WEB ONLY FEATURE
Online Before the Internet, Part 4:
Early Pioneers Tell Their Stories: Roger Summit
by Susanne Bjørner • Bjørner & Associates
& Stephanie C. Ardito • Ardito Information & Research,
“Online Before the Internet” continues its series of interviews
with selected industry pioneers who were responsible for the first online
wave. This fourth segment features Dr. Roger K. Summit, who was responsible for
and development in 1966 of the first large-scale, computer-based interactive
information retrieval system. Called Dialog, it was used as the basis for
Dialog Information Services [http://www.dialog.com],
established in 1972. Dr.
remained president until his retirement in 1991 and is currently chairman
emeritus of Dialog. He was interviewed in Mountain View, California, in April
the Online Industry
|Roger Summit taking a solo on “Cupertino Blues” at a performance
of the Daddio band in June 2003.
Ardito: Dialog is certainly one of the first, if not the first, names associated
with the online information systems that emerged in the late 1960s and early
1970s. How do you think your work with Dialog shaped the growth of the industry?
Summit: What I think Dialog added was massive, consistently formatted databases
and a search language providing flexible yet precise search capabilities. Such
multiple, massive, consistently formatted databases allowed cross-database
I’ve sometimes said that the reason broad subject classifications exist
is for the convenience of university professors and librarians. In real life,
information problems cut across the disciplines. You can’t solve the
complete problem within chemistry or environment or some single category like
that. A complex problem is likely to cross over several subject boundaries.
Very early on, it was my feeling that searching across several discipline areas
could be quite interesting in terms of symbiosis and knowledge transfer. To
the extent that the same kinds of words might be used in different disciplines,
doing a search across multiple disciplines might reveal items in the areas
of another discipline that would apply, that you might not otherwise be aware
Bjørner: I’m remembering a couple searches I had at MIT when
we searched all subjects and did searches with end users by our side. We did
it as teams, the academic researcher and the librarian/research specialist.
One graduate student came in and actually wanted everything there was on the
word “stress.” I said, “Are you looking for psychological
stress, stress on building materials, biological stress…?” Another
search was on sandwich board, which in this context meant a type of construction
material, but my first mental picture was a cafeteria.
Summit: Yes, this process has been termed the search negotiation. The art
of defining the area of interest is quite an art — quite an art and quite
Bjørner: So enabling the user to have those classifications of
subject matter but also to move across them was a good innovation?
Who’s Who: Key People mentioned in this installment
Auld, Dennis — 1971: with Greg Payne and Jerry Dick, co-developed
ABI/INFORM, a business information database; ABI/INFORM is now owned
by ProQuest Information and Learning.
Bilboul, Roger — 1977: Started the publishing company, Learned
Information Ltd. (now part of the VNU group), and created the first International
Online (now called Online Information) meeting in London. Currently chairman
of the board, Information Today, Inc.
Cleverdon, Cyril — 1957-1967: Librarian of Cranfield College of
Aeronautics (U.K). Developed the “Cranfield Experiments” (funded
by the National Science Foundation) to analyze recall and precision in
information retrieval systems. Died in 1997.
Garfield, Eugene — 1960-1992: Founder, president, and CEO, Institute
for Scientific Information; currently chairman emeritus.
Giering, Richard — 1967-1978: Data Corporation and Mead Data Central
(both part of the Mead Corporation). Designed and managed the implementation
of the first full-text, interactive database system, later known as LexisNexis.
Harris, Dick – 1970-1980: Vice president, marketing, ISI. 1981-1993:
President, Predicasts. 1994: Founder and president, Responsive Database
Services, Inc. (RDS), producer of the Business & Industry, TableBase,
Business & Management Practices, and Contemporary Women’s Issues
databases. In 2001, RDS was sold to The Dialog Corporation.
Kollin, Richard — 1971: Developed Pandex, the first commercial,
nongovernmental database made publicly available by Dialog. 1976: Co-founder
of Information Access Company; co-creator of Magazine Index. 1985-1990:
Founder and president of Telebase, producer of EasyNet.
Maxwell, Robert — 1951: Purchased Pergamon Press; publisher, 1951-1969,
1974-1991. 1981-1991: Chairman and chief executive, Maxwell Communications
Corporation. 1984-1991: Chairman, Mirror Group Newspapers. 1988-1991:
Chairman and chief executive, Macmillan. 1991: Sold Pergamon and Maxwell
Directories to Elsevier. Died under mysterious circumstances in November
Oakford, Robert V. — 1955-1977: Stanford School of Engineering;
currently emeritus faculty, Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management.
Payne, Greg — 1971: with Dennis Auld and Jerry Dick, co-developed
ABI/INFORM, a business information database; ABI/INFORM is now owned
by ProQuest Information and Learning.
Pemberton, Jeffery K. — 1970-1975: Marketing manager, New York
Times Information Bank. 1976-2002: Co-founder (with his wife Jenny) and
president of Online, Inc., original publisher of ONLINE and DATABASE
(now EContent) magazines. Organized first (1979) ONLINE conference held
in U.S., held subsequently in the autumn each year through 2000.
Radwin, Mark S. — 1967-1977: Assistant program manager and senior
technical staff, DIALOG Information Services. 1977-1979: Manager of operations,
Tymnet. 1979-1981: Principal scientist, Tymnet. 1981-1985: Director of
business development, GTE Telenet.
Rothman, John — 1969: Developed The New York Times Information
Bank, which became commercialized in 1973.
Rubin, Jerome — 1970-1971: Executive vice president, Mead Data
Central. 1971-1982: President, Mead Data Central, which launched LEXIS
and NEXIS. In 1994, Reed-Elsevier bought Mead Data Central, renaming
it Lexis-Nexis [now without the hyphen, LexisNexis].
Teichroew, Daniel — 1957-1962: Associate professor, Graduate School
of Business, Stanford University. 1962-1964: Professor, management, Stanford
University. 1964-1968: Professor, head, Division of Organizational Sciences,
Case Institute of Technology. 1968-2003: Professor of industrial and
operations engineering, University of Michigan. Research focused on experimental
statistics and computer and software engineering. 1991: Awarded the Warnier
Prize for Excellence in Information Systems. Considered the “father
of CASE” (computed aided software engineering). Died July 2003.
