Interview with Online Information Chair & EContent 100 Judge, Martin White

We at EContent magazine are lucky enough to have Martin White, Chairman of the Online Information Conference, serve as one of our columnists, contributing editors, and as a judge for our annual EContent 100 awards. Martin has served as Chairman of the show since 2000 and has attended the event since 1976, missing only two events during the years since. Obviously, Martin brings to the show (and to EContent magazine) decades of experience in the information industry and a level of awareness few share. That said, in a recent chat, Martin revealed some interesting insights into the London show, his role in it, the EContent 100 list… and some very candid thoughts on the evolution of both:

Martin White (MW): Next year will be the 30th Online Information Conference, and I am bowing out. Although working on the event is a wonderful challenge and great fun it is time to hand over the chair to someone with a different perspective on the information industry and the information profession and a different vision of what the shape of Online Information should be. In the time I have been involved we have moved towards providing a set of ‘tracks’ that are really individual conferences, offering a very wide range of walk-in presentations on the exhibition floor which complement (rather than cannibalize) the main conference, and expanding our technology coverage, especially into the content management sector. We have also worked hard to ensure that we offer the chance for anyone with something important to say to be able to say it at Online, and yet balance this with being able to invite experts from around the world.

One of the key ways we do this is to have a wiki that supports the paper review process so that we can collaboratively identify emerging themes and issues that we may have missed as we set up the outline agenda in February, not only revising the structure of the conference but also sharing ideas for speakers that we should really have invited in the first place.

Michelle Manafy (MM): While the EContent 100 list has been out for a few days already, it really makes its grand debut at London Online. Do you feel this is significant? Is there an intersection between the list and the show?

MW: Absolutely. Over the years the Online Information Conference has tried to both be an event where people can catch up with developments in their fields, a sort of end-of-year review, but almost more importantly be the event which also challenges their assumptions about the future, things we also strive for with the EC100 list. Coming as it does just at the year end it is a great opportunity for information professionals to be able to priorities their objectives, resources and budgets for the year ahead. The Exhibition tries to do the same. The major vendors will be there to support year-end subscription renewal and to gain new business, but because the event attracts well over 12,000 visitors a year this is also the event where new companies have the best chance of being seen. Overall there should be over 200 vendors and I would hope that everyone on the EC100 list would be present.

MM: It looks to me like about 30 of those making our list this year are exhibiting at the show and likely many more are attending. This year, exhibitors will be presented with signs indicating that they made the list which they can display at their booths. Copies of the issue–along with a complementary item you’ll have to see for yourself–will be at the Information Today, Inc. booth (233A). Martin, as someone who has judged the EContent 100 list for years now, how is this year’s list different from others?

MW: It’s not so much the differences, as each year companies come and go. But this year the discussion around the vendors raised some interesting questions. How should we deal with major IT vendors, such as IBM and Microsoft, where there are some interesting innovations within what is largely business-as-usual? Is EC100 a reflection of the North American market, or a global market? If the latter then how do we rank companies with a strong local market but invisible outside of Europe. Then there may be companies with a substantial market share built up over many years in the business, but where product innovation and customer service are not of the highest order. I think that these concerns have always been present among the judges, but the ease with which we could comment this year through the Socialtext wiki brought them more visibility to the surface.

MM: What does it signify about the digital content industry?

MW: That perhaps it is not yet one industry! As a personal view I feel that if we do not put some more clarity and visibility into the scope and selection parameters of EC100 it may start to loose the very high reputation that it has developed.

MM: Do you see these trends mirrored in the Online Information show?

MW: Over the last few years Online Information has moved away from being ‘something for everyone’ because there was never enough of the ‘something’ to justify attendance at the conference. Now we focus on a number of individual issues and recognize that some themes are just not going to get a space this year.

MM: You specifically mentioned the Socialtext wiki we used for this year’s EContent 100 voting space. They are increasingly being used for conference/trade show discussion spaces. Do you think this is effective? Promising? Useful?

MW: I think this is a technology-driven approach. I think that conference organizers are very keen (if not desperate!) to add ongoing value to their conference, providing virtual exhibitions, delegate blogs and wiki discussion platforms. In principle I applaud this, but a bit more delegate research is going to be required if these ideas are to mature into something more than sandbox technology.

MM: Well I am sure most of the conference attendees will be watching this and many other of the technologies featured at the show and on the EContent 100 list for maturity and continued progress and innovation. Thank you, Martin, for your candor and insight.

Michelle Manafy, Editor
EContent magazine & the Intranets newsletter

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