Information Today
Volume 19, Issue 1 — January 2002
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IT Report from the Field •
Online Information 2001
This event offered valuable sessions and the opportunity to conduct business
by Ana Arias Terry

Looking Back and Forward at the World's Longest-Running Online Event
by Dick Kaser
The fact that Online Information (for many years known as the International Online Meeting) was celebrating its 25th anniversary last month in London made some of us feel very old.

Event director Katherine Allen said of the first meeting: 

"There were a couple of papers at that first conference [that] were trying to be quite visionary, looking into the future and trying to guess where things were going to be in 20 years' time. What is remarkable is the way in which, in some ways, they were absolutely spot-on, not necessarily in the time frame they were talking about, but things like access to electronic information in every American home, for example. But on [the] other hand, [there were] ways in which they were absolutely way off beam in talking about things like videophones being ubiquitous, which clearly hasn't happened. 

"For me," she said, "that gives a real sense of kinship with the people that were at that event, because they were not thinking short-term. They were thinking about where we would be 20 years out, where are we going to be 25 years in the future. And they completely appreciated the potential there was in what they were doing, even though the technology wasn't as advanced at that time as needed to realize the potential. They were really thinking long-term." 

Appropriately, the concluding session of this year's 3-day conference consisted of a panel of forecasters who identified these trends going forward:

  • Disintermediation in science publishing

  • Increased emphasis on data sets and the need for data about data

  • The need to turn information into a management tool

  • Increased need for records management within an increasingly regulated world

  • The need to look at content differently—as a form of intellectual capital

  • The need to convince management of information's value

  • The concern that information (especially selective distribution of information) can be a political weapon

  • The digital divide—a need for ongoing infrastructural development worldwide

Dick Kaser is vice president of content at Information Today, Inc.  His e-mail address is

Celebrating its 25th anniversary, the Online Information conference, held Dec 4­6 in London, offered an interesting combination of information programs. Despite some rumblings from participants about lower attendance than last year, the quality of the sessions and the business conducted on the floor were consistently deemed to be of high caliber. Pound for pound, the conference was a worthwhile event. It was strong in its programming and breadth of exhibitors, and as a venue for conducting serious business. 

With few exceptions, the majority of the attendees and exhibitors I informally surveyed were very pleased with the quality of their business meetings and leads, and with the conference programming itself. The value of a conference is often measured not only by the content and speakers that are showcased but also by the business opportunities that occur between exhibits and sessions. The comments I heard from the international crowd, typically represented by at least 40 different countries at this event, were crystal clear: The who's who of executive teams shows up here and they come ready to conduct business.

The pace this time seemed less frantic. The event was held in a different hall than last year, this time in the Grand Hall at Olympia, so the layout of the conference had a different look and feel. There was more room to maneuver and, with the exception of occasionally missing some of the logic behind the exhibitor-stand-numbering scheme, I was able to pop in and out of the exhibitor areas to the meeting/seminar rooms without difficulty. 

To say that the meeting was well-organized and that the content shared was valuable is an understatement. Representatives from conference organizer Learned Information, Ltd. were out in force providing guidance and answering hundreds of questions from participants and media representatives alike. 

With more than 295 exhibitors and approximately 200 speakers, there were plenty of options. Participants could choose from daily vendor presentations, information master classes, free seminars, daily keynote addresses, and even a career clinic. A participant interested in targeting specific types of companies could do so easily by looking up the specific company track in which they were categorized (e.g., e-libraries; knowledge management; legal and government information; and market research, marketing information, and competitive intelligence). 

One of the biggest challenges at this conference—as is often the case with such valuable events—was choosing from the selection of seminars and master classes. Experts offered opinions and educational presentations on topics such as wireless delivery, power searching, e-learning, content-delivery options, information literacy, content management and protection, XML, taxonomies, knowledge management, and managing intranet information.

Vendor Highlights

Given the number of exhibitors who showcased their wares, I opted to focus on a few that I found particularly interesting. In some cases, the appeal was based on a new product feature. In others, it was some aspect of the company itself that caught my eye:

  • Fresh Minds (—Launched by two enterprising Oxford graduates last September, Fresh Minds offers research and analysis services at competitive prices by top undergraduates, M.B.A.s, and Ph.D.s from the top-10 U.K. universities. Account teams that are led by an experienced project manager handle the research projects. The company claims to have 50 to 60 customers, including Unilever, Lehman Brothers, Forrester Research, and BBC Worldwide. 

