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Wrapping Up 2004; Looking Forward
by
Posted On January 3, 2005


It's a contemplative time of the year. If you send out one of those traditional Christmas or New Year's letters to family and friends, you've reviewed the good and bad occurrences in your life and decided what you wanted to include. It's generally time to take stock of what we've achieved and to look forward to goals for the new year. The media outlets tell us what have been the hot stories, topics, and trends of the year, while the search engines report on the most popular search terms. In case you're interested, Google's annual Year-End Zeitgeist can be found at http://www.google.com/intl/en/press/zeitgeist2004.html; Yahoo!'s Top Searches 2004 is at http://tools.search.yahoo.com/top2004.

It's also the time when the pundits take a stab at what they think will happen or what will be the hot trends. Well, I'll do just a little looking back and forward—but not very far into the future. Things have been happening at such an accelerating pace that I can only guess at what we might see over the next year or so.

The Hot Stories of 2004

We published 89 NewsBreaks about developments in the information industry during 2004. (You can review the full list at http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com.) Several names stand out for their frequency of coverage, including Google, Yahoo!, and OCLC. There are a number of interesting themes among the hot news stories we covered—not just in NewsBreaks, but also in Information Today, Searcher, Online, and other ITI publications.

  • Open Access initiatives exploded. We posted eight NewsBreaks over the year that covered the major developments and the controversies concerning scholarly publishing and open access. There were also several conference forums on the issues, plus columns, features, and commentaries in Information Today, including Richard Poynder's two-part series on the OA movement in the October and November issues, which included his widely cited interview with OA proponent Stevan Harnad.
  • 2004 seemed to be the year of new platform rollouts, reworked data architectures, and general technological upgrades for the traditional online information services. Gale, Ingenta, Ovid, CSA, Dialog, Factiva, and ProQuest all introduced major upgrades.
  • Traditionals met the new generation. Companies like OCLC and Factiva, as well as the publisher trade association CrossRef, got cozy with the search engines. But, the traditionals also had to deal with newcomers (such as Find.com, Scoop, and HighBeam Research) nipping at their heels.
  • Google took center stage with one big announcement after another—Google Print, Google Desktop Search, Gmail, and Google Scholar. The real significance is how Google is reaching into our world—the world of scholarly content and libraries. With its recently announced project to digitize research libraries' content over the next 7 years or so, its impact in our space will only grow.
  • Scholarly content has been a focus of major development efforts—Elsevier launched its new Scopus service; Thomson ISI made major enhancements to its Web of Science; Thomson launched its integrated Pharma product; the free science-specific search engine Scirus pushed its benefits; and Google and Yahoo! eagerly pursued adding scholarly content.
  • Desktop search tools were the rage, with new products from Copernic, Google, anacubis, MSN, Ask Jeeves, and others. Yahoo! says it will offer one in 2005. Expect to see additional rollouts and enhancements as users demand tools to tame the growing digital mess on our desktops.
  • Local search was big—Yahoo!, Google, and Ask Jeeves all introduced new geographic-specific search capabilities.
  • We've seen considerable interest in taxonomy and classification—sessions on these topics at KMWorld 2004 drew overflowing crowds.
  • Blogs and RSS were hot, but RSS will be an even bigger story in 2005. Merriam-Webster, Inc. announced its 2004 list of the top 10 words of the year (based on lookups on its sites)—with "blog" taking first place.

Looking Ahead

  • Open access is an ongoing story. The consensus seems to be that multiple publishing models will co-exist while things settle down.
  • Integration progress will continue. First, this means integration among product lines—for example, access within a Thomson product like Pharma to content from other business units of The Thomson Corp. Second, online providers will continue to work to provide content that is integrated with the tools and analytics that embed within users' work processes and applications. Doing so will make the content valuable and "actionable."
  • Traditional information providers will continue to look to software tools to round out their business offerings (like Thomson West's software for lawyers and the LexisNexis acquisition of Interface with its CRM software).
  • Visualization technologies have made some inroads into Web and enterprise applications (such as the Grokker E.D.U. implementation at Stanford and other education sites), but they could find increasing adoption over the next year. As IDC analyst Susan Feldman said, "Visual tools are necessary if we are to deal with vast amounts of information in an expeditious manner."
  • Search technologies continue to benefit from upstarts and new approaches. Companies like blinkx, which offers a search engine for TV and radio, will continue to push innovation and spawn imitation. Some niche providers will likely be snatched up by the bigger players.
  • Content-analysis technologies will continue to develop. Access to massive amounts of content means that we desperately need tools that can extract meaning and trends from unstructured data sources. Companies like ClearForest or Crystal Semantics, which offers contextual analysis of text, will attract interest and, possibly, people interested in acquiring them.
  • The search engine wars will continue. It will mostly be Google versus Microsoft, but also in the fray will be Yahoo!, Ask Jeeves, Amazon's A9, and others.
  • Security and privacy will remain ongoing concerns.
  • New ways to personalize and aggregate content will expand. RSS, or something like it, will be an enabler.
  • Corporate blogs will be increasingly important for communication and collaboration.
  • Books and other print resources will continue to make their way to the digital world.

Further Reading

For additional perspectives on the outlook for 2005, turn to two information industry consulting firms that have each published a year-end commentary. Outsell, Inc. makes its "Outlook 2005" Briefing available as a free download from http://www.outsellinc.com. "As we look ahead to 2005, the new theme is ‘Power Play,' which is intentionally laced with a double meaning. We think the themes of play, creativity, and fun will continue—but they'll be kicked up a notch in 2005." Sounds intriguing, huh? Play and fun in the industry?! Outsell is also offering a free Webcast on Jan. 20, 2005 about its year-end outlook. Visit the site for information and registration.

John Blossom, principal of Shore Communications (http://www.shore.com), has published his commentary: "Crystal Ball Redux: Looking Back on Shore's 2004 Forecast—and Peeking at 2005." Shore's theme for 2004 was "The Walls Come Tumbling Down," which, the company says, "seems to have captured the wide array of changes that enveloped content and technology providers in 2004 rather well." Blossom and his team of analysts promise a new round of prognostications in January.


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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