|InfoToday 2002, the conference on electronic information and knowledge
management (KM) held in New York on May 1416, featured a completely
revamped program. Transformed from the single National Online Meeting,
which had been held for 22 years, InfoToday debuted last year in an augmented,
multi-conference format. This year, the event evidenced close coordination
among the conference planners to work around the theme of"Nearing Nirvana—Digital
Content at the Turning Point." The three concurrent conferences really
hit the mark with opening keynote speakers each day and plenary sessions
in the morning for each of the conferences plus closing keynotes on the
last day, on-target session tracks, high-quality presenters, and free mini-presentations
in the exhibit hall theater.
While the exhibit hall seemed smaller than in previous years, it was
likely a reflection of both the tough economic conditions and the inevitable
consolidation within the industry. One exhibitor, WhizBang!, pulled out
at the last minute and a week later closed its doors—an unfortunate victim
of the times. [See p. 13.] A few high-profile vendors were conspicuous
in their absence from the hall, including Factiva, Hoover's, ebrary, and
LexisNexis. Overall attendance at the event was also down somewhat, perhaps
reflecting some reluctance to attend an event in New York. Despite the
disappointing numbers, the information quality was high, the networking
possibilities abounded, and there were many opportunities for learning
The three conferences each offered two solid tracks of programming every
day. Attendees could buy a pass for one of the conferences or buy a pass
that provided access to all three. My report focuses on the National Online
conference and the three opening keynote sessions, while Hugh McKellar
reports on KnowledgeNets (p. 36) and Elisabeth Winter and Gail Dykstra
cover E-Libraries (p. 38).
National Online continued its focus on information content and information
delivery technologies. There were tracks covering practical searching,
search engines, public policy issues (copyright and licensing), competitive
intelligence, preparing content for electronic publication (XML, DOI, linking,
and aggregation), and Web design for info pros—more than enough to pack
the 3 days with meaty choices. I enjoyed many of the presentations and
managed to come away with a number of insights and useful resources.
KnowledgeNets provided coverage of knowledge management and its enterprise
applications. Tracks addressed interesting topics like e-learning, e-government
initiatives, and content management (including knowledge architecture to
E-Libraries covered the latest developments in library systems and services
and included tracks on Web portals, database creation, electronic reference
services, and public policy issues. I wish I could have cloned myself because
a number of the tracks and presentations in the other two conferences were
of definite interest to me.
As Dick Kaser, vice president of content for Information Today, Inc.,
said in his introductory remarks, the conferences were meant to highlight
and leverage the common interests of people involved in the three fields.
With the programming rightly reflecting the convergence of technologiesand
interests, he noted that it was even a bithard to tell where one conference
stopped and the other began. Attendees were encouraged to take advantage
of cross-tracking opportunities.
A Keynote in Context
Stephen Abram, vice president of corporate development at Micromedia
ProQuest, brought his usual lively and insightful comments to the opening
keynote, entitled "Content is Dead! Long Live Context!" As a librarian
and publishing executive,Abram posited that we do not "do information delivery."
He said: "We aren't delivering things to desktops. Desktops don't know
anything. People interactions are the key." We need to manage the information
context and lead our customers to where they need to be, with stress on
the leading. People don't value "search," they value answers in context.
"What is context?" he asked. "It's about life, work, passion, and play.
It's things we care about."
Abram urged the audience to focus on users' behaviors (what they actually
do, not what they say they do), and find ways to reduce the barriers
to information. Pushing more content out isn't the answer. "Information
needs to be unfettered," he declared. Interfaces should be tuned to the
value derived and desired and results must be clear and usable. Context
is the new king. In closing, he invited us to ask three magic questions:
• What keeps you awake at night?
• If you could solve only one problem (at work), what would it be?
• If you could change one thing and one thing only, what would it be?
Reflections Over Coffee
Early-rising attendees were treated not only to continental breakfast
on the second day, but also to insights on the information industry by
Ron Dunn, CEO of Thomson Learning's Academic Group. He looked specifically
at the current evolution in higher education and the impact on educational
publishers. He said that we're in the midst of a migration from teaching
and books within classrooms to the use of electronic courseware, anywhere,
at some point in the future. After exploring some of the factors that influence
the pace of change, he noted some failed projects (including the California
Virtual University and NYU Online) and discussed the rise of hybrid approaches.