  • Nstein Technologies, Inc. (—A Canadian-based company, Nstein Technologies develops computer-aided indexing (CAI) software that accurately classifies, categorizes, and summarizes large quantities of text that aren't structured. It accomplishes this by employing its own Linguistic DNA technology. The software extracts concepts on the fly and uses a linguistics, statistics, and artificial intelligence methodology to identify the most relevant concepts. Its e-publisher suite product was recently licensed to the American Psychological Association (APA), among others. 

  • dotEncrypt (—Developed by e-business solution provider Webgenerics, dotEncrypt is a secure Web-based publishing and data-protection service that allows publishers, distributors, and content owners to affordably keep control of copyright and distribution, even once the information has been downloaded. It also enables publishers to customize the business rules associated with particular content by way of its flexible licensing, whether the information is a one-time sale or "rented" to those who only need the information on a short-term basis. Customers include, Haynes Publishing, Talking Books, and the European Case Clearing House (ECCH). 

  • ISI Web of Knowledge (—Launched at this conference, ISI Web of Knowledge incorporates into a single environment the opportunity for researchers to obtain, analyze, and manage information. In a nutshell, it enables navigation across content, evaluation tools, and bibliographic products under one platform. Currently, cross-searching over four databases—ISI Web of Science, ISI Proceedings, BIOSIS Previews, and Derwent Innovations Index—is possible if the institution has subscriptions to each database. In the second quarter of this year, the integration of three additional products—ISI Current Contents Connect, CAB ABSTRACTS, and INSPEC—is expected. 

  • Food Science Central (—Scheduled to be launched next month, Food Science Central will be the new home page for the International Food Information Service (IFIS), which is targeted to the food and nutrition academic, research, and corporate community. Its focus will be educational data on food science and technology. It will include high-level reviews of food Web sites; links to high-quality food sites; news; limited access to FoodInfo Online, IFIS's Webzine; an alerting service; and access to fee-based products such as Food Science and Technology Abstracts (FSTA) and FSTA Reports. 

  • CAS (—Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS), a division of the American Chemical Society (ACS), introduced a new enhancement to ChemPort with its Reference Linking Service. ChemPort links researchers to scientific publishers' Web sites for free. With the enhancement, users can now view the actual chemical substances mentioned in the cited paper and indexed by the division's scientists. Users can also choose to see a list of the "citing" articles that refer to the particular article. They are then given the option to pay for the additional data online. 

  • Free Pint (—A virtual community of some 44,000 information researchers whose basis is a free newsletter, Free Pint was masterminded by William Hann, a former information consultant involved in training and e-commerce strategies. Over 80 percent of the 44,000 subscribers have joined as a result of word of mouth. Free Pint's content includes article archives, industry news, book reviews, job listings, and interaction opportunities through which members can ask questions and network with each other. Members who choose to become "Pint Regulars" pay a fee and receive a current awareness weekly newsletter and other benefits.

Industry News
I also picked up a number of industry snippets during the conference: 

  • Swets Blackwell selected this show to announce the U.K. launch of SwetsWise, its Web-based subscription and information-management service.
  • CrossRef, the publisher-collaborative service that enables users to navigate e-journal articles through DOI-based citation links, signed an affiliate agreement with TDNet. By offering a customized e-journal management service, TDNet will take advantage of CrossRef's functionality at the article level within its own local linking services for libraries. CrossRef now has 91 publisher members and 28 affiliates.
  • The British Library has completed the first stage of a project that will put online 1.5 million Union Catalogue of Books records whose listing stock is held by The British Library's Document Supply Centre (DSC). This means the DSC's pre-1950 records (totaling 450,000) can now be accessed via the British Library Public Catalogue, including some records dating back to the 19th century. Registered users can request any of these items for loan.
  • Emerald (formerly MCB University Press), publisher of management information titles, announced the acquisition of eight journals from Aslib (the Association for Information Management) as well as a partnership with Infotrieve, a document delivery and e-content provider. Infotrieve will make full-text articles and associated graphics available from Emerald databases.

Program Glimpses
Even though I spent most of my time at the exhibit area, I went to a few seminars. Of the four events I attended, the two that particularly stood out were the presentations by Tim Drewitt, worldwide manager of professional services at McGraw-Hill Lifetime Learning, and keynote speaker David Snowden, director of IBM's Institute for Knowledge Management.

