Taking the "Don't worry, be happy" stance, the Online Information conference will open for the 27th time in London tomorrow, Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2003 and run through Thursday, Dec. 4. Five pre-conferences are scheduled for today, the first day of December. Just think, 27 years—that's a pretty good longevity record. There aren't a lot of companies still extant that exhibited at the first online meeting. In some ways, even the company producing the Online Information conference has undergone significant change. Although the program says that Online Information is "A Learned Information Event," the Learned Information name is being phased out, replaced by Imark Communications. It's really Imark, a VNU company, that's in charge here.
Is it news that the show continues after 27 years? Possibly it is, particularly in these difficult times. Katherine Allen, the show's event director, noted in the November 2003 issue of Information World Review that U.K. government statistics show a 4 percent drop in the number of U.K. professionals employed in all types of libraries in the U.K. between 1995 and 2001. The primary association for librarians in the U.K., CILIP, says its membership from industry and commerce has had sharper decreases than any other segment.
Despite these depressing numbers, conference chair Martin White is upbeat. He continues to consider Online Information the essential conference for information professionals. It's doubtless due to White that an exhibition on content management is co-located with Online Information this year. A few sessions on content management are sprinkled throughout the general program, but what is being billed as "Content Management Europe" is only an exhibition, running the full 3 days of the conference.
Many exhibitors choose Online Information as the venue for new announcements. With over 10,000 people visiting the exhibits, although only a few hundred sign up for the conference sessions as full delegates, it is an excellent place for exhibitors to introduce new products and services. In prior years, Information Today has reported on these announcements, but hardly in real time. This year we are trying something new. We're trying to provide much more immediate reporting on the news from London using blogging technology. The Information Today "Live from London" blog can be found at http://www.infotodayblog.com.
It isn't just the exhibit floor, however, that makes Online Information exciting. The sessions themselves offer much food for thought. Each day of the conference is divided into three tracks, which can create conflicts for those interested in topics being presented simultaneously. Full disclosure: I am giving a paper in a Tuesday afternoon session entitled "Quality Assessment for Quality Searching" and participating—along with online luminaries Mary Ellen Bates, Karen Blakeman, Phil Bradley, Gary Price, Chris Sherman, and Danny Sullivan—in the Eureka Forum on Wednesday afternoon. This means, of course, that I can't hear some of the other talks, such as the Wednesday session on information metrics, that I'd love to sit in on. Luckily, I will be able to hear the session on blogging, moderated by Peter Scott, one of the pioneers of library-related Weblogs.
In addition to adding a content management component to its exhibition, Online Information this year has expanded the number of sessions offered free of charge in "theatres" on the exhibition floor. These half-hour sessions feature some of the same people who are speaking to the paying customers, alongside some who are only giving floor presentations. More full disclosure: I am speaking on business research tools on Wednesday and Web search tips on Thursday. Many of the other presentations are client case studies and product reviews.
Online Information is unique in its International Forums. Free to everyone, since they are on the exhibit floor, are German, French, Spanish, and Nordic International Forums, each with a program geared toward those countries and given in their languages. The Dutch International Forum is unusual this year in that it runs prior to the main conference in the same hotel as the pre-conferences. Very few conferences can boast of sessions in five languages. Five? Doesn't it look like six? The Nordic International Forum will be in English, but report on online issues affecting the Nordic countries.
The third component of most conferences—the first two being the sessions and the exhibition—is the informal discussions that occur among attendees. This is what makes a conference you attend in person radically different from one you attend virtually. It's the rumors, the opinions, and the buzz from attendees that balance what session speakers and exhibitors tell us.
The Live from London blog will touch on all three components of the Online Information 2003 conference, tracking and commenting on its 27th year. Let's hope it's not the "Don't Be Happy, Worry" conference.