Coverage from Online Information & Content Management Europe
by the Editors and Columnists of Information Today, Inc.
This year’s gathering of the database and search industry in London leaves me puzzled about how the industry is doing.
On the trade show floor, there was certainly not the doom and gloom of a few years ago, when, whispering in the aisles, some vendors were actually confiding to me that they wondered if the industry would survive another year.
But neither was there a great buzz, as in many years past, about the next new thing that had come along and how everybody was getting on the ball about it.
In some respects the quiet was somewhat reassuring.
The fact that there was not much new on the show floor and no real surprises on the conference program may not be all that significant. Can anything bad be said about an industry that appears this year to be operating calmly and conducting business as usual?
In my posts to this blog, I’ve noted that some of the big players seem to have new branding strategies, which as minor a story as it was, was the biggest story I could find.
The fact that some old, familiar brands have changed over to more corporate-level names may only reflect the natural merger of assets that were acquired in the past. That the merger comes 10 years or more after the corporate acquisition of some of these companies would seem, however, to have, have to have been motivated by something.
It could reflect contracting markets, I suppose. But it could also imply a corporate desire to realize some new synergies and make the enterprise as a whole better able to respond to changing market conditions and current customer demands. For want of a definitive answer, I will assume it’s a little of both, with the emphasis on the latter.
Uncertainty about the impact that Google (and Yahoo! and MSN) will ultimately have on both publishers and libraries still exists here, but not at the knee-jerk level we saw six months ago. Even the topic of Open Access to the scholarly literature is not raising as many eyebrows. And blogs, including this one, are by now old hat, with the only question remaining how to best employ blog and related platforms in the workplace.
Could it be that after so many years of travail, angst and trauma, the industry has returned to a new normalcy? Is the silence that seems to emanate from the hall this year the sound of an industry that once shaken-up has finally settled down? Or was it—dare I suggest?—simply the dread silence that precedes a perfect storm?
Thanks for joining us. See you again next time.
Before coming to London, I made the following list of what I expected to hear about and what are the top subjects of interest in the information industry.
• Information discovery/searching, desktop search tools, enterprise search
• Wikis, blogs, RSS, social networks, online collaboration
• Open access, digital repositories, effects on publishers
• Digital Rights Management
• Google Scholar, Google Print, and anything else to watch out for in the “Googlesphere”
I heard about some of these things, but it was interesting to note the things that I did not hear about. There wasn’t a lot on taxonomies, and little on the “Googlesphere”. This is in contrast to the Internet Librarian 2005 conference in Monterey, where there was lots of discussion and “buzz” on Google’s entry into the information industry, especially with Google Print.
Information discovery and searching continue to be hot topics. It was interesting to note that many search engine companies are adding other capabilities to their core search engine businesses in an attempt to secure loyal users. And the strategy seems to be working—for example, many people have installed the Google toolbar, use GMail as their e-mail client, search for driving directions on Google Maps, create a blog with Blogger, or search their desktop with Google Desktop Search. Google has even begun to move into information creation with Google Books and Google Scholar, thus creating products for a wider target market. The portal approach was tried a few years ago, but it does not seem to have succeeded as well as the strategy of adding discrete products and services to basic searching.
Blogs and wikis are becoming increasingly important, and not just for personal use. Companies are adopting them successfully, as the BBC example shows. They are being used for everything from ways to locate expertise to developing policies or communicating with employees. Blogs and wikis are an example of social networking, which is changing some of the fundamental characteristics of the information industry and how people communicate and find information. In turn, the role of information professionals is changing as they not only use blogs and wikis to communicate among themselves, but also deploy them in the organization. These social networking activities will enhance the visibility and status of the information activity, especially in these days of teamwork by geographically dispersed teams.
Podcasting—listening to shared audio information—is just emerging as a useful technology. We experimented with it on this blog—did you listen to Barbara Quint’s three podcasts or some of the interviews that were posted? Podcasting raises interesting issues, especially piracy. It is easy to record a talk or presentation and then post the recording on the web without the speaker’s knowledge or consent. But a presentation is a speaker’s intellectual property, so how do we control the distribution of podcasts? These are all issues that will need to be addressed in the coming years. What is clear is that social networking technologies are ushering in an entirely new way of dealing with information; however, as with all new technologies, it is important to consider first the problems that need to be solved and not use technology just for its own sake.
