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Online World, Fall 98
The traditionals hang on to the limelight
by
Posted On October 26, 1998
Back in its accustomed time frame after last year's September setting, Online, Inc.'s Online World Conference and Expo took place October 12-14 in Washington, DC. The fall staple on the information industry trade show circuit offered a solid set of six conference tracks, a keynote by Alexa Internet's Brewster Kahle, the popular industry announcements session, and, for the first time, a rather extraordinary all-conference session on the third day entitled CEO Industry Panel.  

The Keynote

Brewster Kahle is having fun. That much was very evident from the style of his talk on the first day of the conference. Having moved on from WAIS (Wide Area Information Server), the co-founder of Alexa Internet is now doing such things as donating an interactive digital sculpture that contains a snapshot of the Web gathered last year ("World Wide Web 1997: 2 Terabytes in 63 Inches") to the Library of Congress (see Barbara Quint's October 19 NewsBreak on this on the Information Today, Inc. Web site at http://www.infotoday.com).

Kahle's talk, entitled "Datamining the Internet for Quality Content," was in tune with  both a major mission of Alexa Internet and a theme or "buzz" at the Online World conference—namely, making better sense of the data, information, knowledge, Web pages, whatever … that we are all coping and groping with today as we search sources on the Web.

Kahle asserted in his opening remarks that, with 20 million content areas (nevermind quality), the Web has reached critical mass. And with 20 searches taking place on the Web for every person who enters a library, it's safe to say that users have reached critical mass as well. So, he said, now is the time for librarians to build the digital library, all the more so as we've entered a stage where plenty of material will be born digital, live digital, and die digital.

He enumerated five characteristics for this "digital library as we want it," as follows:

    1. Collection with selection
    2. Access that's easy
    3. Materials with organization
    4. Preservation of the valuable and rare
    5. Aid for patrons
And he then rated our progress on each count. His scorecard, as he called it, gave mostly low marks, but with reason for optimism. Some of the points he made included these:

The collection—i.e., the Web—is, of course, enormous, but hardly select. It's doubling every 8 months now, said Kahle, given the low barriers to publishing. And it can be astonishingly fast, as publication and dissemination of the Starr Report within hours of its release exemplifies. He offered no opinion as to whether that implies "selection" or lack of it, but gave us a "not yet" rating for characteristic number 1. above.

We have, however, achieved access that is easy. There is "24/7" availability from anywhere (provided you have a computer … ).

It's in areas 3, 4, and 5 where Kahle and Alexa Internet seem to have the most interest. Organization? If you're not careful, you can get a million hits using a search engine, "conveniently grouped in sets of 10," he pointed out. Alexa's approach is to use metadata for better "cataloging" and more appropriate "laying out of the stacks."

Kahle and Alexa Internet posit that one's Internet searching and surfing experience will be much more useful with "cataloged" information such as this immediately at hand: Who's behind the Web site you're visiting? What do others who've been there before think of the site? Can you trust the information that's there? How popular is the site? In terms of the "layout of the stacks," Alexa Internet wants to make it possible to browse as in open stacks, to see "what are the Web sites to the left and to the right of the one you're on." And indeed, Alexa's Site Stats, Related Links, and other features are at least a move in the right direction toward better organizing the digital library's vast holdings, said Kahle.

Kahle feels we're not yet on top of things in terms of archiving and preservation. Hence his "snapshot of the Web" gift to the Library of Congress, a move that, while largely symbolic, helps publicize his strongly felt philosophy that there is a role for librarians in both preservation and organization of the "born digital" collection. Alexa, he said, is even experimenting with an "out of print" Web-page service. Tapping into the company's Internet archives, you can request a Web page from the Alexa archive if you receive a "404—Not Found" message.

Finally, regarding aid to patrons floundering around on the Web, and how we can get librarians back in the loop, Kahle threw up his hands and said, "I don't know—yet."

So his scorecard read three out of five toward achieving the digital library as we want it, with easy access rating a "yes," and organization and preservation rating a "just starting."

