Night — Let the Event Begin
The traffic was
terrible. Awful. It was hot, hot, hot in L.A. Everyone arrived with a story
of cars flipped on their sides, crashes, construction, and other traffic
stoppers. The 15th annual Southern California Online User Group (SCOUG)
retreat did not seem to get off to an auspicious start. But with enough
chips and salsa, a terrific barbecue dinner, and some wine, everyone began
to settle down by dessert. The annual souvenir T-shirts, plus bags and
hats from Nstein, the automated indexing software company which was one
of this year's sponsors, were distributed. Dialog was another contributor,
providing many of the little extras that made for a comfortable environment,
such as bottled water, snacks, more wine, and other treats.
At 8:00 p.m. the
informal greeting/meeting began. As usual, a representative from the La
Casa de Maria Retreat House read us the rules; for some reason, he emphasized
the one about quiet after 10:00 p.m. [Snicker, snicker, wink, wink.] SCOUG
rules followed, specifically, the one that says that everyone can say anything,
because it won't go further than these walls. We may arrive as customers,
database vendors, producers, and competitors, but while here we are all
colleagues looking for the ties that bind us.
This year we had
eight newcomers, and 20 old timers, er, veterans. (Yeah, veterans.)
of Nstein was the Master of Ceremonies. Why did we come? Because the SCOUG
retreat is "the summer camp for rowdy information professionals." Where
would this year's theme take us? This year's theme asked: "What Are the
Skills Needed for Tomorrow?" Few here have "traditional" backgrounds. What
got us here? What skills will define our industry in the next 5 years?
What are the traditional skills of information professionals, the skills
we need today? What skills will we need tomorrow that we should be acquiring
today? Taxonomists, ontologists, catalogers, or librarians? What are we?
Are we still the same but with different names? If not, who are these new
people, e.g., the ones just discovering metadata, the ones who don't know
that librarians and information professionals have been providing and searching
for information for decades?
One SCOUG-er points
out, "We need to market ourselves and inform people about our skills. We
need to package our expertise to these new companies and people. Those
new people are into the technology, but we have the respect for the information.
For them it is content. For us it is learning and knowledge and information
— much more than data. Why were we perceived as gatekeepers? Why do other
people have the perception of themselves as liberating information? Is
it all language?"
These are the questions
we will wrestle with for the rest of the weekend, beginning tomorrow. Traditional
and non-traditional roles for the future.
The movie is playing
inside. The wine is on the patio. Enjoy the rest of the evening!
After a wonderful
La Casa breakfast, we shuffle into the great meeting room. Dozens of helium-filled
balloons surround us, tied to chairs, podiums, marker boards, the TV/VCR
cart, and anything else that wouldn't fly away. Our mood floats as high
as the balloons.
Forward to the
topic of the day — the skills of the future.
Many of us trained
in traditional library skills have applied them well in non-traditional
careers. We use these skills to design, create, produce, and sell databases,
to create indexing systems, etc. A number of us recognize the need to communicate
better with upper management, use financial models and spreadsheets effectively,
and speak their language. Some sought mentors to take us to top-level meetings
to learn where our organizations are going. We all recognized the need
to train on the job, continue everyone's education, and improve and expand
We have to learn
to adapt to management, administration, and executives — learn their "speak,"
understand their habits and environments, their aspirations, etc. We thrive
on ideas, creative work, and every day being different — and we enjoy finding
an answer or getting other little epiphanies during the day. Do they? How,
when, and why do they feel good at work?
At least one person
thought the librarian-types must destroy the civil servant mentality and
break free to take risks. Timid managers who are too afraid to do anything
wrong stay with heads down "below the radar" and fail. The skills of management
and leadership are essential when librarians begin to rise in the ranks
and begin managing. Traditional librarian types also need to learn marketing
of themselves, their programs, products, and libraries. One attendee suggested
traditionalists earn an MBA in Management of Information. Right now she
can't find a librarian with the business skills she requires, so she has
to hire MBAs with research skills.
Just as the general
discussion about traditional vs. new skills was getting started, a SCOUG
member rushed in with a "breaking news" story created to spark the discussion
for the first small group meetings.
FLASH: Google is
in trouble, and the backers are departing. It must lay off 50 percent of
the people tomorrow. The rest may be gone by the end of the month! SCOUG
to the rescue!!!