New business models continue to roil the publishing industry. The debate on open access and institutional repositories, perhaps somewhat moderated in the past year, continues. Libraries and other customers of publishers are clamoring for the freedom to make wider choices, but this has increased the complexity of information procurement options. Agents therefore still have a significant role to play in helping them decipher the myriad of options offered to users and choose the most advantageous one for them. It seems clear that complexity will continue to increase with time.
These are just a few highlights on the state of the information industry. We can expect to see continuing change and uncertainty; in fact, that is about the only thing we can be certain about!
Columnist, Information Today
The topic of collaboration permeated this week’s conference. But it’s not yet changed the shape of much of anything, despite David Weinberger’s entertaining and passionate keynote that submitted that collective (collaborative) conversation is knowledge. I think there is a difference between conversations and collaboration, and that one doesn’t necessarily lead to the other.
• Are blogs (to pick a popular conference topic) collaborative? I see the blogosphere as more of a self-publishing phenomena, and less a collaborative environment. Even with comments and links and aggregation by NewsGator and others, or with tagging, blogs remain primarily individual platforms. Sure, they are read by and shared with many, enhancing communication, but that doesn’t make them collaborative. Yet, blogs have become synonymous with collaboration when what we usually are talking about is individually generated content.
• How about wikis? Wikis by definition are collaborative platforms; everyone can edit their web pages. And as the interfaces become less intimidating, wikis will become more collaborative. The mother of all wikis, the Wikipedia (whose founder Jimmy Wales spoke at the conference this week) is unique in that it is a major content repository and resource, created collaboratively.
• The Wikipedia leads me to my next point, which is that most people, even info pros, are not often using blogs or wikis (except the Wikipedia) as content resources. We read them, we syndicate them using RSS, we use FURL and Delicious and Flickr as sharing and finding tools, but rarely is a blog, or a blog search engine like Technorati, our first or even second click when we are seeking information (knowledge). We use blogs for background or current awareness, but not as a major information resource or archive. A big question: Will blogs remain a tool, but not a resource? If anyone is monitoring blogs or other user-generated content as real and credible sources of information about your industry, I’d like to hear from you.
• Thinking further about blogs and collaboration, the Online Information conference organizers took a stab this year at using a collaborative blog to build community. In early October they invited speakers to participate. I saw a few interesting pre-conference posts by speakers, but not many. And there were only 4 posts during the conference: one was a video clip of David Weinberger and another had a link you should not open in front of your children. It was only a first effort, but illustrated that “a blog does not a community make,” nor conversely does a community ensure a successful collaborative blog.
• The blog you are now reading, Live from London III, is Information Today’s third blog covering Online Information conferences, and our seventh conference blog. As a publisher, we adopted the blog format way back in 2003 as an innovative way to provide near-real-time conference coverage, and our blog team is drawn from our staff of writers and editors. It is a collaborative blog, written by more than one voice, and our journalistic tradition moves the blog content beyond the usual stream-of-consciousness blog style.
• A unique collaborative blog community formed earlier this fall at Internet Librarian 2005 in Monterey. The result was hundreds of blog and Flickr photo posts from about 20 or 30 blogs about the conference and an inspiring and widespread online conversation. For several days the IL2005/IL05 tags were listed at the top of Flickr’s “hot tags” list, and Technorati aggregated over 200 posts about the conference.
What created this unique collaborative community? There were some basics, like ubiquitous wifi access, a “press room” with electrical outlets, Blogger ribbons for bloggers’ badges (prestige, anyone?), but the young and enthusiastic gathering of experienced, tech-savvy librarian bloggers was the X factor that really made things happen.
Collaboration and community are not just people talking. It’s the texture, quality, nature, and structure of how we communicate that makes some conversations collaborative and others just chatter. If the new shape of knowledge IS the conversation, then we have to learn how to communicate.
After three days of collecting stacks of new business cards, watching demos, and miles of walking, I’m sitting in front of my laptop and taking an overview of my first Online Information conference.
When I asked several exhibitors who had attended previous Online Information conferences, they offered estimates about the size of the 2005 show in comparison to years’ past. Those who had survived the dot.com boom and bust of yesteryear now see the industry coming back slowly, but at a solid, steady pace.
In between visiting exhibit stands (time permitted only seeing a fraction of the hundreds available), I managed to take in a few conference sessions, from Understanding the Online Information Service Industry in China, with keynote speaker Xiaodong Qiao (deputy director of China’s Wanfangdata Co., Ltd.) to New Publishing Models, a lively discussion with Arie Jongejan (Swets & Zeitlinger), Chris Beckett (Scholarly Information Strategies), Sally Morris (ALPSP), and Bend Lund (Nature Publishing Group). Not only was information being shared globally, but so were the challenges of delivering quality content quickly and efficiently for organization and enterprise alike.