Six CEOs: Point and  Counterpoint

At the Online World CEO Industry Panel, there were moments that crackled with competitive intensity, albeit always in a humorous and good-natured vein. Here, David Seuss of Northern Light tries to focus on the issue of training, unsuccessfully.

David Seuss, Northern Light Technology: I've finally worked my way around to a position that I find odd and it troubles me. Here is my quandary. For end users who have no training or education in database searching, we should not do training. For professional researchers who have master's degrees in library science … we should train. … The database we have is really rich. Fifty-four hundred full-text sources, 100 million Web pages, syntax that will allow you to sort by date, or anything else that you can imagine … A professional researcher who understands all that can really make the database sing. And so that person we should train, and give them the tools and the information that they need to really deliver superior value to their clientele within their organizations.

Marydee Ojala, Moderator: OK, Tim and Hans are now fighting over the microphone  [audience and panelists laugh] … I thought the ground rules were "no fighting." Go ahead, Hans.

Hans Gieskes, LEXIS-NEXIS: These statistics don't really mean a lot. I did a search on a company I know well, LEXIS-NEXIS, using Northern Light. I got 13,000 hits; the first 600 were on our own public Web site. And I'd like to be trained how to find real information.

Seuss: Well, you know, I'd like to try the same search on LEXIS-NEXIS, but you cancelled our account a couple of months ago [laughter], and the customer service person said that since we were such a fearsome competitor, we should be cut off. But I'd love to do a search-off here in this public setting [audience laughter and applause] but you will have to re-establish our account though.

Dan Wagner, The Dialog Corporation: Dave, we'd be very happy to give you an account for DIALOG. [laughter]

Tim Andrews, Dow Jones Interactive: I'm happy to say that Dave has one from Dow Jones. It amazes me. I go into Northern Light and every time we have an interface upgrade in our product, about a month later I see some of our best ideas reflected in Northern Light.

Seuss: [laughing] We try to steal from all the best people.

Andrews: The one thing that I do want to point out is on something that Dave said. These 5,400 Northern Light sources … We just finished an analysis of the Northern Light sources, … [and] of those 5,400 sources, it appears to us that about 1,500 are pamphlets. And I just want you to know that my favorite is "You and Your Runny Nose."  [audience and panel laughter] …  But when we toss around numbers like this … you need to see whether the publications you need are in the product you're using, and not "who's got 6,000, who's got 10,000, who's got 50,000." And [Andrews looks at Dan Wagner] who has "more than the Web." I really like it when people talk about how they have "more than the Web." I mean, you're on the Web. How can you have "more than the Web?" No offense to Dan.

Wagner: [laughing] Come on.

Andrews: So, I guess I would say that some of the things David says are odd and trouble me, too.

Seuss: Wow, this is great. So far, on this panel, Northern Light has been attacked by Dialog, Dow Jones Interactive, and by LEXIS-NEXIS. We must really be making some waves here. I would like to thank all of you out there for your support, which has made us apparently someone that these gentlemen are paying some attention to.

Wagner: I'd like to get a license contract to the "You and Your Runny Nose" newsletter. We don't have that on DIALOG.

Alan Paschal, The Gale Group: All right, this is getting really ugly, guys. I might just say that I'm thankful that all of you are probably retrieving Gale Group information through all your access and password accounts.

Steve Arnold, Arnold Information Technologies and Panel "Counterpoint" Person: I want you to know, people ask me why I work by myself in rural Kentucky, [audience and panel laughter] with two animals and nine computers. 

I loved it; the audience loved it; and I think the CEO panelists enjoyed it as well.
D.H.
 

Industry Announcements

The Online, Inc. folks chose to sustain the drama this year by moving the industry announcements session to the second day of the conference. This is the all-conference session for which industry vendors compete for the limited number of 6-minute slots to make what are intended to be major information industry announcements. Over its 6-year existence, the session has come to be a much-anticipated part of the conference.

Session moderator Mick O'Leary noted that industry veterans took the lion's share of slots this year, indicating, he said, that they're staying in the forefront, with products and services both on and making innovative use of the Web. Here's a rundown of the announcements, with "links" to other spots here in this or other issues of IT or to ITI NewsBreaks on our Web site where you can garner more detail.

