Report From The Field
Online Information 2003
By Jim Ashling
In December, most of us are focused on year-end issues: budgets, holiday plans,
etc. But for the 27th successive year, thousands of participants in the information
industry converged on London's Olympia Conference and Exhibition Centre from
Dec. 2 to 4 for what continues to be the most important event on the online
information business calendar.
No matter what other evidence there is about the state of the industry, the
statistics associated with the Online Information event and the atmosphere
in the conference and exhibit aisles provide endless fodder for speculation
on the survival and continuing evolution of the services that create and distribute
So how did Online Information 2003 stack up against previous years? The number
of exhibition attendees who trooped through the Grand Hall remained steady
at just more than 11,000, which is pretty much the same as 2002. At 224, the
total number of exhibitor stands was up a little over the previous year, but
about 30 companies occupied space in a new co-located exhibition called Content
Management Europe. That fact plus the continuing trend of consolidation through
company mergers makes it difficult to compare year to year, but overall the
trend is down, with fewer companies using smaller booths.
However, talk to any producer or distributor and you'll get a pretty upbeat
messagemaybe tempered with the comment that although things will never
be the same as before, there are strong signs that the worst of the recession
is over. And while you don't expect to get complete candor with a dumb question
like, "So how's everything going?" I did detect a small improvement in mood
over last year.
Perhaps this was because there were more new developments and services among
some of the traditional players than in recent years. There are those that
won't simply wait around for extinction while leaving it all to the robot search
Unlike 2002, when I found few new developments among the long-surviving playersincluding
many that had attended every Online Information showI noticed four trends
this year that showed product enhancements which play to traditional strengths:
content development, improved timeliness in product updates, new analysis tools,
and collaborative activity.
The digitization of historical backfiles isn't exactly an earth-shattering
development, but it's one that many producers have recently embraced and that
is difficult for the Internet generation of companies to compete with. Maybe
it all started with the large society journal publishers that were persuaded
by their membership to release online versions of their entire published output
in full text.
This has created a sufficiently large online collection of original material
that, with the added facility of DOIs and other citation-linking mechanisms,
makes worthwhile the release of historical backfiles of bibliographic databases
such as Chemical Abstracts, CAB Abstracts, Engineering Index, and INSPEC, to
name but a few. It seems that virtually everyone with an archive of printed
abstracts is turning them into online files.
In addition to a historical archive, INSPEC is increasing coverage to include
a fifth section of the database, Section E: Manufacturing and Production Engineering.
This will expand the number of journals that have been scanned for database
coverage by more than 200 new titles.
The American Psychological Association will launch its gray literature database
PsycEXTRA in early 2004. This is a bibliographic file that links to the full
text of a variety of non-peer-reviewed literature, newsletters, magazines,
and other material written for a lay audience. In April, APA plans to launch
PsycBOOKS, which contains the full text of all APA scholarly titles plus additional
psychology classics from other publishers.
Full-text journal publishers are looking to increase the content of their
online journals so they fully match the print versions. In the past, most publishers
simply created digital collections of journal articles only. However, readers
need to see all parts of the traditional journal content, including editorial
matter, correspondence, corrections, obituaries, and even advertisements. IEEE
is adding such non-reviewed material to its Xplore electronic collection. Although
no one is ready to sound the death knell for print journals just yet, inclusion
of all content will be an essential requirement if a fully online version is
to stand alone.
IEEE is certainly getting usage out of the Xplore platform: Some 4 million
articles are delivered each month to a community of 1.4 million users. Advertising
may be a risky topic for a group of users that can be made apoplectic by pop-ups
and spam, but remember that many professional societies rely on advertising
in conjunction with journal publishing to fund their activities. It's not surprising
then that at IEEE's customer lunch, marketing director Jon Dahl mentioned that
ways to include e-advertising with online journal access are at the very early
stages of research at his company.
Publishers of online journal collections, both large and small, are also
enhancing historical breadth and functionality. A new exhibitor at Online Information
2003 was New Scientist magazine. This popular U.K. weekly has released
a 10-year archive for personal and site-license access. Meanwhile, the American
Institute of Physics, an Online Information regular, announced that it's changing
the name of its Online Journal Publishing Service to Scitation. This service
provides access to 114 publications and will now offer features that allow
researchers to personalize their usage.
Enhancing or expanding coverage is certainly one way to compete with the
open Web, but timeliness is an area in which the Web can often dominate. Thomson
announced that in the first quarter of 2004, it will launch Derwent World Patents
Index First View, a fast-release patent database. DWPI First View provides
an early preview of all the latest published patent documents in advance of
their inclusion in Derwent World Patents Index.