Trudell, Libby — Joined Dialog in 1983 as manager of marketing.
Has held various positions at Dialog over the years, including vice president,
product management; vice president, strategic planning; senior director,
product marketing; director, marketing and customer services; and senior
vice president, strategic development. Currently senior vice president,
Information Professional Market.
Williams, Martha E. — 1957-1972: IIT Research Institute (established
fee-based, batch computer search services in 1968). 1972-1999: Director,
Information Retrieval Research Lab, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
1974-date: Professor, Graduate School of Library and Information Science,
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 1976-1989: Editor-in-chief,
Computer-Readable Databases Directory and Data Sourcebook. 1976-2001:
Editor, Annual Review of Information Science and Technology. 1980-2001:
Program chairman, National Online Meeting [now InfoToday], sponsored
by Information Today, Inc. and held in New York City each spring.
Wolpert, Sam — 1960: Founder and developer of the Predicasts system
of indexing and the PROMT database, which went online with Dialog in
Summit: Yes. That’s one difference we introduced.
A second advantage of offering a wide range of databases has to do with the
way people behave. If one has a problem, one likes to sit down, attack the
problem, work it all the way through to solution. People aren’t multi-tasking
machines by nature. They don’t like to start work on a problem, do a
little bit, set it aside, start another problem, work on it for awhile, then
come back and continue work on the first one again. My feeling was that if
Dialog could have a comprehensive-enough spectrum of data available, one could
indeed attack a problem in one sitting and be done with it.
Youth and College
Ardito: Let’s go back a little in time. We’re asking everyone
we talk with about the formative experiences of their early life. We know that
you have a bachelor’s degree in psychology but we want to ask a little
bit about how you got to that point.
Summit: I was fortunate. I had a Naval ROTC (NROTC) scholarship for college
that allowed me to select from any one of a large number of universities in
the country, provided I was accepted. After taking the standard admission tests,
I considered three schools: Stanford, University of Southern California, and
the University of Michigan. I was accepted at all three, and I picked Stanford.
I’m originally from Detroit, Michigan. I grew up in Dearborn. When I
came out to California to begin university, I thought I’d arrived in
heaven. I wondered, “How in the world will I ever find work here?” There
was nothing here — just apricot orchards and a cannery in San Jose. But
as time went on, during the 1950s, the Stanford Industrial Park came into being.
That was a great innovation. I think it was one of the first in the world.
It got the university and industry working very closely together, and it provided
a work avenue for graduates.
In growing up, there had been no question about my going to college. My parents
were teachers. My dad’s profession was teacher and guidance counselor,
so I think we kids never thought that we might not go to college.
Did you know before you went to Stanford what you wanted to do?
Summit: I had no particular direction. Psychology was interesting to me, so
I took that as an undergraduate major. My brother, 4 years younger than I,
is a psychiatrist; maybe it runs in the family.
Ardito: We know you play the piano well; was yours a musical family?
Summit: My parents were musical, yes. My mother plays by ear, and my dad played
the organ; he accompanied some of the silent films on piano and organ. I took
up trombone in junior high at my mother’s suggestion and made spending
money in college playing in dance bands. I put the horn away when I got married,
but I have recently taken it up again and now play in two big-band, jazz orchestras
in the Bay area.
Bjørner: When did you actually leave Detroit?
Summit: 1948. I visited the West Coast in the summer of 1941. My parents arranged
the trip, and it was a most fascinating experience. I’d never seen a
mountain, I’d never seen the ocean, and I was intrigued. I spent the
summer in Los Angeles at a Yoga religious retreat called “Self- Realization
Fellowship.” (The group still exists: http://www.yogananda-srf.org.)
During the summer another “inmate” (a 16-year-old named Arnie)
and I spent many hours fantasizing over the details of potential relationships
we were looking forward to in our later lives. We also snuck out to see the
Harry James and Woody Herman orchestras live at local theaters. That summer
resulted in a much “broader” experience than I’m sure my
mother had intended.
Ardito: Did you go on immediately to get your master’s degree?
Summit: No. I had 3 years of obligated service in the Navy first. I’d
signed up for flight training, so I was assigned to an aircraft carrier. One
night, the ship was conducting air operations under darkened ship conditions.
It’s tough to land on an aircraft carrier even in broad daylight, so
I went up to the signal bridge to watch what was happening.… I’d
hear the planes roar in and I couldn’t see them at all. They’d
roar in, they’d land, and then they’d take off again. The landing
signal officer had darkened paddles. The only lights on the whole ship were
four lights on each corner of the aircraft carrier deck, and these planes were
roaring in and taking off again. It was all quite frightening. I thought about
the pilots, “These are some kind of super-duper human beings, and that’s
not for me.” I withdrew from the flight program the next day.
My tour of duty was from 1952 to 1955, right after college, during the Korean
War. We were engaged in flight operations off the coast of Korea, and we went
into Japan for liberty and so-called “R and R.” We got reports
of Chinese submarines in the area, but probably were not under any real threat.
When I first went aboard the ship, I was a radio officer, which meant that
I was in charge of the radio division of 120 men. Here I was, fresh out of
college and suddenly I was in charge of 120 sailors. That was an experience.
Let me tell you about one incident that was very interesting. When you’re
in charge of a division as a Navy junior officer, you frequently go see the
Chief Petty Officer, and you say, “Well, Chief, what do you think we
should do about this?” It was budget time, and we were making our budgets.
He came to me and said, “We have a surplus in our budget.” I said, “How
much?”’ And he said, “Oh, four or five thousand dollars.” I
said, “Well, what do we need?” And he said, “We don’t
really need anything, but we’ve got to spend it, otherwise they’ll
cut our budget next year.” I said, “Well, if we don’t need
it, let’s just give it back.” “Oh, no, no. We can’t
do that.” We had a long conversation about what to do with the surplus.
