Information Today
Volume 19, Issue 5 — May 2002
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IT Report from the Field •
Spring 2002 ASIDIC Meeting
The mood at this event was considerably more upbeat than the one last fall
by Donald T. Hawkins

The information industry has experienced far-reaching and rapid change in recent years, and the changes have had significant impacts on all its segments. But in spite of these, harsh market and industry conditions, and even a major meltdown in the dot-com area, some technologies and services have managed to survive. One might regard them as "dinosaurs," but that's fine—at least they're still here to teach us how they have survived!

The ASIDIC (Association of Information and Dissemination Centers) Spring 2002 meeting, held in mid-March in St. Augustine, Florida, took as its theme "Technologies and Business Models That Have Stood the Test of Time." The mood was considerably more upbeat than at the Fall 2001 meeting, which took place not long after September 11. Areas discussed were indexing and taxonomies, secondary publishers, and content vs. technology. The ever-popular CEO Panel featured three participants, and the meeting concluded with a much anticipated endnote presentation by Jonathan Tasini, who has been prominent in the news lately. Another feature of the meeting was the group discussions on the following topics of interest:

  • Is content or technology king?

  • Will secondary publishers survive?

  • Are mergers and acquisitions the way of the future?

  • Is the fallout from the Tasini case destructive?
The opening session focused on taxonomies and their role in information retrieval and knowledge management. Joe Schehr of LexisNexis led off with the observation that KM cannot occur without indexing and vocabulary control. Although a vast amount of information is available on the Web, the critical need is to provide the right information to users. Indexing and taxonomies are helpful, and they influence the success or failure of KM systems. Although taxonomies can be created automatically, their quality is highest when humans become involved.

The next two speakers, Dee Baldwin of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida and Paul Vizza of Kiplinger Washington Editors, followed with case studies of how they took two different approaches to create and use taxonomies in their organizations. Baldwin was involved in the start-up of a business-development subsidiary in her company that used KM principles from its inception. Because of time and cost constraints, it used linguistic analysis to produce several taxonomies to index its internal information.

Vizza recounted how Kiplinger needed to get a range of content into a single format that's acceptable to aggregators and then index it for retrieval. The company hired a human lexicographer who read itspublications and, working with the editors, manually created a taxonomy. Information professionals and aggregators have received the database favorably, and sales have increased.

Charles Alexander ofNstein, a relativelynew company in the information industry, discussed computer-aided indexing (CAI) and explained how it works. Concepts and "entities" (names of people, companies, etc.) are extracted from documents and categorized. Users can then retrieve documents by browsing the categorization. The advantages of CAI are that it reduces indexing time and costs while still maintaining the quality of the index.

The session was wrapped up by the moderator, Corilee Christou of Reed Business Information, who noted that aggregators have become much more rigid in their requirements for the acceptance of data, which in turn forces the producers to employ quality controls and ensure that the data is in the correct format. Indexing is part of this process, and because it helps people connect with knowledge, it is a necessity, not a dinosaur.

divine Acquisitions
The keynote address, a stimulating and fast-moving presentation by Ron Bienvenu, chief planning officer for divine, Inc., followed the opening session. divine has been in the news because of its aggressive acquisition program. (divine has acquired eight public companies in the last 10 months, including such information entities as and Northern Light. Some of divine's purchases were made to obtain a large customer base; others were acquired to gain entrance into large organizations through existing enterprise contracts.) The company believes that information technology professionals build good products, but they do not sell them well.

divine has formed an army of over 350 representatives to sell the products of its new acquisitions. Its philosophy is that people buy products because of their value, and the successful information supplier gets the right information to the right person at the right time. The Web does not do this well, and it has created problems because of the overwhelming amount of information available. To succeed, companies must solve users' problems and not worry about the technology. Tagging documents and data can solve one problem that users have: locating the information they want. Content and applications are merging, so it's important to find out what users are doing with the content they purchase and then price it according to their needs.

Secondary Publishers
Are secondary publishers vanishing? What changes must they make to survive? A session entitled "Après le Déluge" examined these questions. Executives from three prominent secondary information services provided insights on their businesses and the challenges they are facing.

Linda Beebe, director of the American Psychological Association's PsycINFO service, thinks secondary publishers will survive in the short term, but their longer-term future is questionable. The Web has presented huge challenges, most of them familiar to information professionals: "Everything is free on the Web," "Anything can be found using Google," and "If it's not electronic, it doesn't exist." Free bibliographic services (PubScience, MEDLINE, etc.) and free full-text searching systems (PubMedCentral, Research Index) are significant threats to old-time secondary publishers. But they have managed to survive because their subject and indexing expertise have been recognized. They have also changed their business practices, developed new products, enhanced existing ones, and used technology to their advantage to streamline their operations. Changes in pricing structures have had a major influence as the user environment has changed, and many secondary publishers have been forced to develop a range of pricing for different types of users. Beebe thinks that secondary publishers will survive if they recognize that their role is as a finding tool and not the ultimate destination for a user, provide links to relevant information, help librarians train users, and promote their value to primary publishers.

Mary Berger of Elsevier's Engineering Information (Ei) followed with a case study of how the Ei Village has evolved. Originally developed to provide end-user access to Ei's Compendex product, the Village employs the metaphor of a community with separate buildings and departments that deliver a variety of information services. Ei Village was a huge success in the market, but studies showed that many users wanted simpler and faster access, primarily toCompendex and its related services. So the site (now called EV2) was redesigned with a simple interface, and the village metaphor was discarded. Other databases were added, which provided a challenge to Ei because it was not formerly in the hosting business. EV2 remains successful because it offers one-stop access to the world's engineering and applied science literature.