Dunn predicted that the gradual evolution would continue with a transition
period of perhaps 5 to 10 years comprising mostly hybrid print/electronic
solutions. He said that educational publishers will have to "do it all":
work through the migration by continuing to produce books and develop electronic
products, all while managing to keep profit margins reasonable. Books are
here to stay, but will likely be shorter, more customized, and more complex
(with electronic links embedded within print texts). Short print runs with
fast turnaround will be essential.
KM for Decision Support
Following Dunn, the lively and entertaining David Snowden—who spoke
last year at InfoToday 2001—returned to provide the second day's keynote.
Snowden is a pioneer in the application of complexity concepts to foster
innovation and improve the flow of knowledge within organizations.
He echoed Abram in declaring that we have had an excessive focus on
content rather than context. He noted that knowledge management is returning
to its roots in the support of decision makers. A basic question is how
to develop conditions under which humans will create and make good decisions.
Human systems are not complicated but instead are complex, where "the past
is not always the best guide to the future, and the whole is never the
sum of the parts." Rather than imposing a desired pattern of action on
human systems, he stressed the model of first observing and recognizing
people's organizational patterns and then creatively managing those patterns.
Snowden's current work is as founder and executive director of the Cynefin
Centre, a newly established member network sponsored by IBM that offers
help for organizational problems that require new ways of thinking to get
closer to a solution. It has developed a "diverse portfolio of pragmatic
sense-making methods and models that can help solve problems for which
structured approaches have failed." The Centre specializes in bringing
together diverse participants who can act as catalysts for devising new
approaches. Snowden provided additional details of some of the Centre's
research projects during a special evening session that was sponsored by
the Special Libraries Association and IBM. One such project is aimed at
helping libraries discover new ways to create measures that justify library
and research services.
The Publishing Industry
The final day's opening keynote was given by Patricia Schroeder, former
congresswoman and current president and CEO of the Association of American
Publishers. She discussed some of the challenges facing publishers today.
The average person doesn't understand what publishers do, she said. They
think publishers are printers. Publishers have a huge job ahead of them
to educate young people who embrace an entertainment model for content
and think that everything should be free. Attitudes like "copyright is
dead" and "free downloading for all" must be countered with an understanding
of the high value of educational and informational content.
Schroeder stated that the intellectual property industries make up a
good portion of the U.S. economy and our exports, and yet publishers are
not communicating to people just how valuable that intellectual property
is. Publishers must try to grow the market for readers and counter the
cultural notion thatit's not cool to be in education and learning. "Read
and grow your mind" is a difficult message, she said, in a "24/7 world
where everything needs batteries." The challenge is for publishers to keep
producing high-quality content and still manage to stay alive.
Future of the Industry
Anthea Stratigos, president of Outsell, Inc., the research firm that
focuses on the information content industry, spoke about the future of
the online information industry in the plenary session that began the National
Online conference. Our content distribution channels have become very complicated,
she said, and it's created a fairly complex industry—one that is quite
unwieldy. She termed it "content spaghetti."
Outsell's studies of both the buy and sell sides of information have
revealed some interesting perspectives on the industry. Stratigos claimed
that the market has been steadily shrinking during the last several years
in the commercial publishing world. Outsell expects this to continue in
2002, with no change upward until 2003. One "sweet spot" she mentioned
was that corporate training and learning is a hot area, growing over 10
Merger and acquisitions activity continues apace and this can be expected
to persistthroughout the year. Large companies can buy pretty decent properties
under the current market conditions that enable them to bolster their revenues
and strategies. And the Outsell studies of 60 large public companies in
the content area indicate that any underlying revenue growth is only occurring
with acquisitions. Stratigos also indicated that when industries consolidate,
competition increases and the industry will become market-centric (start
with the market and work back) rather than product-centric.