I’ve thought about that situation many times since then, because the
same practice probably prevails throughout government. If there were some way
one could instill an incentive to come in under budget — like you’d
share the difference as a bonus — we would save billions of dollars of
needlessly spent budget money.
After my obligatory three years, I left the Navy. It was in the Navy that
I realized I didn’t understand business and the business process. I remember
a conversation with another officer who recommended buying Texas Instruments
stock. At the time (1953), this was a new company and would have been a good
one to buy, but the reasoning was beyond me. I had no inkling of how business
functioned and felt insecure as a result. Consequently, attending business
school seemed like smart thing to do..
On to Business School
Summit: When I left the service, I got the GI bill. That entitled me to 4
more years of government-paid education. I went back to Stanford, to the business
school, to get an M.B.A.
Bjørner: So there was never any intention of using your psychology
degree, or did you think you might use the psychology with the M.B.A.?
Summit: No, it wasn’t all that planned out. When I was studying psychology,
I thought I might become an experimental or clinical psychologist. I had a
girlfriend in college, a microbiology major, who in my senior year mentioned, “Do
you know there’s a new thing called a computer?” We spent a lot
of time talking about computers, and I was fascinated. With my psychology interest
and this machine that you could program to branch and take different paths
depending on conditions, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. My career
path was guided by that relationship.
By returning to the business school, I filled in all those insecurity cracks
in business and finance that I had felt in the Navy. But I also took a couple
of courses in the computer sciences area. They had one of the very early machines,
an IBM 650, which almost nobody has heard of. Nobody knew what to do with it.
Bob Oakford was the professor for a graduate seminar class where we all just
figured out how to program. We talked about how these machines might be used
in the future. We thought of point-of-sale operations and how neat that would
be, because then you could have your inventory instantly updated … this
kind of thing. It was exciting.
After I got my M.B.A., I went to work for Arthur Andersen, the accounting
firm, in their systems department. They were doing computer applications. I
worked on the Bank of America/Visa application that used to be BankAmericard
before it became Visa, and did some very elemental systems work. It turned
out that Arthur Andersen didn’t have enough systems work, so they put
me on the audit staff. That was the most deadly, dull, awful job I’d
ever had. I quit after a year.
I had some other mentoring. A woman that I knew, Ellen Urbach, worked at the
business school. I’d known her as we were getting our M.B.A.s. She said, “Roger,
you ought to come back because there’s a guy here, Dan Teichroew, who’s
sponsored by IBM to foster the teaching of computer technology in the business
school.” On application, I was awarded a scholarship from IBM, and I
still had 2 years of the GI Bill to cover the tuition for my Ph.D. work. I
didn’t return simply to get the degree, but rather to fill in the mathematical
gap in my background and to get some computer science. Most of my courses were
taken outside of the business school. Dan Teichroew became the faculty advisor
for my orals and chairman of my dissertation committee. After the orals, I
went to work for Lockheed as a summer hire, and that’s what started this
whole information excursion.
Ardito: Was the Ph.D. in operations research?
Summit: Management science was the major, but a Ph.D. is a Ph.D. It is a doctor
of philosophy degree, but my specialization was in an area that was called
management science, a combination of operations research and statistics.
Bjørner: I’m sure I could look this up, but what was the
Summit: I will give you the exact title. Of course, you can find it in Dissertation
Abstracts too, on Dialog. The title is “Simulation of a Management Decision
Process Utilizing a Computer Model of the Aerospace Industry.” So much
for short titles!
Business games were big things in those days. I didn’t like the ones
that were around, so I decided to do one that would behave more like real life — the
psychology comes in here as well. The model, called The Aerospace Business
Environment Simulator (ABES), is actually a business game that allows management
teams to compete in bidding on contracts, receiving awards, hiring and firing
employees, setting pay scales, and the like. It is kind of a manufacturing/scheduling
One of the interesting interactions in the model is a function called, “employee
satisfaction.” If management set pay scales too low, relative to pay
in the industry, it affected the employee satisfaction function and some of
the employees quit. The model was rigged so that employees who were fired came
from the bottom of the productivity scale, whereas employees who quit (to go
elsewhere) came from the top of the productivity scale. Lowering pay meant
that you lost productive employees and were likely to overrun contract schedules,
which reduced chances for future contract awards. Players felt the game to
be quite realistic.
I taught a decision-making class to Lockheed senior management utilizing the
ABES model in 1962. Lockheed later licensed ABES to IBM and gave me a “Special
Invention Award” as a result.
I recently did a Google search and noticed that ABES was (and may still be)
used at Washington State University in 1999, in an engineering class called: “Strategic
Management of Technology and Innovation.” What a nice surprise!
Those were my simulation days — simulation and information retrieval — and
I thought the ABES model would be sufficient to base my dissertation on, but
Teichroew said, “No, that isn’t enough. What you need to do is
to build a decision model, a computer model of decision-making that will operate
one of these companies, in competition with humans, without any more information
than what the humans have, and see what you have to build into this model to
make it work, competing against human beings.” That’s really the
dissertation: the decision-making model.
Early Computer Experience
Ardito: I’m thinking about the computers ... how early were
you using them?
Summit: I was actually using one in 1958, at Stanford, but to a very elemental
degree, because it was the IBM 650. When I went to Lockheed, we used IBM 7090s
and finally the IBM 360 series. That’s important in another way, because
I got acquainted with IBM people and the IBM philosophy, which proved to be
extremely useful later on in running the Dialog business. Their philosophy
was one of complete support for their customers. Because computers were new
at the time, managers felt insecure making decisions on buying computers and
software. IBM assured their customers that if you buy an IBM machine you’re
going to be supported. The stuff’s going to work, and you’re never
going to be embarrassed in your professional position.
Bjørner: To actually work with your first computers, did IBM help
and provide that support, or did you end up taking manuals and sitting down
learning by yourself, or did somebody teach you?
