It’s been a week since Online Information ended and I confess it’s taken me this long to synthesize my impressions of this year’s conference. It’s always a kaleidoscopic conference, with the full conference programme in a different part of Olympia from the exhibit floor and the various free presentation rooms. Back at the beginning of our blogging experience, Dick posed some questions about the extent of the economic impact on the show. I don’t know that my answers to his questions represent everybody’s view, but FWIW, here’s my take.
Overall, I thought the conference programme was well-attended, although I suspect people there had paid for their registrations and travel before the current recessionary environment hit home. The mix of topics was excellent, with a mixture of theoretical and practical.
The exhibit floor was another story. There were fewer companies, smaller stands, and less glitz and glam. Offsetting that impression was Oracle’s decision to raffle off a car (but only UK residents were eligible – I would have had some difficulties importing it into the US had I won, I’m sure). Or was that a desperation measure? Looking down on the exhibit floor from the balcony revealed empty spaces hidden behind white walls. It wasn’t obvious on the exhibit floor that large areas were unoccupied, but it was very obvious from above. The exhibit didn’t cover the entire ground floor, either. Behind the Theatres where most of the free presentations took place was a large, empty, unlit space that, in previous years, would have been filled with exhibit stands.
People who visit the exhibits without signing up for the full conference have much more flexibility in their planning. Once an exhibit hall pass is obtained, they can pick and chose which day to come, make travel arrangements at the last minute, or decide not to attend after all. This is purely subjective, but I’m pretty sure there were fewer exhibit-goers than in prior years and they were from fewer countries. Which is too bad, since as others have documented in this blog, the exhibitors had some dynamite new products on offer.
One stand that had heavy traffic was the American Economic Association’s. In these difficult economic times, economic literature apparently becomes more popular. In addition to the EconLit database, AEA was showing its four new journal titles. The Google stand, which was miniscule, had good traffic but only wanted to talk about Knol.
Coverage of the show in social media moved from blogs to Twitter. But there was huge confusion about what tag to use. Was it #oi2008, #onlineinfo2008, #onlineinfo08, or just #onlineinfo? If you used all possible hash tags, you had no characters left (Twitter only allows 140) to actually say anything. A similar problem existed with blog folksonomies. Without standardized tags, it’s really difficult to search on what was said about the show by the bloggers and twitterers.
As Dick said earlier, this was the first major information industry event since the world financial crisis. Certainly delegates were talking of reduced budgets and travel constraints. However, the enthusiasm for new technologies and for working as an information professional is still very high. I ran into few people who were discouraged. They were looking for the bright spots, the silver linings in the clouds.
As, I suppose, we all should do.