  • LEXIS-NEXIS Universe: Capping what O'Leary called a gradualist approach to putting its content on the Web, LEXIS-NEXIS announced its full-fledged Web-based Universe product for business users. Meant to be a one-stop source, LEXIS-NEXIS Universe essentially puts the company's entire comprehensive news, business, and legal collection at business users' disposal via their desktops. Flexibility in choice of content, searching options (including Boolean, plus "more like this" and a new "Focus" option), and pricing were major points LEXIS-NEXIS touted. For more, see the LEXIS-NEXIS news announcement story on page 1 of the November issue of IT, as well as the ITI NewsBreak dated October 26, at http://www.infotoday.com. And watch for coverage of LEXIS-NEXIS Universe in Mick O'Leary's Database Review column in next month's IT.

  •  
  • Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) MetaMaps: ISI announced a new corporate initiative some weeks ago to leverage its databases with new analytical tools and products targeting the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and health-care industries and their R&D efforts. Among the first fruit is the Alzheimer's Dementia MetaMap—the first in a number of upcoming MetaMap releases—developed in partnership with MetaWorks. MetaMaps feature carefully vetted, "highly extracted" clinical data and research, designed to serve as decision-shaping tools. Although arcane for many of us non-scientists, MetaMaps fit clearly into the category of products in evidence at this conference that are intended to help users "make sense" of data, and so to make it more useful. For more on ISI MetaMaps, read the September 21 ITI NewsBreak at http://www.infotoday.com and the news release story on page 47 of the November IT.

  •  
  • Enfish Tracker Pro: "The only new face among the greybeards," according to moderator O'Leary, Enfish announced what amounts to a personal product that, once again, means to help users make sense of, keep track of, and organize "stuff." In this case, it's all kinds of stuff: all the files—most any kind of format—on your hard drive, elsewhere on a LAN if you want, plus your e-mail, out on the Web to your bookmarked Web sites, and more. By way of "reading" (indexing in some form) all the material you direct it to, Tracker Pro can then organize it into topics and projects you want it to. See the news release story on page 13 of the November IT for more.

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  • Dow Jones Interactive Web Center: Actually, DJI's Tim Andrews used a couple of his precious six minutes to let it be known that the service now has 600,000 subscribers, 45 percent of whom come in through the Web, and to announce that DJI was adding the full range of AP Newswire stories—roughly 3,000 per day—plus an archive of AP content. The Web Center itself is, in Mick O'Leary's words, yet another effort to help information users "make sense of the Web." It's a no-additional-cost service for DJI subscribers that complements the already wide and deep content of DJI with a large, well-vetted, cataloged, indexed, and therefore easily searched set of Web sites chosen by Dow Jones editors for their value to business researchers. Again, see the news release story on page 12 in the November issue of IT and the October 26 ITI NewsBreak on the Information Today, Inc. Web site for more.

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  • Derwent and the USPTO: Not a product or service, but a Big Sale: Derwent announced (several weeks previously, in fact) the leasing of its World Patents Index to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, rolling it out to all examiners' desktops. The news release story is on page 7 of the November IT.

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  • DialogClassic, DialogWeb 2.0: The Dialog Corporation announced that its new DialogClassic, developed, it said, in direct response to requests from information professionals and power searchers, provides exceptionally fast Web-based access to command-based DIALOG via a Dialog mainframe Web server. And for the rest of us, the company announced plans to launch DialogWeb v. 2.0 later this year, with new guided search options including a subject hierarchy categorizing DIALOG databases into eight straightforward categories. A Dialog news release story is on page 3 of the November issue of IT, and we offer assessment and analysis of both DialogClassic and DialogWeb 2.0 in an October 19 ITI NewsBreak on the Information Today, Inc. Web site.