From a newcomer’s point of view, I found a new energy emerging in enterprise. Take Wolters Kluwer, for example. One of my previous blogs described PubFusion, a soon-to-be-releasedonline content management solution designed to help professional publishers streamline the publishing process. Sure, the technology was impressive for efficiency and cost savings. But what hit me was the power of integration … partnerships of technology and information between and among enterprises. It’s a model for IT collaboration … three products/services (each valuable in its own right) joining forces to create something new.
With PubFusion, Wolters Kluwer Health’s Medical Research Division first started out with an idea for the system, which was built upon the Canadian-based EMC’s Documentum 5 Digital Asset Management platform, and Colorado-based Flatirons Solutions was poised to deliver an in-house solution for customers who prefer to offer the publishing system on their own site. Three companies, three specialties, one product. Andrew Bates, product marketing manager for Documentum Canada (a subsidiary of EMC Corp.), summed it up by calling the venture a "win-win-win" situation for all involved.
It goes to show you that one business challenge can take collaboration to an all-new level. Business expertise can link varied technologies in new directions. Nothing new, perhaps, but the products certainly are. A little ingenuity can go a long way.
Editor in Chief
This is one of the more confusing conferences you can attend. You can pay money — rather a lot of money — to go to "The Conference" — which is the three tracks on the 3rd floor of Olympia 2. I participated in two sessions up there, one a question and answer session on search, the other on social networking. What impressed me about both of those was the willingness of the audience to participate and ask questions. I tend to learn more about the state of the industry from questions being asked rather than prepared presentations. Overall, I thought the people in those sessions were more than willing to walk away from using Google as their only search tool and they had concerns about using blogs, wikis, and podcasts as research tools. This is not a group of people to get wildly and/or visibly excited about the topics being presented. They’re more likely to absorb the information, think about it, and act on it later, back home in their individual offices and libraries.
I sat in on some other sessions and was surprised by how few people were in attendance. Although I was told by the organizers there were slightly over 600 delegates registered, it certainly didn’t seem that way to me.
And there’s a good reason for not going to "The Conference" — it’s called the other programming on offer. Down on the exhibit floor, there were four tracks of presentations, most of them by high visibility, well known, knowledgeable speakers. These presentations were free. Every time I looked at those rooms, they were full. Why should people pay to go to "The Conference" when they can get much of the same information for free?
Then there were the International Forums. Held in the back of the Pillar Hall, behind a temporary wall, they were in languages other than English (except for the Scandinavian one that I attended, which was in English, but the presenters were from Finland, Denmark, and other Nordic countries). It was difficult to hear the speakers, however, because of the noise from the other side of the wall.
There were also Roundtable discussions during the lunch hour, also free.
How to assess the conference? Other colleagues of mine writing in this blog have concentrated on the exhibit floor, what’s new (or not), what’s hot (or not), and what’s newsworthy (or not). I’d like to attempt an assessment based not only on the exhibitors but the attendees. One of the important things about this conference is the number of countries represented by the delegates. It’s interesting to listen to exhibitors, particularly those in the business information space, try to tailor their pitch to those different nationalities. Several vendors told me how shocked they were at the availability of public record information in the US, since it’s not legal in most European countries. A delegate from the UK told me he didn’t understand why his contract with a major information supplier was different from mine. I don’t think I convinced him that it had to do with differences in contracts based upon differing legal and licensing restrictions.
I think the challenge of collaboration, social networking, new technologies, and content management (remember there was a huge emphasis on content management, particularly on the exhibit floor)lies in implementation. I also think that whizbang technology is increasingly hard to come by. Many attendees are jaded and tired of hearing that every new product offers them a "solution" without specifying what the problem is that’s supposedly being "solved."
What Online Information does for me is expand my horizons, not so much about new information products and services, but in how my friends and fellow information professionals view their information world. If online — and librarianship — is to be truly global, we must recognize and celebrate both our similarities and our differences.
Editor, ONLINE: The Leading Magazine for Information Professionals
Can you assess the state of an industry by attending a three day conference and trade show? Of course not, not when there are three simultaneous, conference tracks conflicting with a seminar program in six locations, with product launches, press briefings and receptions to choose between as well. It’s simply impossible to get more than a self-selected, personal view. The view is not so much an aerial shot of the entire playing field, but brief glimpses through the gaps and over the heads of the big crowd in front and all around you.
