for users. Another hot area now is the hiring of librarians to help create human guides and directories. He also predicted that Napster, the downloading software, would have a tremendous impact on the entire information and publishing world. There will have to be a radical rethinking of how to make money with intellectual property.

There were so many other interesting tracks and sessions—obviously more than I could attend. Any session on search engines or Web resources seemed to be very popular with attendees. Péter Jacsó’s ever-popular presentations on fee-based and free Web databases drew large crowds. Other sessions dealt with issues like Web security, online information strategies, sharing resources, digital libraries, and competitive intelligence. A number of the presentations are posted on the conference Web site at http://www.infotoday.com/nom2000/presentations/. Those interested can also purchase the Proceedings volume or audiotapes of specific sessions.
 

Online Publishing
The final day’s plenary session featured Scott Plantz, chairman and CEO of emedicine.com, a newly developed Web site that makes peer-reviewed medical-reference information available to anyone, free of charge. Plantz first described the problem of outdated medical textbooks due to print publishing cycles. He estimated that the day a text is published, it’s already 5 years out-of-date. The rapid advancements in medicine needed a more responsive and continuously updated publication method.

The emedicine.com site uses a proprietary publishing system (Group Publishing System, or GPS) that allows authors and editors to work on a text simultaneously. The company has some 10,000 authors and editors working on 63 online medical textbooks for the site, which provides for five levels of peer review of the text, and is easy to update. The system offers audio and video enhancements to the text, direct links to MEDLINE and full-text journals, links to medical definitions, a communication system to link health professionals, and future options for CD and DVD versions to allow portability.

This cutting-edge Internet endeavor is making valuable medical information available to both physicians and the health-information-hungry public, and should prove to be a high-destination site as additional texts are completed. However, its greater impact could be the model it’s providing for getting key publications online quickly and offering ongoing updates by multiple participants. Plantz said that the GPS was patented and could possibly become available for licensing.
 

Other Events
The National Online Meeting also featured the 12th year of the IOLS (Integrated Online Library Systems) “conference within a conference” for users and producers of library systems and services. IOLS 2000 was chaired by Pamela Cibbarelli, and offered its own tracks of sessions, based around the theme “Beyond the Frontier.” For more information, there is a separate Proceedings volume available from Information Today, Inc. [See the sidebar by Marshall Breeding below.] The Electronic Publishing Seminar XVIII also took place during NOM, and provided its usual information-packed forum for probing the latest issues facing the publishing and information industry. [See the sidebar by Paula J. Hane below.]
 
 

Paula J. Hane is contributing editor of Information Today, co-editor with Barbara Quint for NewsBreaks, a former reference librarian, and a longtime online searcher. Her e-mail address is phane@infotoday.com.



IOLS 2000 Conference
by Marshall Breeding

The IOLS (Integrated Online Library Systems) component of the National Online Meeting was held on May 17–18 and provided an important opportunity to gain up-to-date information in the field of library automation. IOLS continues to be the only professional conference devoted solely to integrated online library systems.

Conference chair Pamela Cibbarelli did her usual great job of planning 2 day’s worth of informative sessions focused on issues related to integrated online library systems, other aspects of library automation, and library Web sites. This year, the theme of IOLS was “Beyond the Frontier,” which recognized that most libraries are well past the point of pioneering their first automation systems, are focusing on implementing second- or third-generation systems, and are actively working toward developing many other facets of their electronic information environments.

Each of the conference’s 2 days began with a plenary session in the morning and featured two tracks of simultaneous sessions for the rest of the day. The vast majority of the presentations were given by librarians or other library staff members. Automation company representatives were also part of the program, but in ways in which they could discuss technologies and issues, not just give sales pitches for their products. The sessions were generally well-attended and, from most of the comments I heard, well-received.

I had the privilege of opening the session with a speech entitled “Current State of Library Automation: IOLS Technologies, Marketplace Trends, and Future Expectations.” In this presentation, I summarized some of the recent information related to the companies involved in developing library automation systems, as well as some current technology trends. Some of the most striking developments I mentioned included the recent sale of Endeavor Information Systems to Elsevier Science, and the great desire of various companies to work toward integrating full-text information with local library automation systems.