Summit: On the first computer we just had manuals … that was the class
with Bob Oakford during my M.B.A. We simply sat down and figured it out and
we’d cut and try until something worked — that isn’t a bad
way to learn. At Lockheed, a guy named Len Fick, who subsequently came to work
for Dialog, taught me all I knew about FORTRAN programming, which is what I
used to program the ABES model.
Fick was in charge of telecommunications at Dialog until he retired. We had
long-term employees with Dialog. We had a voluntary turnover rate on the order
of 7 or 8t percent per year. In the Valley, people would tell me, “Well,
gee, out here we have 20 or 30 percent turnover.” I could never understand
that. We had a very stable employee group that stayed with us for a long time.
Most likely, some of my decisions at Dialog were influenced by my earlier
experience with the employee satisfaction, turnover, and productivity relationship
in the ABES model. I believe that when a business is successful, the employees
and the customers should share in the rewards, not just the owners. I’ve
always had that philosophy with our employees. I introduced the first profit-sharing
program at Lockheed. Also, we had a nice building to work in. The facilities
management people wanted to move us down into south San Jose. We said, “No,
we want to be in the Industrial Park, because we want the employees to have
a place they look forward to coming to.”
All that’s part of the psychology, but it just seemed right and fair
to do things that way. Anyhow, the thing I’ve always tried to establish
in a negotiation is that each party base its decisions on a principle of fairness.
If the other side is proposing something, you say, “What’s really
fair, in this situation?” If you come back to fairness as a negotiating
guideline, then you have common grounds to do some good, rather than trying
to exploit the other guy. In the end, I stayed with Lockheed and received my
doctorate in 1965.
What’s What: Names, Acronyms, and Abbreviations mentioned in this installment
BLLD — British Library Lending Division. 1973: Formed from the
National Central Library (NCL) and the National Lending Library for Science
and Technology. 1985: Renamed the BL Document Supply Centre (BLDSC),
BRS — Bibliographic Retrieval Services, begun as a commercial
outgrowth of the SUNY Biomedical Communication Network in 1976. In 1994,
BRS was purchased by Ovid Technologies. In 1998, Wolters Kluwer bought
Ovid, completely replacing the BRS system with the Ovid system.
CAB Abstracts — A database of agricultural information, originally
produced by the Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux (U.K.), now CAB International
Derwent World Patents Index — Database produced by Derwent Information,
U.K.; now a part of Thomson Derwent.
Dialog — 1972: Roger Summit headed the Lockheed business group,
offering DIALOG as a commercial online service. 1981: Dialog Information
Services, Inc. became a subsidiary of Lockheed Corporation. 1988: Dialog
was acquired by Knight-Ridder, Inc. 1995: Dialog became Knight-Ridder
Information, Inc. (KRII). 1997: M.A.I.D. plc acquired KRII; The Dialog
Corporation was formed by the merger. 2000: The Thomson Corporation purchased
the Information Services Division of The Dialog Corporation, which now
includes Dialog, DataStar, Profound, and NewsEdge.
DIALORDER — Dialog’s online document ordering service, connecting
users to document suppliers.
EasyNet – Developed by Richard Kollin of Telebase, one of the first menu-driven,
end-user gateway systems that appeared on the market in 1984. Access to major
online systems (including BRS, Dialog, and ORBIT) with one Common Command Language.
1987: Information Product of the Year Award presented by the European Association
of Information Services (EUSIDIC).
FORTRAN — FORmula TRANslation (originally called IBM Mathematical
Formula Translation System). Developed by a team of IBM programmers in
1954. Considered the first programming language used for numerical and
IBM 650 — IBM 650 Magnetic Drum Data Processing Machine, developed
Knowledge Index — End-user online service, developed in 1982 by
Dialog. Low pricing for searchers during evening off-peak hours and on
weekends. Simple command language or menu-driven options. Moved to CompuServe
Lockheed — The Lockheed Corporation was formed in 1932. In 1968,
NASA contracted with the Lockheed Missile and Space Company to manage
large data files. The following year, Lockheed’s Information Sciences
Laboratory demonstrated an interactive retrieval service. Lockheed Corporation
and Martin Marietta Corporation merged in 1995 to form the current company,
Lockheed Martin Corporation.
NAL — A database, now called AGRICOLA, produced by the U.S. National
NTIS — Database provided by the National Technical Information
Service, U.S. Department of Commerce.
Predicasts — Using Sam Wolpert’s detailed Predicasts indexing
system, the PROMT (Predicasts Overview of Markets and Technology) database
and F&S Index became two of the earliest sources of business information
online. Ownership of PROMT has gone from Predicasts (Cleveland) to Information
Access Company and now resides with the Gale Group.
Psych Abstracts — Database produced by the American Psychological
Association; now known as PsycINFO.
Tymnet — Commercial computer network, created by Tymshare, Inc.,
and used for remote login and file transfer. The public network went
live in November 1971.
Timeline: Key Dates in the History of Dialog
1960: Roger Summit starts a summer job at Lockheed, assigned to computer
simulation and information retrieval projects.
1967: NASA issues an industry-wide RFP for NASA RECON; Lockheed wins
the contract, retains rights to Dialog software created.
1969: Lockheed installs systems at European Space Research Organization
(ESRO) for NASA RECON, and at the Atomic Energy Commission, for Nuclear
Science Abstracts; contracts with U.S. Office of Education (USOE) to
provide leased-line service to ERIC at Stanford.
1971: Roger Summit and Dick Kollin negotiate online pricing for Pandex
database at the ASIS national meeting in New York.
1972: At Lockheed, Roger Summit offers Dialog as a commercial online
service with NASA RECON, Nuclear Science Abstracts, ERIC, and Pandex
1981: Dialog Information Services, Inc. becomes a subsidiary of Lockheed
1988: Dialog Information Services, Inc. acquired by Knight-Ridder, Inc.
for $353 million.
1991: Roger Summit retires from Dialog.
1995: Dialog becomes Knight-Ridder Information, Inc. (KRII).
1997: M.A.I.D. plc acquires Knight-Ridder Information, Inc.; forms The
2000: The Thomson Corporation purchases the Information Services Division
of The Dialog Corporation.
