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Magazines > ONLINE > September/October 2010
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Online Magazine

Vol. 34 No. 5 — Sep/Oct 2010

Past, Present, and Future of Online
By Marydee Ojala
Editor • ONLINE

For its 30th anniversary, the Southern African Online Users Group ( chose “The Past, Present, and Future of Online” as the theme for its Southern African Online Information Meeting (SAOIM), held in August 2010. I was honored to be a keynote speaker at the event, talking about the future of online. Given the opportunity to both reminisce and predict, speakers brought various perspectives to the past and present, but their enthusiasm was for the future.

Thirty years ago, the online world looked very different than it does today. We had command line searching; our world was in black and white; and full text was the oddity, not the norm. Command line searching still has value for today’s information professional, as François Libmann demonstrates in his “Cherry Picking for Patent Codes” article.

As I listened to the various speakers at SAOIM, I realized that articles in this issue could be construed as aligning with the theme of the conference. How traditional online is changing and adapting to 21st-century technologies, the open law movement, a rental business model for scholarly literature, libraries embracing QR codes, dynamic open source website design dedicated to interactivity, and the evolution of classic taxonomies and ontologies to meet future searcher expectations—I had inadvertently created a theme issue.

The past was when the professional searcher was in charge. Few were admitted to the exalted ranks of online access. It was expensive, complicated, and technically challenging. We gloried in our power as gatekeepers while decrying the influence of other gatekeepers, such as the IT department. The present situation puts technology in charge and eliminates intermediaries. Web search engines do not reveal how they came up with your search results. “Trust us,” they say. And most people, even professional searchers, do. We’ve moved from online as arcane skill to online as ubiquitous. Online is the air we breathe.

A fundamental shift, from forcing users to change their behavior so they conform with system requirements to information professionals adapting user behavior as the norm and altering products and services to them, is happening in the present. We’re not in charge anymore, not the center of the universe. Online has empowered people to expect interactivity and personalization.

What of the future? It’s likely to be fragmented. As content increases exponentially in digital form, the ability to find relevant information to support business decisions, make scientific judgments, research legal issues, and move scholarly discourse forward will become even more critical. But using online technologies for self-help, shopping, entertainment, and trivia has search companies more excited than reaching out to the library and professional researcher market. For us, identifying and effectively using qualified tools and sources will be essential and challenging. Information professionals should concentrate not only on improving research skills but also on creating a future online environment conducive to serious research. The future goes beyond finding information to creating new data through content analysis, advancing technologies, and our own intellects. Excited about the future? I am.

Marydee Ojala is the editor of ONLINE. Comments? E-mail letters to the editor to

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