Another featured session, “Today’s IOLS: A Reality Check,” included a panel of executives from leading automation companies. The panelists represented Endeavor Information Systems; epixtech, Inc.; Sagebrush Technologies; and Gaylord Information Systems. The format of the session involved each of the vendors taking turns answering questions presented by Cibbarelli, the moderator. While the session was generally informative, the avoidance of controversial issues seemed to result in a missed opportunity to gain a deeper level of insight from these industry leaders.

The second day’s plenary session was given by Thomas R. Kochtanek, who teaches at the School of Information Science and Learning Technologies at the University of Missouri–Columbia, and Karen K. Hein, now at the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Kochtanek and Hein gave an update on Project LIS, a Web site devoted to providing information related to library information systems. They described some of the resources available on their site and how students collaborate toward its development.

In a session explaining vendor perspectives on library automation, Vinod Chandra gave a very interesting presentation on the use of Unicode for the development of a system designed to accommodate practically any language and character set. He referred to the Virtua system to illustrate these capabilities, but also gave a lot of information that would be helpful to libraries using other automation systems. As the library automation marketplace becomes increasingly international, the support for multiple character sets through Unicode will likewise grow in importance. In the same track, developers from Gaylord Information Systems discussed some of the issues involved in developing software in the Windows NT environment.

For those involved in the library-automation-system procurement process, Richard Boss’ 2-hour workshop on the “Negotiation of Contracts with Library Vendors” was an important source of practical information. Boss is one of the leading library automation consultants, and the attendees at this session were fortunate to benefit from his extensive experience.

In addition to sessions directly related to library automation systems, several speakers focused on topics pertaining to some of the other types of library automation services. Integrated online library systems have generally become more mature and omnipresent, and many libraries are involved in developing other aspects of automation.  In this vein, Scott Herrington and Philip Konomos from Arizona State University described the electronic-reserves system they developed. Susan McGlammery of the Metropolitan Cooperative Library System described how that consortium is using chat and other push technologies to provide electronic reference services. A number of sessions were devoted to issues related to library Web sites. Catherine Cardwell and Stefanie Dennis of Bowling Green State University presented a session on how they developed their library’s Web site, which included a preview phase and extensive beta testing. Jeanie Welch, of the Atkins Library at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, gave a presentation focusing on the evaluation of library Web sites. Elaina Norlin and Patricia Morris from the University of Arizona and Judith Liebman of Mercy College also gave talks about library Web site development.

Cibbarelli concluded the conference program with her annual workshop, during which she reviews each of the major library automation vendors’ accomplishments over the past year. Using data taken mostly from the recent library automation marketplace survey published in Library Journal, Cibbarelli presented an excellent account of recent sales trends. One of the most notable graphs showed a surge in sales enjoyed by epixtech, Inc. Apparently, the company’s independence from Ameritech and SCB, Inc. has resulted in an increased level of perceived public confidence.

A significant number of automation vendors chose to exhibit at this conference. The majority was clustered together in a single area of the exhibit hall, but a few were located separately. The library automation vendors represented in the exhibits included Best-Seller, Inc.; CASPR Library Systems, Inc.; Cuadra Associates, Inc.; Data Research Associates; Endeavor Information Systems;  EOS International; epixtech, Inc.; Inmagic, Inc.; Innovative Interfaces, Inc.; The Library Corporation; Sagebrush Technologies; SIRS Mandarin, Inc.; SIRSI Corp.; SydneyPLUS International; and VTLS.

There were no major product developments or corporate changes announced at this event, since most of the vendors still target the ALA Annual Conference for major announcements. Only a few of the major library automation companies were noticeably absent, including Ex Libris, CARL Corp., and Follett Software Co. My main interest with the exhibits is that there be a large enough quorum of vendors to make the conference worthwhile for libraries investigating or procuring an automation system. Having a reasonably complete roster of vendors also helps me stay current with what’s new in the industry. With only a very few vendors missing, I considered this year’s exhibition at the National Online Meeting to be very worthwhile.