Do we use our traditional
or non-traditional skills? How do we solve the problems of Google? We are
informed that there will be a traditional group, a non-traditional group,
and a hybrid group tapping all skills. We have a 2-year timeline. Will
SCOUG's Google succeed or will we kill it? The scenario asks, "What form
will Google take in the next 2 years? What will be the deliverables? How
do we sell them? To whom? What skills will bring the company and/or the
professionals to the top?"
The teams are asked
to define their terms, then attack the problem.
The Traditional Group
put me in the "traditional" group.
The team began
to define the term Traditional as timid, avoiding the radar, applying for
unemployment, and hoping changes would go away. The Traditional wouldn't
go about looking for a company likely to purchase Google or initiate a
campaign for more venture capital.
No, the Traditional
would network actively. S/he would take advantage of the infrastructure
that they know and use collegial and strategic alliances and cooperatives.
Perhaps s/he might find a university that has a think tank with entrepreneurial
specialists in a number of fields, including information companies. All
agreed that the Traditionals would do thorough research to avoid re-inventing
the wheel. They would suggest alignment with another technology company.
Traditionals would want to choose tried-and-true partners (Microsoft, Sun,
and OCLC). They might approach library consortia to license Google software
for a fee to generate income.
This is like fixing
potholes in roads.
In the first 6
months of our plan, we felt the Traditional would have named an info professional
as CEO (perhaps an Associate Dean a major library school would lend to
us for 6 months while paying his/her salary) to oversee the transition.
Half the employees were terminated, with the information pros kept on.
Traditionals would lose the MBAs and focus on the networking, negotiating,
Or, we might return
to the origins of Google — a project at Stanford and a nonprofit model.
Perhaps we would set up a new board, with business acumen in the information
industry, academia, business, venture capital, and other backgrounds. Information,
archiving, retrieval — all are our skills. The business aspect is where
the Traditional needs help.
can't imagine change and doing away with Google. They will want to evaluate
and research everything, all options. But we don't have time to do all
of these to the extent that we would like. We must act serially, concurrently,
and take risks.
believe, would put together a grant proposal for foundation grants or apply
for government assistance. Some thought that perhaps the Library of Congress,
the National Library of Medicine (NLM), the Association of Research Libraries,
Research Libraries Group (RLG), and/or OCLC (the Online College Library
Center) might serve as models.
keep the business development and infrastructure in place, e.g., the IT
chief and a few others from the old company, then get experts to fill the
knowledge gaps. We put it out in stages. First study issues, get grant
proposal accepted for temporary funding. Find a policy-making home. Assemble
a blue ribbon panel to find out what customers want to use and what kind
of company they want to invest in.
We finally decided
that Traditionals might take Google to Washington to become a government
branch — to take its maintenance on as a national resource like NTIS, LC,
Homeland security agency, etc.
Six to 12
Second stage is
morph to Google.gov or Google.org. We would keep the Google name for its
wide recognition and build on its good will. Traditionals would create
public service announcements (PSAs) about service if we went the OCLC model,
or emulate the Consumer Information Center if using the NLM model. Google
first goes to NLM then partners with Homeland Security to help the FBI
do intelligence gathering and analyzing, indexing, enabling them to "snoop"
global information, etc. States and their agencies also would contract
with Google to license the software. Some members of the group imagined
a French Minitel system model. PSAs would replace sponsored links. And,
finally, there would be a means for immediate information disbursement
to the nation: Google.gov.
We dreamt up a
new campaign, like Smokey Bear's PSA on fighting forest fires: "Google
is your best friend on the Internet." We imagined creating a kid-friendly
Google, dot-kids dot-gov, and of course a Seniors.Google.gov. Finally the
government would have a user-friendly way to communicate with its citizens.
include political infighting and positioning. We felt it would be difficult
to get government departments to cooperate. Employees will have a civil
service mentality, so we will need to keep them motivated (very traditional).
We felt that the leadership should not be a political appointment
(such as Librarian of Congress) that might go to some non-information professional.
We felt the need to keep good ideas from getting slapped down by bureaucrats.
The Library of Congress, NLM, and other departments could end up fighting
to host our Google.
it came to us!! Why take 2 years? If we can guarantee we have 2 years funding
from the foundations (Gates and others), we can announce that we should
be part of the Homeland Security bill currently before Congress, to get
a new home immediately.