In Implementing E-Learning in the McGraw-Hill Companies, Drewitt provided insights into his company's experience with a large e-learning experiment. The company will be rolling out the actual e-learning service at the beginning of this year. He spoke of the key drives that are needed for e-learning and the types of training objectives that must be identified by organizations. According to him, "intellectual capital" is starting to appear as a line item in profit-and-loss statements these days. 

Drewitt also provided information about the importance of having buy-in from top management, involving the IT department in the process, and obtaining support from human resources. I was particularly interested to learn that in the process of planning strategy, Drewitt recommended the use of a lot of humor. I think companies who are able to incorporate and encourage humor into their operations win because they end up with more satisfied, motivated work forces. In my experience, employees who are part of such an environment are typically better able to handle stressful periods and are generally better equipped to develop creative solutions to unexpected challenges. 

Drewitt also spoke about the importance of piloting e-learning before launching full steam ahead and the need to apply e-learning by way of "blended learning"—the mixing of different media types while providing, for example, a self-paced e-learning course along with an actual class course. Among the most interesting key results were that 98 percent of participants said they would take an online learning course again, 92 percent would recommend such a course to others, and 91 percent found it easy to learn on the computer.

In his presentation Information for Innovation, Snowden offered participants muchfood for thought in the area of knowledge management (KM). His delivery was humorous and sobering and his nuggets of wisdom were genuinely educational. 

I missed the first few minutes of his presentation, but just as I came in he was asking the audience how many of us received more than 30 e-mails a day. Most hands went up. Bottom line? "You're in an abusive relationship with your e-mail, and you're the one getting abused," said Snowden. He foreseesthat companies are going to have to do something about the volumes of e-mails being received by their employees because it affects productivity. He suggested that it was going to take a shift to get people into "the mode of collaboration" and "detoxing" from e-mail.

Snowden went on to say that "the process of human validation is crucial in the context of knowledge" and that the trust we put in relationships is very much based on the shared context of the people interacting in that relationship. As such, understanding context is key to understanding each other and being more efficient in time. He explained that content without context is very dangerous. He reminded the audience that whenever we produce a message, we make many assumptions about what the other person knows. "Knowledge management is about creating shared context," he said.

In his mind, the third generation of KM is about separating content management, narrative management, and context management. At IBM, Snowden has been working on a "narrative database," which captures the stories that people tell in their day-to-day lives. He also mentioned that with this type of database, it's possible to capture people's knowledge as they learn. He and his colleagues are trying to discourage the use of the term "best practice" because the concept itself assumes that you know all there is to know about a subject or specialty, which is simply not true. Instead, he adds, it's more accurate to replace that term with "good practice."

Among other interesting projects, Snowden has also been involved in a particularly engaging and appropriate undertaking given recent world events. Over the past year and a half, he and some of his colleagues have been working with the U.S. government to create "context filters," in which policymakers get to see the world through the eyes of many others beyond those of an American policymaker. In essence this project is about "creating systems in which people and computers have a symbiotic relationship so people can see the world from different perspectives," said Snowden. What a concept. It's exciting to think that wide use of such filters could help our tolerance meter in business and personal environments.

Adding It All Up
One of the hot topics at a number of the sessions I attended was indeed KM. From a vendor perspective, there seemed to be numerous players in the content management, digital rights management (DRM), and digital content-protection space. Interestingly, this is the first conference I attended since the hoopla of e-books has quieted down, and it was obvious that they were not well-represented in content sessions or by vendors.

Overall, I think the quality of the content shared at the sessions, the blend of exhibitors, and the consistency in attendees' comments about how useful they had found the conference points to an event that was well-perceived and deemed valuable by most of the individuals I queried and observed. It's worth restating that the venue was very conducive to fruitful business meetings that were beyond the scheduled programming. 

There are only a few minor areas for improvement that I'd like to see for next year. First, better signage should be added that clearly indicates which range of exhibitors is down a particular hallway and in what direction. Second, chairs should be made available in open spaces beyond the eating areas. I saw many individuals, myself included, eating or taking regrouping breaks on the carpeted floor of the second-level exhibit area. But in the context of the overall program, these were minor inconveniences.

Awaken your PDAs and mark your calendars for Online Information 2002. It will take place December 3­5, 2002, again at London's Grand Hall at Olympia. It's worth the investment. 

Ana Arias Terry is vice president of Informed Strategies, a consulting firm that provides market research and analysis, product development, and PR services for publishers and vendors in the information community. Her e-mail address is

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