All in all I found the IOLS conference to be well worth attending. Besides the content available in the program and the technologies demonstrated in the exhibits, the opportunity to visit with other attendees and hear about their day-to-day experiences really helps me stay current in the field. As usual, the Information Today, Inc. staff was efficient and effective in providing a well-run event. I look forward to participating next year.
 
 

Marshall Breeding is the technology analyst at Vanderbilt University’s Heard Library and a writer and speaker on library technology issues. His e-mail address is breeding@library.vanderbilt.edu.



Electronic Publishing XVIII
by Paula J. Hane

The Electronic Publishing XVIII management seminar was held during the National Online Meeting. This annual forum, sponsored by Information Today, Inc. and the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), was once again chaired by Joe Bremner and addressed the theme “Exploring the Outer Limits of E-Commerce for Publishers & Information Companies.” A distinguished roster of speakers explored the key issues surrounding the emerging relationships between e-commerce and e-content.

The keynote was given by Steven Brill, the well-known figure in the media field who founded Court TV, Brill’s Content, and the soon-to-launch Contentville.com. (See the NewsBreak “Brill Media Holdings and Its Partners to Launch Contentville.com” on page 1 of the March issue.) Brill noted that when it comes to buying content, almost everyone has an intense passion for content in one specific area. He pointed out that the difference between information and news is like the difference between classified advertising and display advertising. Information is “the stuff you know you want to know,” and the Internet is perfect for delivering this. Users want information to be reliable and accurate, so he reasoned that the best brand names ought to be the places on the Internet that people come to.

Any magazine that goes on the Web has to do more than sell advertising, he stated, and since subscriptions haven’t proven to be strong revenue sources, there needs to be e-commerce. Then as an example he used Contentville.com, a service that will function as an e-store that aggressively cross-sells its products. Various print media such as magazines, speeches, legal documents, TV transcripts, screenplays, and e-books will be searchable and for sale. Contentville.com aims to offer solid advice about its content and be the place for smart, savvy content consumers to shop. It will also be an e-book and e-zine publisher.

David Churbuck, editor of Forbes.com, also noted that the subscription model has not proven to be popular on the Web, and that banner ads have had generally dismal clickthroughs and not enough revenue. He saw more possibilities for sponsorships, with companies paying for exclusive placement. He expects that in the new Web environment over the next few years we will see more hybrid editorial/e-commerce entities. At Forbes.com the staff has had to be very observant about placing ads near an article and about advertising with executable scripts.

Tom Miller, vice president of Internet strategies for Cyber Dialogue, Inc., provided detailed information and data about Internet use, demographics, trends, market segments, and estimated revenue opportunities, based on a regular Internet user survey that his company conducted. Some of the changes he mentioned were that the competitive edge is shifting to visitor retention, cross-selling, and up-selling; that there are opportunities for off-line brands to drive customers online; that the measure of success is changing from the “share of eyeballs” to the “share of the wallet”; that global audiences are increasing in importance; and that “B2B trumps B2C” (that is, the business-to-business marketplace has much greater revenue potential and predicted growth than the business-to-consumer market).

Other speakers discussed the e-commerce implications of advertising on the Web, various solutions for selling digital content, and suggestions for extending a publisher’s reach. Andrew Elston of Qpass noted that the opportunities for publishers involved turning digital content into digital commerce, leveraging a trusted brand name online, and reducing dependence on uncertain ad revenues. Other themes that emerged were the reuse of existing content assets through new product development and syndication opportunities, leveraging partnerships, and making transactions “friction free.” Attendees certainly left the seminar with a lot of food for thought. As usual, Bremner managed to ask the important questions, bring in industry-leading speakers, and provide a true forum for discussion.
 
 

Paula J. Hane is contributing editor of Information Today, co-editor with Barbara Quint for NewsBreaks, a former reference librarian, and a longtime online searcher. Her e-mail address is phane@infotoday.com.


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