But after my few days as an internet blogger I’ve got a sneaky feeling that I’ve picked up the bug that’s going around – social networking. To me, the blog and other current developments such as RSS feeds, wikis and all the other collaborative tools, assist you, the reader, to get a broader view of what’s happening. The collective picture of this event from eight or so blog contributors, all with different interests, biases and motivations must give you a better feel for the totality of online 2005 than any single conference report published by only one of us in a magazine or newspaper.
This applies as much to the industry as a whole as it does to our corner of it at Information Today. The companies that are adopting and adapting these latest technologies, whether they are from the old established information industry or the new kids on the block, are the ones that have the exciting new products. Products that will see them through to the next upheaval, maybe a few years away, but more likely only months!
There are some great products out there and the best are those that are integrating information from multiple resources and using the latest tools for production and distribution. Some are from folks that have been around a long time, so don’t be predicting the dinosaur extinction yet again. Just take a look through the reports in the blog below and you’ll see plenty of examples.
So as far as I’m concerned, the folks that spend all their time defending one entrenched position against the opposite side (pro Google vs. anti Google, open access vs. subscription, expert cataloguing vs. community tagging etc etc) are simply falling behind those that are quietly getting on with it. Good luck to them!
Few people think that technology increases sociability, according the "The Tech-Captured Life," a Roper Reports 2005 technology survey. In fact, 46% of "influentials" and 36% of all of those surveyed say computers and technology make people less sociable. I wonder if the concept of sociability was defined or examined as part of the survey? While the common interpretation is "Marked by or affording occasion for agreeable conversation and conviviality," in business, social activity generally takes on more of a goal-orientation, as in "social-networking." I know this latter term often arises in the context of online interaction and in conference programming, but ITI’s London Online blog and my recent experience with the annual EContent 100 List judging process have given me much food for thought into what a post-Web business-oriented social experience means.
For the first decade of widespread Web-enabled community, email has prevailed as the primary means of interaction. While it offers an almost instant means of communication and the potential for a persistent record of that information, it suffers from one-sided, un-inflected and, frankly, non-interactive (at least not in a real-time give-and-take context) limitations. (How often has too quickly sent or even carefully crafted email been misinterpreted?) While there were many early forays into virtual communities, bulletin boards, and the like, early interactive Web tools lacked the ease of use to draw in large non-technical audiences and still relegated much of the "community" control to that of a Web master. Yet, like the information industry as a whole, online communication and community continues to evolve.
The first year the EContent 100 list was compiled, a small group of judges met in a conference room and conference-call connected to one or two remote consultants. The next two years, a group of subject-matter experts from around the US and UK worked together through copious email exchanges and cut-and-paste Excel hell. Last year, we began to use real time collaborative tools: first Groove then a Socialtext Wiki this year. While Groove provided some impressive technological options, the Wiki gave us many of the real-time (or as we had time) communication options combined with a very humanizing touch: the easy ability to contribute to any topic, change any page, or add any content by any member of the team. Wiki’s–at least from what I’ve seen today–need that latter component to really work, though. They require the self-serving, self-motivated commitment by a team to garner participation and as such, have not yet leant themselves effectively to remote conference coverage.
While ITI’s London Online blog provides those of us who did not attend the event a level of insight into the event, written by some impressive industry thought leaders, I came away feeling like an outsider (who wished I was at the show because the on-site bloggers made it seem fascinating and fun). I would not, however, say that this blog or any other serves to decrease sociability, however. I think that technologies like Wiki’s and blogs are actually, finally, humanizing technology–making it easy enough and accessible enough that we will find ourselves with another interpretation of socializing.
Well, it looks like this will be a bit anticlimactic, given these thoughtful recaps already posted by those on the London team, but we at EContent wanted to provide those of you at the show with a sneak peak at today’s EContent Xtra newsletter, which includes a special section of show announcements.
As befits her title, ITI’s news bureau chief Paula Hane has provided excellent recaps of all of the show’s announcements here in the blog, but in case you missed anything, we also had a special London Online section in Tuesday’s newsletter as well. While no earthshattering announcements were made this year, lots of companies save up or time some very interesting news for this major event, which are well worth reviewing when trying to get an idea of the trends this year.
Editor, EContent & Intranets
But don’t go away! There’s more to come! Over the next day, or so, blog team members will be posting opinion pieces, analysis, and reports on the “state of the industry,” as a follow-up to what we’ve seen and heard this week.