Stratigos sees corporate and academic institutions now filling the place
of the former dot-coms in providing content to users. There are many content
deployment functions now emerging in enterprise organizations that offer
new roles for information professionals. Within these organizations, Outsell
sees unified content architectures developing, with use privileges dictating
who gets the content. Behind the scenes, organizations need a common language,
so taxonomies are hot because they're the unifiers that lead people to
information and information to people.
The irony, however, is that with all this integration, we have end-users
who have been trained by Amazon, Yahoo!, and Google to go to the Web for
their information. These users are extracting information on their own,
one search at a time. So there's a dichotomy in the marketplace that needs
to be reconciled, and vendors are currently in a "quiet period" of developing
opportunity and innovation. According to Outsell, we need to see both for-fee
and free models from the vendors, and we need to see offerings for the
two different buying groups: institutional buyers and end-users (content
can be re-purposed for this). People and personalization are key. To bring
good content to life, one must think about users and the decisions that
The Tasini Panel—Authors' Rights
The opening session on the second day consisted of a panel discussion,
with representation from all sides of the issues relating to the Supreme
Court decision on authors' rights. The dust hasn't settled from that decision,
which ruled in favor of the writers. Publishers, aggregators, librarians,
and writers all have different opinions of how the ruling affects them.
Jonathan Tasini of the National Writers Union (NWU), who filed the suit
on behalf of the freelancers, said that the class-action lawsuits that
followed the ruling have been consolidated into a single suit before a
judge, who ordered mediation. Tasini reported there isn't yet agreement
among the parties. He also mentioned that a bill has been introduced in
Congress that would give freelance writers collective bargaining rights.
When asked what the NWU would like to see, he said, respect for authors'
works, compensation for past infringements, and the ability to negotiate
Andrew Elston of PRIMEDIA, the "number-one producer of editorial content
pages in the U.S.," commented that the Supreme Court decision was correct
but dealing with the effects was very complicated for a publisher of PRIMEDIA's
size. The company is now working with the NWU to explore how it can push
things along and is participating in the mediation. One problem it is experiencing
is that there is no way for a publisher to convey which articles
have not been supplied to a database because of an author's refusal to
assign electronic rights.
George Plosker of Gale Group commented that of over 25 million records
only one-quarter to one-third of 1 percent have been removed; for newspapers
the figure is 2 percent of 12 million records. Where Gale has a hard copy
available when full text can't be loaded, it creates a bibliographic record
and indexing and is trying to write abstracts. However, Plosker too noted
that when deletions are made by publishers, Gale has no way of knowing.
Gale and its parent Thomson hope that a "business solution" can be reached
and the mediation will be successful.
Mary Case of the Association of Research Libraries spoke about some
of the practical issues for libraries and users. She noted that libraries
should continue to collect print copies for those publications for which
print is the copy of record and should work with publishers on digital
preservation efforts. She also mentioned that it's important for librarians
to alert users that full-text databases may not actually be full.
Marydee Ojala, the conference chair for National Online and editor of
ONLINEmagazine, chaired a closing panel in which she reflected on
and extrapolated from the conference presentations. She accurately, I think,
summed up some key themes from the week:
t's not business as usual
Competitive intelligence is growing in importance
Barbie Keiser, an information professional on the panel, commented that
change is occurring on all sides of the industry and that librarians need
to work with vendors, not against them. She sees important trends in rights
management and thinks the industry should work to make the whole search
process less frustrating, hopefully by building intelligence into systems.
Copyright and other legal issues remain contentious
Bob Ainsbury, representing the vendor side, said, "The agent of innovation
is money and the money has dried up." There is a continual decline of behemoth
companies. We need to change to a better business model. ROI is very difficult
to ascertain because the results of information retrieval are "soft."
Finally, I really liked Ojala's perception of the challenges we face:
Adding value to our professional services
Obtaining sufficient funding
Meeting the needs of non-text-based learners
Understanding context as others understand it and putting our knowledge
in their context
A number of the conference presentations are linked from the event's
Web site at http://www.infotoday.com/it2002/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 is contributing editor of Information Today,
editor of NewsBreaks, a former reference librarian, and a longtime online
searcher. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.