The Dialog Search Engine
Summit: Let me go back to another couple of ideas on how our work at Dialog
shaped the emerging online industry. Dialog is a sophisticated search engine — much
more so than the Web engines. What makes it sophisticated is that it’s
recursive, that is, the output from one search process (one query) can be used
as input to the next query. That way, you can compound things. None of the
current Web stuff I’m aware of actually does that. They do the funnel,
(i.e., narrowing down), but they don’t do the pure recursion. An analogy
is driving a nail. If you can only take one whack at the nail, you have to
hit it awfully hard, but if you can tap it, tap it, tap it, tap it, then you
can get through anything that you want to. So, if you have a complex search
problem, you can break that down into pieces and attack the pieces; you can
wind up dealing with much greater complexity than if you have to totally formulate
the thing that you have to say in one query.
Bjørner: That recursion is what I as a searcher really appreciate.
Summit: And that’s why we did it that way. There was a lot of resistance
to that as we were doing the design, because memory was very expensive, and
in order to do the recursion, you have to store all those previously retrieved
Ardito: There are searchers who immediately go into Dialog and start searching.
There are others who have searched for years and years, and they still literally
write out their strategies beforehand. Then you have those who fall in between.
With me, it depends on how complex the search is or how ambiguous the terms
are going to be. Sometimes I do Select to get one very complicated set. When
there are too many hits, then I break down the one set by all the different
groups so that I can go and combine sets in any way.
Summit: When you do that, that’s your set 1. Then say you want to narrow
your search, you can input “select set 1/ti” and you will get more
relevant hits. If I’m giving a demonstration, I use /ti, to limit output
to those items containing the search words in the title. In that way, the other
person immediately sees why a particular item was pulled up.
Bjørner: I think we all have our different ways and we develop
a pattern. But the wonderful thing that was and is with Dialog is that you
have all those
options. You can go back and do it again.
Summit: Yes. Thank you. This goes back to psychology. There are two things
that are apparent from psychology. One is the strength of habits. The other
is individual differences. We all know, but may not be cognizant, of the wide
spectrum of individual differences in various approaches to problem solving.
When we were designing Dialog, one group said, “Oh, well, you just index
descriptors, controlled vocabulary, and that’s what you put in the index.” The
other group said, “You do free text.” So I said, “We’ll
do it both ways, to accommodate the variety of needs and approaches of individuals
Bjørner: We haven’t talked much about system features. Basically
you said that your strategy was that if somebody else had a feature…
Summit: ...we’d copy it. But early on, the systems were fairly different
in structure. I don’t remember the particular problems there were at
SDC. I know that a lot of these early systems that Carlos was talking about
[in Parts 1 and 2 of this series] were experimental systems working with relatively
small files. There was the Cyril Cleverdon Cranfield collection of some 18,000
papers that he abstracted and indexed. This was an experimental base that a
lot of people used for evaluating relevancy and recall, and although useful,
it was not sufficient to prove the operability of some of the systems in an
Ardito: Can you tell us about the OneSearch introduction?
Summit: We had many challenges in designing OneSearch. It was one of the most
thoroughly reviewed features that we developed in Dialog. Libby Trudell and
Sophie Hudnut had a lot to do with that. It was mocked up and tests were done.
It went back and forth for paper review several times before the programming
was done, to the point we felt it would interface with the actual databases.
Well, it’s obvious now, how could it be anything different? But at the
time, we had to go through a lot of iterations with it.
Some of the database suppliers were not overly excited with DIALINDEX, and
if we offered it, they wanted to be paid a royalty for its use. We explained
that it encouraged usage on the databases it identified and so was in a sense
a marketing tool. In the end, most agreed to go along with it.
Another tough program was the Remove Duplicates feature. We’d been talking
about that for a long time. Finally I said, “Let’s stop messing
around with this.” Then one programmer, Mike Barbarino, got together
with two other programmers, and came in over a weekend and put it together.
Mike was a guy that did research. He was the only programmer that I remember
who researched issues, and before he did the coding for Remove Duplicates,
he went into the literature to see what people had done before. He was truly
a software engineer, as opposed to a programmer.
Ardito: Dialog extended its service internationally very early, did it not?
Tell us about that.
Summit: Yes, we installed the Dialog software at ESRO (European Space Research
Agency) in 1969, making Dialog the first online network system to be used in
Europe. This implementation was managed by our chief programmer, Ken Lew, assisted
by the very able director of technical information at ESRO, Noel Isotta, and
his chief programmer, Gerd Muhlhauser. Then by virtue of a glitch in Tymnet
tarriffing in the early 1970s, European customers of Tymshare found that they
could access Dialog with no telecommunications charges. The word got around.
We contracted with Roger Bilboul as our agent for Europe. His establishment
of the International Online Meeting in London further stimulated the online
business. Dialog dominated online usage in Europe for more than 2 decades.
Japan was another interesting story. At their request, we contracted with
two organizations, Maruzen and Kinokunia, in the early 1970s, becoming the
first overseas service to provide information retrieval access in Japan. Tai
Yamanaka, who at the time worked for Maruzen, was instrumental in assisting
in the solving of the many problems that were involved in this service.
Australia soon followed in the mid-1970s.
You know, Dialog was sometimes criticized
by its competitors as having slow response time, and some attributed it to
the data cells we used for master
file storage. The fact is that occasionally we did have slower response
time than we would have liked, but it was not because of the data cells — it
was because we had so many customers.
A New Professionalism
Summit: My third idea on shaping the emerging online industry is that I think
online created a new profession of librarians.
Ardito: Can you say a little
bit more about the “new librarians”?
Do you mean that online created a different profession or a specialized segment
Summit: Or was it just a tool? Online provided a tool to the research librarian.
That’s a term I use a lot, as opposed to “information specialist.” I
just talk about “research librarians” and people seem to understand
that that’s something beyond the custodial librarian. So considering
the profession of research librarianship, Dialog gave the research librarian
a new tool. You could say that it’s just a new tool, that this person
was doing research before, using manual tools, and then the computer comes
along, so you get a computer tool, but it’s still a research librarian.
