Information Today
Volume 18, Issue 2 February 2001
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IT Report from the Field
Online Information 2000
This huge conference is as popular as ever
by Donald T. Hawkins

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.
 

TDNet
TDNet (http://www.tdnet.com), 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.
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.]
 

Wordmap, Ltd.
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 26.]

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 shopping opportunities.

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.
 

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