|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 1517 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
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:
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.
The past can really be the prologue (as when old economy companies revitalize).
Free raw content has limited value.
Information professionals and other intermediaries still add essential
"Traditional" is not a four-letter word (i.e., all of the old business
models aren't junk).
National Online 2001
For National Online 2001, three tracks were offered each day that were
grouped around the following general topic areas:
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.
Searching, Search Engines, and Electronic Publishing
Content: Its Management and Uses
Business Information, Wall Street, and Competitive Intelligence
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
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
which provides a "rough sets" technique for searching. He also feels that
both Verity and Autonomy are winning companies in the search-engine licensing
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@