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2001 News in Review
by
Posted On December 31, 2001
This marks our 93rd NewsBreak for 2001. During some of the quieter news times, such as all of January, early August, and around holidays, we published one story per week. Other weeks we had two, but on both October 8 and October 22 we published four NewsBreaks each, reflecting those periods when we were flooded with important news. Following September 11, we offered 4 weeks of commentary and updates on relevant 9/11 information resources.

It was really quite a busy year for news. Many information industry companies struggled, reported staff cutbacks and restructuring, acquired or were acquired, repackaged products and services, and partnered with others. Some companies launched new versions, new products, and even new companies—so there was a lot to report. While many dot-coms bit the dust, others saw the shakeout as validating the necessity of having a solid business model and value-added content that people were willing to pay for.

The biggest mega-companies got even bigger. Reed Elsevier and Thomson purchased and split up Harcourt (announced in October 2000 and completed in July 2001; http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=17713), causing regulatory investigations that delayed the sale and some accusations of monopolistic operations (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbReader.asp?ArticleId=17604). Dialog, which was purchased by Thomson in 2000, worked on its business strategies and pricing issues, and, as part of the Thomson Legal & Regulatory Group, bought NewsEdge in August 2001 (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=17530). Wolters Kluwer added SilverPlatter Information to its stable of properties (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbReader.asp?ArticleId=17613).

Consolidation in the industry was not limited to just the heavyweights—small and medium-sized companies did some acquiring as well. Reed Elsevier divested its R.R. Bowker unit, with the products split and sold to Cambridge Scientific Abstracts and Information Today, Inc. (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=17524). ProQuest purchased SoftLine Information and added five specialized databases to its service (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/wndreader.asp?ArticleID=17452). OCLC offered to buy the struggling netLibrary (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=17459).

Newer companies in the information space were also busy. TheScientificWorld, a fast-growing information portal for scientists that launched in 2000, acquired another portal, ScienceWise, and now offers a range of online services, including its sciBASE database of scientific literature (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=17491). But not all ambitious information provider start-ups survived the difficult year. Contentville, with its "idiosyncratic content" collection, closed shop after only a year (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=17492).

The tough economic times forced many companies to scale back or to replace dying advertising revenues with subscription services. Many observers said we've seen the death of the free Web. Britannica.com is now charging, as are many others. xrefer has moved what were once freely available reference titles to its subscription-only service, xreferplus (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=17441). Even companies with great information products like Hoover's were affected. Hoover's had to implement cost-savings measures that included closing offices, cutting staff, discontinuing unprofitable products, and focusing on its core subscription business (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=17496).

Despite the gloomy financial situation, some new companies launched with products that offered enterprise knowledge management solutions. Entopia unveiled Quantum 1.3, its enterprise software solution designed to improve organizational productivity (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=17471), while FireSpout now offers an engine for accessing and managing enterprise content (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=17501).

To speed product development (and reduce its own development costs), LexisNexis aggressively partnered with a number of companies to incorporate new best-of-breed technologies that enable better information access for its customers. It announced a number of deals for technologies that included natural language search (iPhrase), neural network technology for linguistic analysis (DolphinSearch), and information extraction (WhizBang! Labs). In addition, for their knowledge solutions that integrate LexisNexis content with the intranets, portals, extranets, and Web sites of enterprise clients, the company partnered with leading portal providers, such as Hummingbird, Microsoft, Plumtree, and Verity. All of these partnerships reflect a major effort by LexisNexis to apply more sophisticated end-user tools to its massive data.

Factiva, with a similar goal of enhancing enterprise information access, teamed with companies like Inxight (for automated information categorization of internal and external content), and portal providers such as Epicentric, Microsoft, Plumtree, and Portal B.

And, of course, I can't even cover the many product announcements that happened during the year—new sources added, databases tweaked, interfaces enhanced, and lots of linking initiatives between vendors. There was a lot of activity in the sci-tech area, especially in new e-journals (see, for example, the NewsBreak about BioMed Central at http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=17517).

The year 2001 also saw us dealing with viruses and other vulnerabilities. Nasty viruses hit networks large and small. High-speed connections were subject to missteps and failures. My own AT&T @Home cable Internet connection died for a few days when Excite@Home went under. Security issues of all kinds took center stage, heightened by the September 11 events. Many government and corporate Web sites removed sensitive information in an anti-terrorism response, touching off debates about security vs. information access.

In addition, access to information was certainly affected due to post-Tasini fallout. Since the Supreme Court handed down its decision in the Tasini case (see the June 28 NewsBreak at http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=17563), publishers, online services, and news sites like The New York Times have removed articles written by freelance authors. Our NewsBreaks have followed the issues closely all year, and include a story about National Geographic losing a case that concerned digitized photographs and the intellectual property rights of freelancers (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=17478). We also covered the first Canadian case dealing with copyright ownership by freelancers (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=17484).

The year also saw a great deal of turmoil with Web search engines. Many bit the dust, including Go.com (Infoseek) and NBCi (Snap), with AltaVista months behind in updating. As Danny Sullivan put it, the next big challenge in search will be "staying alive." The top dogs right now are Google and Fast's AllTheWeb.com, and both have made great improvements over the past year. We've had a number of NewsBreaks with reports of their continuing enhancements.
 
Sometimes it's easy to forget how far we've come or to remember the pre-Web era. Doesn't it seem as if we've always done our holiday shopping online? 2001 marked the 20-year anniversary of the IBM PC and the 10-year anniversary of the first Web page. By the way, if you're interested in following the development of the Net, visit Hobbes' Internet Timeline (by Robert H. Zakon, "Internet Evangelist," http://www.zakon.org/robert/internet/timeline). It starts in 1957 with the Sputnik launch, followed the next year by the establishment of ARPA in the Department of Defense, and goes through 2001. Great for reminiscing, and it's fascinating browsing.

Finally, if you'd like insight into the hot search topics on the Net, see the Year-End Google Zeitgeist (http://www.google.com/zeitgeist), which provides an interesting look into the top queries searched on Google during 2001. Google, which powers more than 150 million searches per day, says it offers "a window on the world and presents a unique perspective on the year's major events and hottest technology and consumer trends." The top "gaining queries," not surprisingly, were Nostradamus, CNN, World Trade Center, Harry Potter, and anthrax, with Osama bin Laden and Taliban also in the top 10. I suspect Microsoft will be peeved that it didn't make it into the Top Ten Brands list, while Adobe, Oracle, and Dell did. I found the list of Top Ten News Resources interesting. In order, the first five were CNN, BBC, The New York Times, MSNBC, and The Washington Post.

Just a reminder: Sign up to receive our free NewsLink weekly e-mail newsletter (which lets you know what news stories have been posted) at http://www.infotoday.com.

So out with the old, in with the new. Bring on the news! And Happy New Year to everyone from all of us at Information Today, Inc.


Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.


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