It is a question of when a difference in degree becomes a difference in kind.
I think that the combination of the computer and the massive databases really
represents a difference in kind, in terms of what the profession can do and
what the professional librarian can do.
Bjørner: In many ways, I think, because it’s more active, rather
than being passive, it also opens up beyond the specialties. When you’re
a librarian with books or with printed materials, you’re very often focusing
on a certain subject area as an individual. But having the world of information
at your fingertips makes you think in a different way, too.
Summit: Yes, and there is a skill associated with it. It’s a different
skill that needs to be learned. It is an extension of other skills in terms
of the interpersonal, in terms of a more expressive ability. I think we’ve
created a different professionalism within librarianship. When we started seeing
in job postings Dialog searching ability as one of the requirements, we thought
that online had arrived. And we saw that people putting out their resumes would
state experience in searching Dialog.
Keeping the Business Alive
Ardito: What were the major challenges in your work with Dialog?
One was keeping alive at Lockheed during the early days and growing the business
within an aerospace company. After I retired in 1991, I was invited to give
a talk to the Lockheed management group on entrepreneurship and how you can
grow a business within a company like Lockheed.
Bjørner: And you showed them how to do it before then!
Summit: Yes. And we were heroes. People would get mad at us because we took
over the cafeteria with our computers; we were displacing folks, and getting
a lot of attention. When other managers complained we were crowding them out,
my boss would indicate, “The best thing that’s ever happened to
you is Dialog, because it has proven that we can put together a successful
business.” I liked that.
Another time I walked into one of the offices and someone had drawn on the
blackboard, kind of a World War I airplane dogfight scene, with little double
wingers flying around, shooting at each other. One of them goes whoosh, and
another was on the ground in flames. Each one of these airplanes had a project
name on it. I was at Palo Alto Research Laboratory and there were a lot of
independent research projects that were competing and shooting at each other,
many of them failing. But the plane labeled Dialog was flying along and maintaining
its own. I wish I had taken a picture of that.
Summit: The other really tough aspect of work was negotiating supplier contracts.
I had some very positive experiences. One example is the Commonwealth Agricultural
Bureau (CAB), and its managing director at the time, Mr. Running. A British
guy. We sat down to solve problems and we’d talk about how the business
should be to meet the objectives they had for dissemination; i.e., getting
information out to the farmers. Then we wrote a contract that was just a terms
sheet. “I’ll do this, you do this; you do this, and we’ll
do something,” and so on. Then we gave that to the attorneys, and they
wrote up a contract and we signed it. That was fun, because it was problem
solving. We had that same kind of relationship with NTIS (National Technical
Information Service), with NAL (National Agricultural Library), and with several
of the early suppliers.
But there were unpleasant contracts, where the philosophy seemed to be “We
want to get as much from you as we can; if you die, we don’t care,” — those
kinds. There are some big names that we didn’t get much support from,
where it was a “you give and I’ll take” kind of thing. There
was that kind of negotiation, a zero sum negotiation, rather than the attitude, “How
can we expand the pie so that more customers can be served?”
Bjørner: I imagine that at the beginning of online, some of the
suppliers were very concerned about erosion of print sales...
Summit: Yes. And reasonably so.
Ardito: As a matter of fact, one of the suppliers we’ve talked with
said he did lose money from the corporate market as they bought into online — that
the corporations would cancel print subscriptions. Academics generally kept
the print, but companies would cancel or not renew because they would go on
Dialog to search those as well as other databases.
Summit: Now what the publishers tend not to talk about is the new subscriptions
they got by virtue of people becoming familiar with their product through Dialog.
There had to be subscriptions like that. If they had analyzed their new business
and asked, “Where did you learn about us?” or “Why did you
subscribe?” I’m sure there would have been some off-setting subscriptions.
Also I’m sure there was increased use in general, from people who had
never been subscribers, never would be subscribers, but just wanted occasional
access — at least they would pay some royalties.
There’s another thing that some of the print and online publishers did,
which is just poor business practice. Look at what their subscription prices
were over a period of time, say from 1970 to 1980, or from 1970 to 1985. Take
a look at what they charged for a subscription to their printed publication
and how they escalated the subscription price over that period. What they would
say, of course, is “Well, you know we were losing subscriptions, so to
maintain our revenue, we had to increase the price.” That’s a way
to drive business away, not the best way to sustain a business. Raising prices
should be the last resort, not a first resort.
Ardito: Another practice I remember is to have a two-tiered pricing scheme,
with much higher prices for a file if a user did not subscribe to the print
indexes. ISI (Institute for Scientific Information) and Derwent were famous
for this. I think they’re still that way.
Summit: I know that Derwent did that, and two or three others.
Ardito: Do you recall your negotiations with ISI?
Summit: I do. I remember Mel Weinstock. Oftentimes in an organization where
there’s kind of a tough negotiation, you have an intermediary, somebody
you can talk to about problems, who can also communicate with management. Mel
Weinstock was that person at ISI when we were putting the contracts together.
Ardito: Did you have any direct negotiations with Dick Harris?
Summit: I did, yes. And I don’t recall those as being overly enjoyable.
Dick is a persuasive person in an argument, and he could be intimidating.
Ardito: We wanted to ask you about negotiations with Sam Wolpert at Predicasts.
Predicasts was an important supplier.
Summit: It was tough. Sam was always tough, and he was unreliable. “Yeah,
sure, you can have an exclusive,” he said. “Well, Sam, why did
you sign up with SDC?” “Well, they’re in a different market.” “No,
Sam, they’re not in a different market.” He was wily in a negotiation.
Ardito: Was it always with Sam, at Predicasts?
Summit: It was always with Sam when I was doing it, yes, and then Jeff Sharp
took over in the business area of Dialog, and did the negotiations.
Ardito: We also want to ask you about negotiations concerning ABI/INFORM,
because we expect to talk with Dennis Auld as a pioneer.
