By Jim Ashling
Birmingham, England's sprawling
National Exhibition Centre (NEC) was the site of the fifth Internet Librarian
International (ILI) meeting, held March 2527. This was the first ILI
event at this venue and the first to be co-located with the new Total Library
Solutions (TLS) exhibition. Information Today, Inc. sponsors ILI, while Imark
Communications, Ltd., organizer of the London Online Information conference
and exhibition, runs the TLS event. Some 300 delegates from 32 countries attended
ILI, two-thirds of whom traveled from outside the U.K.
Each day kicked off with a keynote presentation. First up on day one was
John Lervik, CEO and co-founder ofFast Search & Transfer (FAST). FAST builds
Web search technologies that are used by some major companies, including AT&T,
IBM, and Dell. In addition, FAST technologies drive the well-known search engine
AlltheWeb as well as Elsevier's Scirus. In February, Overture Services, Inc.
acquired FAST's Internet business unit for $70 million in cash plus performance-based
cash-incentive payments for up to $30 million over 3 years.
Lervik's presentation described the current status of Web search engines
and how they will develop and improve. Advances are needed in the four basic
aspects of the search process: understanding the content, understanding the
query, adaptive searching, and presentation of results. Lervik says that improvements
in content analysis will come from language identification, better date and
age determination, geographical coding, and "anchor texts" (hand-constructed
index terms added to the metadata).
In order to better understand queries and so make better use of indexing
and metadata, the query structure is broken down into the "head" (topic or
concept) and the "container" (document type). There are of course millions
of heads but relatively few containers, which Lervik illustrated with examples
such as biography, image, article, etc.
Adaptive searching takes into account spelling variants and mistakes in both
the query and the searched content as well as morphology, such as word endings
and syntax. Semantics will aid in understanding the intent of the question.
The presentation of results will be improved by extracting and highlighting
significant terms, such as people, places, and product names, and creating
lists of them on the fly. Dynamic drill-down will deliver statistical analysis
and information extraction from large results sets, instead of the poorly ranked
lists that are currently provided.
Lervik's session was introduced by David Raitt, who is familiar to many in
the information industry through his long service with the European Space Agency
and his chairmanship of many conferences. He pointed out that the history of
search engine development was littered with reinvention as technologies migrated
from online to CD-ROM to the Internet. I couldn't help thinking that this keynote
had described exactly the same issues of indexing, searching, recall, precision,
and understanding users' queries that have been grappled with by librarians,
A&I services, and information distributors since time immemorial. Onlythe
language or terminology seems to have changed.
Richard Boulderstone, director of e-strategy for The British Library, presented
the second keynote. Although the BL has collected electronic publications for
some time, given the progress of legislation for the legal deposit of electronic
material, his role is expected to increase dramatically over the next few years.
(Seethis month's International Report on page 39.) The growth of this material,
customer expectations, costs, competition, and government funding levels combine
to create pressures on the institution. The BL's current administration is
altering its vision from one of preserving an archive to one of fulfilling
customer needs "to help people advance knowledge to enrich lives."
The variety of activities is certainly a challenge in itself. Aside from
collecting and archiving currently published electronic materials, the BL plans
to offer networked access to the collection across its six U.K. legal deposit
libraries. Other content will be publicly available from anywhere. The collections
span a vast range, including digitized historical or fragile materials such
as the Gutenberg Bible project. Another project that is starting with a 100-site
pilot is Domain UK, a Web archive for all U.K. sites. Yet another is "In Place," a
collection of 100,000 images and sound recordings that illustrate the changing
face of Britain and its people.
The BL's long-term goal is to have uniform storage and access strategies
and technologies for this huge and varied collection. Whereas Lervik had stressed
the importance of improving and increasing metadata, Boulderstone is looking
to minimize the amount of metadata collected because of size and cost implications.
It will be interesting to see how the two approaches compare in a year or two.
The third keynote described a totally different means of navigating the Web.
Martin Dodge, of the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at London's University
College, studies the "geography" of the Internet. He believes that maps of
cyberspace provide a useful and viable supplement to existing Web navigational
tools. Dodge provided the audience with a tour of some existing and emerging
examples while pointing out that no complete map is currently available today.
He was anxious to stress that this was not a Hollywood-style visualization
using 3-D virtual reality, but a more modern development of such classic information
maps as Charles Joseph Minard's thematic map of Napoleon's march on Moscow
or the London Underground route map. Maps of cyberspace are required to give
better views of context, surroundings, hidden connections, and sometimes a
The key spatial properties of area, position, proximity, and scalecoupled
with the graphical attributes of color, shape, labeling, etc.are used
to turn information into maps. An early example is the University of Arizona
AI Lab's ET map (http://ai2.bpa.arizona.edu/ent) in
which more than 110,000 entertainment-related sites are mapped as multilayered
boxes of varying size with clustering of boxes of closely related content.