Depending on the issuing authority, the First View record will initially
appear from 2 to 10 weeks earlier than the final record. However, Derwent is
also taking steps to improve the timeliness of the main file, which will result
in a 2- to 4-week gap in the future. In particular, Derwent claims that the
inclusion of Japanese information from all technology areas in DWPI First View
within 9 to 12 days from its publication date will represent the fastest overall
availability of this information from services of this type.
Tim Hamer, senior vice president of global marketing services for Thomson
Scientific, described to me how a snapshot of the DWPI record is taken from
a work in progress and will contain searchable bibliographic data, classifications,
and front-page drawing images. Hence, a search of DWPI in combination with
DWPI First View is the most comprehensive and current. Once the full DWPI record
becomes available, the First View record is removed. First View will be available
on both Dialog and STN.
While on the topic of patents, QuestelOrbit is addressing the time
that it takes to review a retrieved set of documents by introducing technology
to improve full-text reading efficiency. An agreement with Lingway, a provider
of language-processing software, has delivered the means to quickly highlight
text in a patent document that contains major advantages and claims, disadvantages
of previous patents, and names of companies and individuals.
The QuestelOrbit feature also illustrates my third trend: analysis.
Aside from improving speed and efficiency, many producers and vendors are introducing
technologies that support the post-processing of retrieved results.
STN has released tools to analyze, tabulate, and chart data that's been retrieved
from STN literature and patent files. In addition, it now has tools that improve
the search process itself. The somewhat lengthily titled STN Express with Discover!
Analysis edition (version 7.0) uses Wizards in combination with Microsoft Excel.
For the information professional, the STN Analyze Wizard creates tables and
charts from bibliographic data (for example, charts of the number of articles
by author or year). For the chemist, the Variable Group Analysis Table Tool
looks for common substructures in CAS REGISTRY answer sets, and the Select
Discover! Wizard assists with search strategy development based on analysis
of the search history.
Ovid is also bundling services with Microsoft software. It's providing integrated
access to its online medical journals collection through a Research and Reference
pane within the Office 2003 applications of Word, Outlook, PowerPoint, Excel,
Publisher, OneNote, and Visio.
Both STN and Ovid's developments show a desire to make information-retrieval
tools more available, familiar, and valuable on the scientist's desktop. These
are essential features for competing with the likes of Google and Yahoo! to
grab users' attention. This is especially true for companies that have adopted
enterprise information solutions. Dialog has taken this on and is focusing
on recently launched information-integration tools, particularly Dialog Portals
and Dialog API, two services that integrate Dialog content with company portals
and Web sites.
After several years of growth by acquisition, Thomson is now looking across
its portfolio of companies to search for collaborative opportunities within
its own organization. Coming this year will be a portal for the pharmaceutical
industry. This will provide information from a broad range of Thomson companies
that's relevant to employees in specific industries. It will include patents,
scientific literature, medical information, and financial and business data.
The portal will no doubt be based on experience gained with the Strategic Drugs
database, which was released by the company's Current Drugs division in May
Collaboration between scientific societies remains active. For example, among
the personalized features that will be included in AIP's Scitation service
is a current-awareness alerting tool driven by the INSPEC database. Several
collaborations between companies have already been mentioned: STN and Ovid
with Microsoft and QuestelOrbit with Lingway, for instance.
The impetus for many collaborations, particularly between primary and secondary
publishers, came about through CrossRef's cross-publisher citation-linking
system. Such collaboration will undoubtedly increase as CrossRef has dropped
its DOI retrieval fees for all members and affiliates. With 250 members now
registered, the potential for collaborative interlinking has grown significantly.
Online Goes Online!
Finally, Online Information has quite a future itself. The show continues
to evolve and attract some of the newer information companies as well as the
die-hards, but it would be more rounded with a greater representation from
the younger generation that was spawned in the Internet age.
The 2004 event will be at Olympia, as usual, from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2. But
in March 2004, Online Information is launching Online Information Online, a
free 24/7 exhibition. The show that has tracked the evolution of the industry
from its creation in a predominantly print era to today's Internet-age version
is going virtual itself. For a preview, exhibiting details, and to register
for notification when the exhibition goes live, see http://www.online-information.co.uk/online.
We've all had to cope with the trials and tribulations of moving from one
medium to another. It will be interesting to see how trade shows deal with
entering a virtual arena. I just hope it doesn't mean the exhibitors' cocktail
party will be replaced with a virtual one.
Jim Ashling runs Ashling Consulting, an independent
consultancy for the information industry. His e-mail
address is email@example.com.