Information Today
Volume 18, Issue 7 — July/August 2001
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IT Report from the Field
InfoToday 2001
This conference looked at new technology, ideas, and trends in the information industry
by Paula J. Hane

The National Online Meeting has been a premier event in the information industry for 22 years. Late last year, Information Today, Inc. (ITI), sponsor of the popular conference held each May in New York, announced that the National Online Meeting would become InfoToday 2001 and would include expanded coverage of the electronic information industry and add a knowledge management program. This larger event, held May 15–17 at the New York Hilton, featured three simultaneous conferences: National Online 2001, E-Libraries 2001, and KnowledgeNets 2001. [See Marshall Breeding's "IOLS Conference Morphs into E-Libraries" and Denise Bruno's "KnowledgeNets 2001".]

Tom Hogan, president of ITI, explained the change. "With technology changing so rapidly, we decided to create a format for this annual event that would make it easier to add or subtract various content components without losing the underlying theme. Using this 'umbrella' approach gave us the flexibility, for example, to add a strong knowledge management conference to complement our traditional programming on all facets of online information and library systems."

With three simultaneous conferences and over 140 sessions, the meeting rooms, hallways, and exhibit halls bustled with activity. InfoToday 2001 drew over 5,200 participants and over 100 exhibiting companies. Along with many of the big names in the industry, the exhibit hall featured some new companies this year, including CyberAlert, which announced a new Internet monitoring service; Brain Technologies Corp.; ClearForest; and a number of knowledge management (KM) firms that were new to me. A few companies were conspicuous by theirabsence from the exhibit hall (Factiva, Northern Light, Hoover's, and NewsEdge). Maybe we'll see you folks next year?

Offering even more content choices, a popular addition this year was the Presentation Theater (located within the exhibit hall), which offered free half-hour seminars on topics like intranet toolkits, evaluating library automation systems, and content management. Though I'm very familiar with Gary Price's writings and presentations, I sat in on his "Finding Electronic Resources: Tools & Techniques" seminar and picked up several useful suggestions for keeping current. His resource page is available at http://www.freepint.com/gary/online2001.htm.

The emphasis on practical and digestiblepresentations continued with the free Cybertours, which included best-site recommendations for specific areas, such as competitive intelligence and KM, and advanced search tips.
 

Keynotes Bring Groups Together
Reflecting the convergence of interests among information professionals and knowledge managers, InfoToday 2001 began each morning with a keynote address that was featured in all three of the component conferences and was open to all attendees. Each keynote address was broad enough in scope to touch on everyone's interests.

The opening-day address was given by Robert Kahn, president of the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI), and best known for being co-inventor of the TCP/IP protocols. In his remarks on "Managing Digital Objects on the Net," he called for a concerted effort to manage the information we have. While the Internet was created as a communications medium, it has become more of a global information system. Some of the current issues we face include the control of information in a networked environment, regulating its use, and certifying that information has not been altered in some way.

In his recent work, Kahn has been developing the concept of a digital object infrastructure. His work is now being applied in a number of digital library projects and applications like the electronic copyright registration system. He noted that the technology components for managing digital objects are available but that more robust versions need to be developed to enablecommercialization. Some of the presentation was more technical than a keynote normally is, but his message was an important one for the information industry.

The keynote speakers on the second and third days provided interesting insights into knowledge management in organizations. David Snowden, director of IBM's Institute for Knowledge Management, offered an entertaining look at how complexity theory can be tapped to foster innovation and improve the flow of knowledge within organizations. In a complex system like an organization or corporation, many elements interact in a constantly changing and fluid way, and thus must be managed differently from a system in which all relationships are known and defined. Informal associations and serendipity can help new patterns to emerge. He gave some fascinating examples of how introducing games with metaphors can allow people and organizations to see their own problems in new ways.

Tom Davenport, director for strategic change at Accenture, focused his keynote remarks on the most valuable—and scarcest—resource for workers in the New Economy: attention. He noted that, increasingly, if you want people's attention, you have to offer them something valuable for it. In corporations, leaders are beginning to use some attention-conscious KM technologies (including structuring, monitoring, and filtering) to keep their employees focused on crucial knowledge-based tasks. Davenport is the author of the forthcoming book, The Attention Economy: Understanding the New Currency of Business.
 

Breakfast with Ron
A personal favorite at this conference is the annual breakfast presentation on the second day by Ron Dunn, CEO of Thomson Learning's Academic Group. This year, he took stock of what we've learned now that the Internet hype has subsided, and he reflected on what the future might hold for the information industry and information professionals. He noted that we've seen the end of the "free lunch"—no more free phone calls, free computers, free Internet services, or free patent information from IBM.

The lessons that he draws from his analysis of the tumultuous events of the past year include the following:

  • The past can really be the prologue (as when old economy companies revitalize).

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  • Free raw content has limited value.

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  • Information professionals and other intermediaries still add essential value.

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  • "Traditional" is not a four-letter word (i.e., all of the old business models aren't junk).
Dunn then looked specifically at the evolution occurring in educational technology and electronic publishing, noting the progress in courseware solutions and distance learning. For the future, change will be the order of the day for all of us in the information industry, but his "Rule of 3 Ts" will still apply: Things Take Time.
 

National Online 2001
For National Online 2001, three tracks were offered each day that were grouped around the following general topic areas:

  • Searching, Search Engines, and Electronic Publishing

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  • Content: Its Management and Uses

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  • Business Information, Wall Street, and Competitive Intelligence
Presentations ran the gamut, covering important issues like copyright and fair use, privacy, interface design and usability, vertical search engines, the Invisible Web, metadata, data integrity, standards like DOI (Digital Object Identifier), training, and new roles and opportunities.

However, within the tracks and among all the speakers I heard, some common themes and issues emerged that crossed the topical boundaries. For me, this is a way of feeling the pulse of what's important and what's grabbing the attention of both users and producers of information. Some of these hot topics included building digital collections (techniques, protecting, use of, and collaboration), achieving information efficiencies (customization, data mining, classification tools, and analytical tools), capitalizing on strategic partnerships, and managing the global enterprise delivery of content. Whew. This was relevant, practical information that made for a very busy three days.

The practical presentations of Péter Jacsó were well-attended, as usual. He has developed an expertise in analyzing and recommending free alternatives to traditional abstracting databases, as well as free ready-reference resources on the Web. Cost-conscious librarians are always happy to hear his suggestions.
 

Developments in Vertical Search
Steve Arnold is always a popular speaker at these conferences. Since he's usually about 6 months ahead of the pack in spotting new technologies and companies, I always try to get to his talks. He focused on the developments in vertical search—he called it the "brass ring" that everyone is now chasing. He feels that "embedded searching" applied to a specific domain of content is where the excitement will be. Several of the examples he discussed provided just-in-time searching within a work-flow context, and some provided techniques that take the burden of crafting the query off the user. He noted that the new players are offering a new twist on searching, and that there's been a flurry of activity in the medical area.

The following are a few URLs for sites that Arnold recommended exploring to understand the direction in which vertical searching is moving:

Arnold also mentioned Aesop.com, a new Spider Search Engine that he thought was interesting. Another company worth checking out is NuTech Solutions (http://www.nutechsolutions.com), which provides a "rough sets" technique for searching. He also feels that both Verity and Autonomy are winning companies in the search-engine licensing area.
 

More ...
A number of the conference presentations are linked from the event's Web site at http://www.infotoday.com/it2001/presentations/. Those interested can also purchase the Proceedings volumes, available from Information Today, Inc. (800/300-9868), or audiotapes of specific sessions, available from Audio Transcripts, Ltd. (800/338-2111)
 
 

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

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