Al Gore, who claimed
to have invented the Internet, might claim to be the guy who saves Google!!!!!
So we use him as a spokesman. We can move internationally in 2 years. Finally,
to be independent of different operating systems, we move to an open source
most comfortable in non-profit and/or government organizations, creating
new specialized products for discreet population groups (like adult and
children's sections), and trying to create public awareness of the services
Profit and Loss
Uses of technology
the structure and use of information
The Hybrid Group
The Hybrid Group
decided to come up with attributes of each group's skills.
skills for clarification
understanding of information transfer
and competitive intelligence
The structure of
the new organization must capitalize on both the traditional and non-traditional
skills required. Traditional skilled people, especially, need to be in
all departments. The Hybrids mapped out the departments and the skills
required for Google's success (see the chart on page
The Non-Traditional Group
This group was
much more task-oriented and unencumbered by anything perceived as "traditional."
First, they would
conduct market research to identify the customers. They would develop a
strategic plan and consider re-branding and expansion into the global market.
They decided to focus on a theme: "Google for you!" This included Google
for Kids, Golden Google (for seniors), and Google for Singles. Test marketing
would now be required along with a search for partners and co-branding
opportunities. Likely candidates were cereal companies, toy companies,
and malls for the kids; AARP, travel companies, healthcare, and pharmaceutical
companies for seniors; vitamin supplements, alcoholic beverage, and travel
companies, as well as wireless providers, for the singles.
The job titles
in this non-traditional environment would be Taxonomist, Collection Developer,
Sales Force, Negotiator, Project Managers, Lawyer, Market Researcher, Virtual
Team Leader, Programmer, Product Designer, System Analyst, and Finance
We had lots to
discuss as we adjourned for lunch.
Saturday Afternoon 2002
We began continuing
the morning's discussions: What will happen, will we need our traditional
skills and/or must we learn new skills? Will we be morphed?
Then another "news
bite" from the SCOUG leaders:
report from CNN: National security is at risk. FBI, CIA, NSA can't search
the Internet — either haven't been searching and/or don't know how to do
From Homeland Security:
A new alert — The Library of Congress and other information sites are the
next terrorist targets.
From the White
House, Laura Bush, a former librarian, comes on and announces a Request
For Proposal of $2 billion for proposing a comprehensive information service
for national security.
SCOUG rallies to
the challenge. We have the afternoon to prepare proposals. The nation depends
upon us to create a Homeland Information Center.
Three new task
forces are formed, and I am in group 2.
Our orders are
to take Google as a vehicle to locate and track the information that the
Homeland Security office needs.
We quickly assess
Google's assets: multiple languages and translation devices; experts in
taxonomy; skills with images and imaging technology; and ability to search
through vast quantities of information using its search technology. With
other partners such as Nstein automated indexing, LOCKSS (Lots of Copies
Keeps Stuff Safe) from Stanford University, and PIERS for tracking shipping
manifests in our ports — we can do it!!
We will use Google
to crawl NSA, FBI, CIA, and other existing databases to find and analyze
the security and criminal information currently available. We can map the
intelligence to other departments and disseminate the information when
and where needed. This information can be laid over information in databases
of other federal, state, and regional agencies that now stand as isolated
data silos. Contradictions will be flagged and gaps in information identified
for follow-up. No longer will the INS be at risk for approving a visa for
the subject of a criminal investigation by foreign agents. Some information
gaps can be filled by searching proprietary, commercial databases such
as Dialog. Google relevancy determinations can assess the relevance of
disparate information and create links to other information of a potential
threat to America and other countries.
system will need to detect text embedded in images' pixels. For instance,
an e-mail says, "Look at lamppost" and then you see the attached image(s)
with text embedded on the photo of a lamp post. The system must be able
to scan e-mails for attachments. It must handle full multimedia — not just
photographs, but games, movies, videos, recordings, and other kinds of
attachments and files.
Our design of the
Homeland Information Center provides for a distributed system with multiple
locations. We will coordinate with LOCKSS, which saves and automatically
updates Internet information. If a hacker gets at one copy, other copies
will be integrated into the system to spot trucks, container ships, trains,
and other targets. The Piers database of ship manifests on containers coming
into harbors will be culled. Our system looks for inconsistent and missing
information (airlines, trucks and trains and ships in harbors; licenses
of the pilots, drivers, pilots and engineers, etc.).