  •  
  • EBSCO Online and EBSCO Corporate ResourceNet: EBSCO's spokesperson first discussed new Web-based serials management capabilities the company is offering, as well as its long-awaited EBSCO Online full-text journals service, which has been in testing for months. A release date has been set for EBSCO Online!: January, 1999. Looking further ahead, the company also touted an upcoming revision of Collectanea, to be called Corporate ResourceNet, now in alpha testing. Targeted to business intranets, it will offer more than 1,700 full-text periodicals, 1,000 abstracted titles, a directory covering over 200,000 companies, and thousands of Web links. See the news release story on page 10 of the November IT.

  •  
  • Electric Library Business Edition: Infonautics announced the EL Business Edition to show attendees, although the service has been available for some time now. While reaching out to novice business information users with its interface, Infonautics has nevertheless packed content (more than 8 million full-text articles from solid business publications and other sources, plus, for example, Hoover's Company Profiles) and power (advanced search options, Boolean as well as natural language; a new guided-search option) into its very economical business product. IT ran an Infonautics new release story on EL Business Edition in the September issue on page 8.

  •  
  • KnowledgeManager from The Gale Group: The new Gale Group (formed recently from the merger of Gale Research, IAC, and Primary Source Media) announced what was essentially an IAC initiative: the first results of a technology partnership with Aeneid Corporation in which Aeneid's Aggregation Platform and Research Environment—tools to collect, analyze, and organize high-quality targeted information from the Web—are "wrapped into" the new Gale KnowledgeManager product that includes equally high-quality targeted information from proprietary databases. For more on KnowledgeManager and how it can help those researching high-tech industries, see the news release story in the November IT on page 4, as well as the October 19 ITI NewsBreak on our Web site.


The CEO Industry Panel
For my time and money, this opening session on the third day of Online World was the most interesting. Certainly it was the most fun to witness.

Online, Inc.'s Marydee Ojala, with help and "counterpoint" comments from Arnold Information Technologies' Steve Arnold, moderated and managed a group of six top information industry executives she had gathered to sit elbow-to-elbow at a table in the front of the auditorium. They were: The Dialog Corporation's Dan Wagner, Dow Jones Interactive's Tim Andrews, LEXIS-NEXIS's Hans Gieskes, Northern Light Technology's David Seuss, The Gale Group's Allan Paschal, and WavePhore Newscast's Peter White. They comprised a very interesting group in a year when all their companies made lots of news, and they had interesting, substantive things to say.

Basically, you had to be there to feel the dynamics underlying these competing execs' remarks as Ojala put questions out to them. Each worked hard and successfully to be forthright and insightful in discussing the direction both the industry and his company were taking; to promote his business and strategy … but not too much so; to defend his position at any hint of criticism from another CEO panelist; and to maintain good humor. Subjects raised included upcoming enabling technologies (video-based information was discussed, disagreement was reached), branding (there was general agreement on the importance of branding as a way to vet information quality, and branding, by the way, of the information source more so than the information deliverer), vendor costs and pricing, training and support, and current-awareness information and its relationship to archival information.

There was, at times, an almost inevitable division of opinion, particularly around issues of information quality, cost, and pricing, with the "newbie" company execs from Northern Light and WavePhore in one camp and "greybeard" company execs (to borrow Mick O'Leary's term) from Dialog, LEXIS-NEXIS, Dow Jones, and The Gale Group in the other—although those latter four, fierce competitors that they are, found issues to spar over, too. See the "Point and Counterpoint" sidebar to this article for some of the fun and flavor.

In a year of a great deal of information industry corporate maneuvering, it was interesting to note the continuing high profile of the traditionals at this show, even as some new companies settled into confirmed seats alongside them. Granted, more than one of the traditionals is operating under either a new name or new management, or both.

Regarding tools and products for the future, they seem to be coming from both old and new camps. At Reva Basch's final "Wrap Session," panelists again noted the emergence of "sense-making" or "new efficiency" tools and technologies for information management from old and new players. In conference sessions, I heard talk of collaborative filtering, conceptizing, agent technology, and text visualization, as well as numerous references to the value of XML—with its emphasis on marking documents for meaning, not appearance. Some of this was in evidence on the exhibit hall floor already, and more is clearly in the offing.


David Hoffman is editor of Multimedia & Internet@Schools

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