At the Online World 2000 Conference, held September 18-20 at San Diego's Town & Country Resort, there was a persistent buzz among attendees. Online, Inc. had let it be known at the conference opening that exciting announcements would be made later in the day concerning the future of Online World. Everyone had their own ideas: Online World was being re-vamped.… Online World was to be discontinued.… Online, Inc. was being purchased by another company (Thomson, anyone?).… Online, Inc. was scaling back on the conference portion of their business, or maybe they were doing away with the publications and were going to concentrate on only the conferences.
The permutations were endless. Yet, it appeared that the actual announcement of two new conferences was unexpected by most in attendance. On Monday evening, September 18, the announcement was made by Nancy Garman, vice president of the company's EContent Group, that Online World was to be scrapped and two new conferences were to replace it in 2001: eContent 2001—The Content Expo and Web Search University. Both conferences will be organized by Online, Inc.'s EContent Group.
According to Garman, Online World had evolved in such a way that it had too broad a focus for today's information professionals in attempting to cover both practical searching and digital content. The company had decided to end the Online World conference format and split it into two conferences, each with a very distinct focus, beginning next year. The redesign of its conferences paralleled the reorganization of Online, Inc.'s magazines, ONLINE and EContent (formerly Database).
eContent 2001 will be geared toward those who provide, produce, create, distribute, aggregate, and/or manage digital content. It will be easily differentiated from Online, Inc.'s Buying & Selling eContent Conference that's held in Scottsdale, Arizona. That conference is geared toward top-level executives who deal with strategy issues and the buying and selling of e-content. eContent 2001 is planned as a large conference/trade show, held in a convention center. There will be an extensive exhibit hall and different tracks for the conference sessions. Plans are currently underway to develop eContent 2001, which will be held November 12-13, 2001 in the Santa Clara Convention Center.
Web Search University will have an entirely different format, and will be targeted specifically toward the professional searcher. Garman foresees the conference encompassing techniques useful for searching the full range of sources on the Internet, including both the open (free) Web and those sources available for a fee or by subscription only. As most of the traditional online services have migrated to the Web, these will be covered as well.
Online, Inc. expects that between 300 and 500 people will attend Web Search University, which will debut September 9-11, 2001 at the Hyatt Regency in Reston, Virginia. It will open on Sunday evening with the keynote speaker and a reception. The conference sessions will offer concentrated search experiences, but will be longer and more in-depth than Online World conference programming—similar to what one might expect from a pre-conference seminar. However, due to the number of attendees, this will not be a hands-on experience. A conference binder will be issued to all registrants that will include all materials from all of the sessions.
There will be room for about 30 tabletop exhibits, but there are no plans for a full-scale exhibit hall with booths, as at Online World. Additionally, more food events (lunch, etc.) will be included in the conference registration fee to allow people the opportunity for networking and further discussion of the sessions.
Responding to the voiced concern regarding yet more conferences for the already-overwhelmed information professional, Garman said she felt most people will look at one conference or the other, not both, as they are geared toward different markets. While it's likely that some information professionals will have an interest in e-content issues, it's less likely that many providers, producers, creators, distributors, aggregators, or managers of digital content will have much interest in Web Search University.
Reva Basch, president of Aubergine Information Service, said she felt the decision to end Online World and replace it with two new conferences shouldn't have any serious ramifications for information professionals. She thought Web Search University actually plays to Online, Inc.'s strengths. With this tighter and more-focused approach for the new conferences, it will be easier for people to justify the expenses incurred by attending. However, this new move does indicate that Online, Inc. is pulling back from the world of the information professional. By these actions, the company is indirectly ceding the conference market for information professionals to Information Today, Inc. (ITI). Basch went on to say that the absence of Online World will most likely serve to strengthen attendance at ITI's National Online Meeting and Internet Librarian conferences.
When asked what she'll miss most about Online World, Mary Ellen Bates, of Bates Information Services, said that it will be "the synergy from having the hard-core searchers, content managers, and all-round librarians at the same show." Bates added that she feels Online, Inc. has a few challenges ahead in the coming year. "I don't think I've spoken to anyone who [understands] that Web Search University is actually focused on power searchers and practical searching of the professional online services, as well as the open Web. I know Online is committed to that title, so they've got to do a lot of brand-awareness work to overcome the initial impression that WSU is for Web surfers rather than serious searchers."
Questioned about Online, Inc.'s announcement and the impact it might have on the information professional community, Tom Hogan, president of ITI, said that he has great respect for Online, Inc. and feels the new strategy makes sense for the company, considering the direction in which it has been moving. He also said that, except for the smaller Web Search University, it appears Online, Inc. is abandoning the library market and leaving it wide open for ITI. He is very happy serving that market and wants to be certain that ITI continues doing so.
Garman and the rest of Online, Inc. are very excited and enthusiastic about eContent 2001 and Web Search University. They see this as a step that will allow them to become part of the larger content industry. Much work still needs to be done to develop these conferences—it should be a very interesting year for Online, Inc.