Staff will be trained
librarians/information professionals, highly skilled in technology, in
linking like objects together, with the know-how to organize a search and
think creatively. These professionals will focus on the information, not
just the technology, and exhaustively search across sources. Taxonomy development
will be better and faster, while others will conduct information audits
to assure that all information needs are anticipated.
Our team's system
can tap various silos of information in CDI, FBI, INS, Social Security
Administration, and departments of Interior, Agriculture, and other internal
U.S. agency databases with information vital to national security. The
design of the system will normalize the formats, fields, etc., in the various
data silos with different operating systems and software. The new system
will use open source software to eliminate problems left by now-defunct
proprietary software companies.
Sources will include
not only the government's internal, open, proprietary databases, but also
the records of car, truck, and equipment rental companies, public records
such as licensing agencies (from the Bureau of Cosmetology to bar association
records on lawyers), pharmaceutical company orders, the INS and Customs
departments' passports and visas records, etc. In addition, we would seek
access to such private databases as the Mormon database (for genealogy
records), partnership with academic institutions and their databases, the
media, not to mention access to traffic cameras (to read license plates)
on roads, bridges, at intersections, etc. The new system will also develop
an "expertise database" of live assets in science, transportation, law,
border enforcement, and other fields available to consult with agencies,
Homeland Security researchers, etc.
will look for things and people out of pattern. One member of the group
suggested that mystery and science fiction writers, as well as fiction
librarians, search based on their creative imaginations of plots that might
be hatched in the minds of terrorists.
Saturday Night — Our Presentations
We call our creation
"SILO-SINC, the Proposal to Save the Homeland!" We are a company of librarians
powered by Google and Dialog.
librarians and information professionals are at every level of the organization
chart, distributed across the entire company. Information professionals
do a variety of jobs:
The technology includes:
Conduct needs assessments.
Identify sources of
Locate missing information.
Perform expert exhaustive
The key strategic
The Google search
Best relevancy algorithm
in the world
Analysis of text,
images, games, movies, recordings
The key features include:
Nstein for taxonomies
and linguistic analysis
LOCKSS for security
through distributed content, and
Dialog and other proprietary
The use of knowledge
management techniques to process and analyze lots of disparate information
Cross source searching
for text embedded in images
Scanning movies for
And what does SILO-SINC
stand for? Security Information Logically Organized Stops Your Next Crisis
First SILO-SINC takes
proprietary information, analyses it and conforms the information for the
benefit of the Homeland Information Center, and then returns it to the
originator in usable form for a price. For instance, HMO organizations
would provide prescription information to SILO-SINC for processing. SILO-SINC
sends the resulting information to Homeland Information Center, and at
the same time, massages the information and sells it back to the HMO which
can in turn sell it to the drug companies.
And our trademark
is a representation of three silos, all of which are interconnected by
NAG (North American Google)
They have the "best
way" to improve homeland security. However, for security purposes, the
audience would have to take a confidentiality test: So we were grilled:
Have you ever visited the Library of Congress? Are you now or have you
ever been a member of al Qaeda? Do you now have a bomb strapped to your
back? Have you ever been asked to research a public building structure?
It was decided that the audience could view the secret version, but not
the entire version of their proposal.
NAG presented an
RFP for the next 24 months (through 2004). NAG executives introduced themselves
and their departments. The departments are government, international, technical,
and content management, and on National Analysis, Mrs. Laura Bush (the
President's wife, an information professional in her own right).
liaison was committing $300 million to localized information units (NLM,
Transportation, CDC, FAA, DoD) and constitutional experts to deal with
privacy concerns. The International liaison wanted $100 million to gather
cultural experts (to go beyond mere translations in order to understand
the culture, motives, etc.), along with connections to Interpol.
liaison was committing $1 billion of the total $2 billion of the RFP for
an AlterNet with "North American Google" as a front organization. In addition,
there would be AlterNet 1 and 2 with back-up, redundancy, and mirrors.