While offering the caveat that all cybermaps are authored by someone or other
and are thus subjective views of the world, Dodge provided several examples.
Visual Net from Antarctica Systems, Inc. has several visualization solutions,
including Map Net (http://maps.map.net),
which uses varying size areas to indicate the quantity of sites and information
on various topics. [Editor's Note: For more on Antarctica, see the interview
on page 1.]
SmartMoney.com (http://www.smartmoney.com/marketmap) presents
a view of U.S. corporations by industry, size, latest stock price, and recent
performance. The site uses area and color as well as click-through to current
news items, earnings, financials, etc.
History Wired (http://historywired.si.edu),
produced by SmartMoney.com for the Smithsonian Institution, is an experimental
program through which one can take a virtual tour of 450 selected objects from
the collections of the National Museum of American History. Many of the images
and descriptions are of museum artifacts that are not currently on exhibit.
Netscan (http://netscan.research.microsoft.com) presents
a map of Usenet discussions by topic with color-coding to indicate growing
and declining subjects. Unfortunately, the Microsoft Research site was not
responding at the time of this writing, so I was unable to try it out. [Editor's
Note: The site is now accessible.]
Finally, network maps such as Kartoo (http://www.kartoo.com) and
TouchGraph GoogleBrowser (http://www.touchgraph.com/TGGoogleBrowser.html) are
intended to show links and interconnections between sites. Trying Kartoo for
myself, I searched "INSPEC" in U.K. sites only, and, aside from understandable
links to BIDS and EDINA, it directed me to the Ford Cortina Mk 2 Owners Club
and e-Hernia.co.uk, a source for "frank information about hernias." Clearly,
there's a way to go yet.
Dodge agrees that these tools are all early pilot projects, with none of
them being his first choice for daily Web searching. However, they illustrate
the potential for alternative views of Webspace. He's looking forward to the
day when we have a London Tube Map-equivalent for the Web. Developments to
look for include integration of mapping tools with the browser, maps of search
engine results, automatic geocoding, multimedia searching, and reuse of information
from earlier searchers (nicely described as "virtual footprints").
The general program provided parallel tracks with many practical sessions
of tips, how-to's, and case studies. Topics included better searching, Web
site design, teaching, information literacy, cultural development, authoring
formats, resource management, and blogging.
About 60 exhibitors showcased their products and services at the 2-day TLS
event. Classified under technology, infrastructure, content, and services,
exhibitors included publishers, security equipment suppliers, library automation
services, subscription agents, and online service providers. Apart from all
the usual suspects, I was on the lookout for exhibitors that I had not seen
at other library shows. I came across a couple of interesting displays that
were new to me.
SatWeb, Ltd. from Cornwall, England (http://www.satweb.co.uk),
offers broadband satellite connectivity from fixed and mobile stations anywhere
in Europe. Although useful for any organization that wishes to extend its corporate
network to remote offices, SatWeb was targeting colleges and universities that
wish to deliver greater outreach with their digital learning programs. They
can provide mobile classrooms in locations that are too remote for conventional
high-speed lines or to communities that cannot afford such services.
The concept is well-illustrated by a partnership called "Real" between Glasgow
City Council, Glasgow colleges and universities, and various Scottish funding
bodies. This project has brought broadband Internet access to deprived areas
in Glasgow's large housing developments. "Real on the Road" is a mobile learning
center that contains 10 PCs, printers, Webcams, learning materials, and satellite
broadband Internet access. This 21st-century mobile library is bringing easy
access, learning, and training classes to people who have never used computers
or had such educational opportunities.
It's often said that although the medical profession is well-served with
information resources, the busy general practitioner does not make the best
use of them. To counter this, the U.K. National Health Service Information
Authority has set up a National Electronic Library for Health (NeLH). NeLH (http://www.nelh.nhs.uk) contains
more than 70 electronic resources, including MEDLINE, NHS guidelines, The Cochrane
Library, research reviews and bulletins, and, new since last August, an online
anatomy resource. Anatomy is a collection of 3-D pictures built up from body
scans that can be rotated and their layers removed to expose underlying structures.
The overall site is getting more than 2 million hits a month, with significant
numbers from North America.
As I was leaving the halls, I mused on the taglines that most conferences
and exhibitions seem to feel necessary to append to their name. ILI and TLS
don't seem to use them, unless you count the line on the TLS registration form
that says, "It's exciting. It's fresh. It's different." But that's a bit too
much like toothpaste advertising for my liking. I much preferred a couple of
examples that I noticed on the way out, advertising other meetings at the NEC.
The first seemed relevant. "Making a Difference" sounds like a good mission
statement for librarians until I saw that it was actually for the Prison Chaplaincy
Conference. The second one reminded me of the pleasures and frustrations ofWeb
searching and was used at an exhibition for one of Britain's most popular hobbies:
It was simply titled "Go Fishing!"
Jim Ashling runs Ashling Consulting, an independent consultancy
for the information industry. His e-mail address is email@example.com.