Summit: Greg Payne was the originator of the database and the only one that
I dealt with there. He was reasonable. He was very easy to talk with. In fact,
Jeff Sharp reminded me that we could have bought the whole database for about
$20,000 or $30,000 at one point, and should have done it, which I agree.
Bjørner: Now, why was Greg Payne so easy?
Summit: He was a constructive problem solver. “Let’s figure out
how we can get this out and get people using it.” The question is whether
you’re in it for the long run, to grow the pie, or whether you’re
in it for the short run, to get as big a bonus as you can this year. I think
that those are the two basic attitudes. Greg Payne was in for the long run,
to grow the pie.
Ardito: I was really surprised to hear how “dirty” the ABI/INFORM
Summit: Yes, I vaguely remember that there were a lot of typos and that there
wasn’t good control on it. But that was essentially true, to a greater
or lesser extent, of all the databases in the early days. Some of the suppliers — wonder
who it was, it could have been Wolpert — really didn’t like our
EXPAND command because it caught all the errors. He wanted to pull out!
Bjørner: When did your friendship with Jeffery Pemberton of Online
Summit: I don’t know the timing exactly. We were trying to get The New
York Times as a database. Jeff worked for The New York Times as a reporter,
but I was dealing with his boss, whose name was John Rothman. John was a squirrelly
kind of guy. He had a system that he had designed that was little more than
an automated card catalog. It had very, very broad classification categories
such as you might expect to find in a card catalog. Anyway, regarding the negotiation,
I thought we were doing quite well, and then all of a sudden I read about a “forever” exclusive
contract Rothman made with LexisNexis.
Bjørner: That was forever, indeed! [LexisNexis did not lose exclusivity
of the full text of The New York Times until 1995, when the NYT allowed other
services a 90-day rolling current file. To this day, LexisNexis is the only
pay-as-you-go system with rights to the deep, multi-year archive.]
Summit: And it was “forever,” yes. I thought, “Well, that’s
the dumbest thing I ever heard of — to do a “forever” thing.
Jeff had left The New York Times by then to become independent, and we retained
him to work for us to try to get that database.
Bjørner: One of my first introductions to ONLINE magazine in the
early 1980s was reading Jeff’s editorial about the sale of The New York Times;
it was the most scathing editorial I think I’ve ever read.
Summit: It was such a surprise. That was the thing that got Nexis on the map,
I presume, just like Predicasts got us into the business area.
Ardito: What about The Wall Street Journal? Did you ever go after that?
Summit: Oh, you bet. Let’s see, what was the guy’s name? I believe
it was Bill Clabby. A very brash person. He couldn’t say a sentence without
several expletives in it — about one expletive per noun, as I recall.
We had discussions and negotiations, but there was no way we could come to
an understanding on royalties.
Newspapers at that very early time didn’t really understand what we
were doing or what kind of a relationship we should have. He tried to write
the contract by analogy, like a newswire service. He had some terms and conditions
that, I think, had we met, he would have been willing to give it to us, but
it was a totally different model than the way we were dealing with it.
Later we got abstracts of The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times and
had to make do for a long time, but we had years of negotiations with both
companies for the full text, just as we had with Chemical Abstracts, to get
the abstracts. That’s a long and bitter story.
I can tell you a story about ISI, too. When we put up DIALORDER, Gene Garfield
was livid. He had heard that we were talking with BLLD (British Library Lending
Division) about becoming a DIALORDER supplier, and he went berserk. I heard
from him on that, how it was illegal and he was going to bring suit, etc. He
didn’t like it at all. But we were just trying to make it easier for
the user. ISI could become a Dialog supplier as well. We weren’t excluding
anybody. We liked competition among our suppliers.
Ardito: In the group conversation [Searcher, July/August 2003] you had a very
strong reaction to BRS.
Summit: You got it from both me and Carlos Cuadra, too, did you not?
Summit: I don’t know. Carlos was comfortable with us in the marketplace
and we were comfortable with Carlos in the marketplace, because we didn’t
cut each other’s systems or each other down in a serious way. Our unstated
but mutual objective was to build the community using online, without denigrating
the other service, to capture some of the few customers using online services
at that time.
The first thing BRS did was to come in and start cutting existing systems.
Bjørner: Cutting them how?
Summit: Price. By saying “Oh, these people are exploiting you, they’re
taking you to the cleaners. We’re a nice, cooperative bunch of friends;
we’re going to work with you and help you out.”
Bjørner: But isn’t it true that the reason BRS formed as
a commercial company was because they lost their funding from the SUNY system?
Summit: I doubt that was the only reason. Ron Quake is an entrepreneur. Jan
Egeland is an astute businessperson. She’s very articulate; she presents
Ardito: She was on Carlos’ list as one of the people he thought was
Summit: Oh, absolutely. They did several things right and were effective in
competing with two established services.
I think what bothered me most was the misleading and seemingly underhanded
way they did their business. They advertised a very low, fixed, base rate (maybe
$10 or $15 per hour), but they didn’t indicate in large print that they
tacked royalties on top of the base rate. They weren’t in the same groove,
and that was probably threatening to a paranoid like me.
Telebase and EasyNet
Ardito: Was it a tough decision to go with the EasyNet gateway?
Summit: I don’t recall it being a major decision. Dialog was not reaching
end users. Dick Kollin had an idea of how to reach end users through a simpler
interface. It was worth trying. We did a lot of things to broaden the user
base — we tried Knowledge Index and a classroom search program. We had
EasyNet set up in a pretty good way. We may have even given Dick some start-up
money for Telebase. We’d do this often with an advance of royalties,
as publishers sometimes do with authors to help them get going.
Bjørner: You weren’t worried that EasyNet was a gateway onto
other systems, as well?
Summit: We had an understanding with Dick: Dialog was on the top of the list.
We took Martha Williams’ report on overall online usage and agreed that
Dialog usage on EasyNet would always be in proportion to the usage represented
in Martha Williams’ report.