AlterNet 1 would run 1 hour ahead of Public Internet to preserve the data,
scan for viruses and attacks, and AlterNet 2 would run 1 hour behind (a
redundancy built into the system). This technology would be powered by
methane, biogas, wind, solar, and potatoes to alleviate the power drain
on the national power grid. They would sub-contract with CERT for virus
The Liaison for
Staffing would take $400 million for terrorism intelligence, classification,
storage and access, search log analysis, Usenets and Yahoo! groups, the
taxonomy/thesaurus of terrorism to record activities, and media extraction
to detect coded messages. In addition, they would automate the indexing,
and use cryptographers to accomplish meaning extraction.
Finally, Mrs. Bush
proposed $200 million for a National Analysis Guard — a conscription pulling
people graduating from degree programs with MLIS, HCI, and AI programs.
Everyone serves 2 weeks per year, and no one person knows more than their
piece. "A few hours of your time, working with other professionals to use
your traditional information skills to search the databases. Assuring homeland
security through accurate information."
Google Suprema Innovation
by Pamela C.
Library of Congress is threatened; the HIC is crippled by a slow and antiquated
search engine that can only search for single four-letter terms.
appeals to Google to compete for the $2 billion grant to be spent in the
service of national information security. The FBI and CIA are laid low
by their inability to collect information and "connect the dots."
Group 3 decided
that Google alone, despite its links with the National Library of Medicine
[google.gov] and the institutional and personal google (both services of
google.com), could not serve the country's needs. Instead, it would take
advantage of its prestige and choose to create a consortium, similar to
Semantech, which serves the semiconductor industry.
In a multimedia
presentation to a congressional panel, the senior executives of Google
used video teleconferencing to bring testimony from members of the proposed
consortium on behalf of Google's strategy and expertise. The Senior Vice
President from Google, Suprema Innovation, opened the testimony with an
overview of Google's capabilities and the infrastructure of the consortium
that was to be wrapped inside the corporate agency of General Electric,
a multimillion-dollar, global corporation and parent of Google. She was
interrupted by the Chairperson of General Electric, Redux Stockoptions.
Madame Stockoptions had been testifying at another congressional subcommittee
on extraordinary accounting activities recently manifested within major
American businesses. Madame Stockoptions clearly demonstrated that a global
conglomerate familiar with working in over 80 countries was the appropriate
vehicle through which to gather and manage intelligence. GE would turn
over all the capabilities of Google to this end just as the auto companies
accepted their role as tank and airplane manufacturers during World War
also considered GE the appropriate entity to take the lead, as it was also
home to major distribution channels for either news or propaganda as the
owner and controller of a TV network, several dozen radio and TV stations,
and a vast satellite communications system.
At this point,
Ms. Ernesta Exposure, senior anchor and correspondent, began continually
reminding the panel as to the importance of communications outlets to this
endeavor of collecting and distributing information. Our SVP from Google
struggled for control over the enthusiasm in an effort to continue to drive
Google's strength home to the panel. From an undisclosed and secret location,
the CIA Operative ,"Stealthy," appeared to give her testimony as to why
the intelligence agencies strongly support Google's capabilities and strengths.
She was followed
by Dr. Noble Project, Dean and President of a model Midwest university,
who clearly outlined the benefits of hiring a Brain Trust (the name of
the consortium) and the benefits of research: standardized formatting of
information and transmission of data, automated indexing of information,
the design of an automated translation program for intelligence not originating
in English. This Brain Trust would solve the country's immediate challenges
and go on to build additional intellectual tools as security demanded.
Chance, President and CEO of the leading telecommunications industry, testified
that the necessary communications backbone and infrastructure were available,
due to the overproduction of resources within the telecom industry during
the '90s. Madame Seconda Chance also pointed out what an opportunity this
would be for the telecommunications industry to stage a comeback and continue
to make money.
Lastly, Ms. Suprema
Innovation summed up Google's capabilities, its immediate position as organizer
of the country's informationprogram, and respectfully submitted the testimony
tothe Commission on the Saving of the United States Intelligence Infrastructure.
And the Winner Is...
Group 1 won. People
liked the Laura Bush portrayal and the team had parsed out all of the money.
One person gave a minority report that the SILO SINC acronym was better
than NAG. A second minority report thought Mrs. Bush did a wonderful job,
but Group 2 did a better presentation. Obviously it was a hotly contested
Group 1 took a
bow and people dispersed to either watch the movie of the evening, to celebrate,
or drown their sorrows.