Matt Dunie, president of Cambridge Scientific Abstracts (CSA), another successful secondary publishing company, described the history of CSA and how it has grown by acquiring databases. He pointed out that an industry thrives by meeting the needs of its customers (including needs they may not know they have). CSA emphasizes that by listening closely to its customers and letting them help design products. Successful publishers cannot remain static but must embrace changes. One major change that has proven profitable for CSA has been to provide links between various players in the information chain—primary publishers, secondary publishers, users, and aggregators—to the benefit of all.

Who's the King?
Which is more important, content or technology? A four-person panel debated this question in a session titled "Is Content or Technology King?" Marcus Woodburn, director of publisher relations at ProQuest, broke content down into three types—commoditized (weather, etc.), transient (e-mails, blogs), and premium (research and other published content)—and discussed variousscenarios. He concluded that he who holds the content is king. Technology, which facilitates the development and delivery of content, is the kingmaker. But because technology is always changing and requires constant vigilance and updating, it is also a slave-maker.

Woodburn made the important point that technology can be a restrictor of access. He said that only 56 percent of American households have online access, which disenfranchises the others. Scott MacFarland, director of publishing business development at IEEE, took the position that content is the kingdom, but technology holds the keys. Although content can exist in a nonphysical form, technology improves its dissemination and "expression." It also enhances content and enables customization. Robin Phelps, one of the co-founders of DigitalOwl (a developer of products that facilitate the secure management of premium information), came down on the side of technology because business problems are solved through its use. Information is distributed on the Net through technology, and publishers also use it to explore and develop new products.

Finally, Charles Terry, CEO of COMTEX News Network, said that the question is not about content or technology, but about readers. Both content and technology cost money, but readers pay money, so they are king! But they will not pay unless the content is credible, easily found, timely, used in connection with the reader's work, and cost-effective. So the reader is king, and the content must please him. Technology, publishers, and aggregators must help put content in context and partner with intermediaries to maximize the value and minimize its cost.

CEO Panel
ASIDIC began featuring CEO sessions at its meeting several years ago, and this popular tradition continued at the Spring meeting. The panelists were Charles Terry, Wes Crews of Infotrieve, and Christopher Forbes of knovel Corp. In Terry's view, winners in the electronic information world must master distribution and add value to content. He feels that the worst result of the dot-com collapse has been the disrespect and devaluation of content, which must be overcome with proper business models. The user interface is absolutely critical. Technology helps present content in different ways, create new products, and reach new users. COMTEX has responded to these challenges by leveraging its network of publications and applications, adding value, and delivering revenue to publishers.

Crews described Infotrieve's business of delivering publications and articles to customers in hard copy or electronic format. He presented data showing that the most common way corporate end-users learn about articles is by browsing print journals, which makes their business highly relevant in today's market. Relevance, timeliness, and updating are the most important attributes users consider when selecting an information service, so we are all in the networking business, with connections driving innovation and discovery.

Forbes concluded the CEO Panel by describing knovel and its business. Formed 2 years ago, knovel has created a service that focuses on the research and engineering data market. It has about 125 industrial customers who can search reference data (including textual, tabular, and graphical material) in well-known handbooks such as the Handbook of Chemistry and Physics. Forbes stressed that the entire value chain—technology, content, and distribution—is necessary for success, and it is important to know how people use information. Once a product is sold to the right users, usage will build on itself, and it will multiply the value of the information to both the user and publisher. knovel's vision is to revolutionize the use of technical information.

Tasini Speaks
The endnote presentation by Jonathan Tasini was eagerly anticipated. His position is that authors make it possible for content providers to exist, and the Supreme Court has agreed that it is good for authors to have control over their works for a period of time so that they can receive compensation for them. Content providers must recognize this or the rights are meaningless.

Some providers' current practice of deleting freelance authors' records (unless those authors sign away all their rights forever) isn't good. We need a system for authors to license their works to a provider. Tasini has proposed that a rights clearinghouse be established for writers similar to that in the music industry. The system would work for the authors to protect their interests, but also give them a simple way to license their creations. He feels that there are many opportunities for authors and publishers to work together mutually, with authors getting compensation and publishers making a profit. According to his calculations, there are currently about 17 million articles to which aggregators do not have rights. Some authors are very concerned that the records containing their work are being destroyed; they would like to obtain control of those files. Tasini thinks that his proposal is a workable solution to this dilemma.

ASIDIC meetings usually deal with topics of current interest and thus are highly worthwhile to attend. They're structured to provide the maximum opportunities for interaction and networking among the attendees, and this meeting was no exception. The ASIDIC Fall 2002 meeting will be held in Philadelphia on September 22­24. If you'd like to receive details about the program when they become available and you're not already on the ASIDIC mailing list, send an e-mail to with your contact information. Make plans now to attend—I look forward to seeing you there.

Donald T. Hawkins is editor in chief of Information Today, Inc.'s Information Science Abstracts and Fulltext Sources Online. He also serves as ASIDIC secretariat and edits the ASIDIC Newsletter. He can be reached at 215/654-9129 or by e-mail at

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