Bjørner: In the early version, I know they didn’t let the customer
chose which system they used. Later on, the customer could specify, but when
they were using the real end-user version, “the EasyNet system” decided
which online service a query was sent to.
Summit: Yes. Dick managed it, so I said, “I don’t want you disadvantaging
us beyond what the marketplace represents,” and he agreed. So those proportions
would always keep us in a favorable position.
Ardito: LexisNexis, how was that relationship?
Summit: It’s a little fuzzy in my mind. I remember the early days, with
Dick Giering. We were competing against them for databases, and we won every
time. I think in those days we had the government databases, like NTIS; Psych
Abstracts was something they got and we took it away from them.
Bjørner: You don’t have the vehemence towards LexisNexis
that you do towards BRS.
Summit: No. I think they were ethical.
Ardito: Who do you think really shaped LexisNexis?
Summit: Dick Giering designed and maintained the system itself and deserves
credit for inventing proximity searching of inverted files. It was clearly
Jerome Rubin, however, that is usually associated with the business development.
There is another name, as well. This other guy would come up to me at meetings
and conferences and say, “Roger, I’m really the one who was behind
LexisNexis. It wasn’t Jerry Rubin.” And I’m sure I would
have checked that out to some degree at the time, and had a sense of its truth.
Ardito: You said Giering invented proximity searching, right?
Summit: Yes, and he developed the whole file organization of that early Data
Corporation system. It was called Data Central and its development was supported
by the Air Force.
Dialog didn’t introduce proximity searching until around 1970, and this
was done at the insistence of a staff member, Mark Radwin.
The Maxwell Overture
Ardito: What about Robert Maxwell? Did you have any dealings with him?
Summit: Oh, that’s a whole chapter in another book. Yes. He was probably
one of the most genial people I’ve ever met. Charming, and genial.
I didn’t ever think he was other than capable and accomplished, and
we spent quite a bit of time together.
Bjørner: So was it a big surprise? The downfall of his company
and the suddenness with which it happened?
Summit: Yes, probably it was a surprise. He wanted to buy Dialog. After reading
an unpublished and unauthorized biography of Robert Maxwell, and after talking
with some ex-employees, I decided we didn’t want him in the bidding in
1988. I got the chairman of Lockheed, Larry Kitchen, to agree. I believe Larry
felt a certain responsibility of stewardship for Dialog. Later, Kitchen showed
me a letter from a U.S. senator, who was being considered for the position
of Secretary of Defense at the time, requesting we at least speak with Mr.
Maxwell.... Larry left it up to me and I agreed to a preliminary meeting. We
met with Maxwell’s son, Kevin, an equally charming and astute businessman
who convinced us to include Maxwell in the bidding. When the bids were opened,
however, Knight-Ridder was on top.
The bidding process with Goldman Sachs and the final negotiations in 1988
were very cooperative processes between Dialog and Lockheed management. We
were supportive of Lockheed’s objectives, and they treated us very fairly.
Bjørner: What is your current status now with Dialog, and what
else are you doing?
Summit: There have been four major passions in my life: family, technology,
music, and sailing, all of which I’m currently enjoying.
Ginger and I married in 1964. I had known her for a couple of years. The woman
who rented me a little house in Menlo Park also rented two adjacent houses
to Stanford women graduate students. What a great shopping opportunity that
provided! To shorten what could be a novel-length story, I settled on Ginger,
one of my next-door neighbors, and persuaded her to take a chance with me.
We have two kids, Jennifer and Scott. Jennifer is married to a Brit and is
a tenured professor at Stanford in English Literature. Scott has his own
industrial design business in San Francisco [http://summitid.com].
My sailing interest and love of the sea probably originated from my naval
tour of duty. Ginger and I spent much of our honeymoon on my first sailboat,
a 30-foot sloop sailing around the San Joaquin Delta in the Sacramento River.
She has indicated that if she had realized that that trip was the prelude it
turned out to be, she would have walked away, never to return.
Recently, hearing of a need for trombone players in a couple of local big
band jazz orchestras, I took up my trombone after some 30 years and now enjoy
playing with two of the local bands, the Daddios and the Leratones.
Bjørner: It sounds like a full life. Do you have current activities
Summit: I have a retainer from Dialog; it’s kind of an on-call arrangement.
It isn’t a large retainer, but it keeps me in contact with them and them
in contact with me. I have the official title of chairman emeritus. So that’s
Dialog, and I have a non-compete clause, which is really broadly written in
terms of ethics.
I’m on various boards of other organizations. I’m on the advisory
board of a company called ebrary. The president and CEO of ebrary is a fellow
named Chris Warnock. He’s the son of the founder of Adobe and worked
on the PDF file format, and he’s just in love with literature and wants
to figure out a way to make literature more available.
Ardito: How did he get to you, Roger?
Summit: Through my son. They went to school together; they’re the same
age. Scott, my son, said, “Chris, you really ought to talk to my dad.” They
knew about Dialog…his dad knew about Dialog. So we finally got together
and they asked me to be on their board of advisors. I’m not on the board
I’m on the advisory board of Entelos, a company that does simulation
modeling of the human organism, so you can test drugs on the system through
the simulation model. That invitation came through Kevin Bowling, one of the
Dialog employees, who went to work for them.
I was also on the financial committee for a School of Music and Arts, a not-for-profit
organization encouraging music and art mainly for kids, but they have programs
in schools and adult education, too. And finally, I served for 7 years as library
commissioner for the town of Los Altos.
Bjørner: You are busy.
Summit: Yes, the months seem to slip by at an accelerating pace.
Ardito: Well, we didn’t talk as much as we should have about the
Summit: I think Ginger’s statement summed it up when she said to me, “You
know, the Internet’s come along just in time for your retirement.”
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Susanne Bjørner is an independent consultant
to publishers and authors and writes about the information professions
and industry. Contact her at Bjorner@earthlink.net.
Stephanie C. Ardito is the principal of Ardito Information & Research,
Inc., a full-service information firm based in Wilmington, Delaware. Her e-mail
address is firstname.lastname@example.org.