Tomorrow is Sunday:
Traditionally we recap our experience. We discuss skills, tactics, and
the roles involved in the scenarios presented. We will put together the
lessons we have learned.
Sunday Morning 2002
After a terrific
breakfast of cheese blintzes and bacon, oatmeal, rolls, and assorted fresh-picked
fruit, we trekked back to the meeting room. The balloons no longer strained
to reach the ceiling. They seemed sad, and we weren't too perky, either.
Randy rang the
big bell to call the stragglers to the meeting.
The headline on
page one of the Sunday edition — July 28, 2002 — LA Times read,
"War on Terrorism Highlights FBI's Computer Woes," detailing the FBI's
problems with not having a good information system: Lack of coordination,
old equipment, incompatible systems, and a "real men don't type" mentality
— they don't even know what information they have.
So SCOUG predicted
the Times story!!!. The article decried the fact that "investigations
are still largely paper-driven, and many agents use dinosaur-era computers
or even write reports longhand in this era of high-speed Pentium processors.
The FBI has 42 databases that often run on incompatible software and hardware.
Simple searches — allowing an agent in Minneapolis, for instance, to see
whether the words "flight training school" show up in case files — are
unwieldy, if not impossible." And in discussing the massive problem, the
article points out, "With millions of pieces of information collected by
FBI investigators but no good way to sort it all out, officials admit that
'we don't know what we know.'"
This isn't the
only time that the SCOUG retreaters have come up with an idea ahead of
its time. Years ago we developed a product that at the press of a button
would give you directions, call an ambulance, or give you nearby restaurant
recommendations. Now most of us have the service installed in our cars.
The FBI needs us;
the Homeland Security Agency needs us. So why aren't these agencies banging
on our doors? We have been able to communicate with each other very well,
but we have to try to communicate our exciting ideas with the outside world.
We also tend to wait for things to be perfect — rather than taking risks
and putting needed products and services out to the public.
What would or should
we tell the FBI that it needs? We know sources, we know search engines,
and we know retrieval. Then it dawned on us — it is our skill set. Our
traditional skills don't include communications, marketing, and risk taking.
We understand and respect the information. Apparently for the FBI, the
technology is now exciting, but content isn't — and that is what the FBI
Many threw their
ideas on the Web to see what the reaction would be. Do we want to risk
or play it safe? Face it. Could any of us walk away from a job or mortgage
the house to finance a business idea and say things like, "If this doesn't
work we can always do something else"?
Or, are we in this
for the intellectual challenge? Money isn't the motivating factor, either.
We suggested an
information audit for the FBI. But has anyone at KPMG, Arthur Andersen,
or others ever sent information professionals such as librarians to conduct
an information audit? Is there a librarian or information professional
at the vice president level of any consulting firm? We don't talk about
contributing to the bottom line — can't say in three sentences what we
can do for a company. MBA types can. They learn to communicate value to
SCOUG is the information
industry think tank. This was our case study this year. Two people volunteer
to draft a letter to the Times, and they promise to post it on the
SCOUG Web site [http://www.scougweb.org].
We considered an open letter to Tom Ridge. How about a missive to the congressional
oversight committee above the FBI?
The major companies
that contract with the government will put hundreds of dollars into this
and go for the contract, blasting past us. But we can spark the idea. We
don't have to pretend that we can bid on a federal contract. But with our
training and experience, we can and should explain what needs to be done,
because we know what needs to be done!
costly to gather, maintain, and access efficiently. It is a commodity and
can be incorporated into a number of products that you can package and
resell. Information is like water: You don't think about it as long as
it is available. But like a drought or flood, it can overwhelm you as a
problem when there is no information available, or there is simply too
much to weed through for what you need. We should sell it like bottled
water, in designer packages, well branded with our consistently high quality.
This year, like
every year in the past, has been a unique experience. Each year I arrive
weary from library conferences in hot places, tired, and wondering whether
this year will be my last. Each year I thrive and am revitalized by
meeting people from all points in the information universe. The database
producers pump me for ideas on changing their systems. I gripe about features
that their company's systems lack. Meeting librarians from so many public,
private, and academic environments allows us to share our unifying similarities.
Speaking of the environment, the peace and rural quiet of La Casa de Maria's
retreat center is the perfect counterpoint to high-tech facilities and
I love this place
and I love these people. You bet I'll be there next year!