You should have been there.
The 16th National Online Meeting continued to show the growth that has characterized the conference with some 6,626 attendees this year, up eight percent from last year. As usual, the exhibit hall was a sell-out, with over 157 exhibitors. And, as usual, the exhibit area proved the hottest spot of the conference.
Scheduled speakers and panels confirmed what the world already knows. The Internet, with its World Wide Web, is the hottest, fastest growing, and probably already dominant online information environment. Everyone is scrambling to get on board -- both the information industry and information professionals. Some Web newcomers may not even know yet that they belong to the information industry, but the Web is coming for them all.
The original designer of the World Wide Web (WWW), Tim Berners-Lee, spoke at a general convocation session. Even his address, however, indicated the paradoxical blend of fragility of specific sources and durability of the medium that characterizes the Web and the Internet. CERN, the European super-computer center where he invented the World Wide Web, fell on hard times funding-wise and withdrew from its commitment to Web development and support. Berners-Lee moved to the World Wide Web Organization to continue developing Web centers in the U.S. and Europe. And the Web continues to grow ever larger. Berners-Lee indicated Web experts have begun trying to control, evaluate, and filter Web sites with "seals of approval" collated into hierarchical "trees."
The role of today's information professional as one who is marching straight into the winds of change emerged as a major focus of the conference: How to use the Internet as a tool for searching information? How to train professionals and their clients and students in searching Net sources? What are the implications of the new digital information environment for the general societal values for which libraries and librarians have formed a traditional bulwark? How can information industry professionals use the Internet and the Web as a publishing environment?
We can't cover all the announcements and products shown at the meeting, but let's see if we can find some trend-setters.
New Era of Answer Products
Though the Internet may have dominated the conference program, GUI (graphic user interface) technology dominated new products displayed in the exhibit hall and announced in the press room. The online industry seems to have caught up with the GUI revolution among general computer users. Whether through Windows-based products or through services emulating graphics-oriented consumer information utilities like America Online or Prodigy, or sometimes combinations of both, major online search services and database producers have begun to introduce new answer-oriented services with new end-user-targeted prices and pricing. AT LAST! (Sorry, info industry, but it's been a long wait.)
In late 1994, the first major search service to announce a complete re-design around the GUI technology -- DataTimes -- promised that their new EyeQ Windows-based software interface would come out in January 1995. The date kept slipping, but DataTimes distributed copies of the software at the National Online Meeting as part of a major release to all existing customers and to traditional markets. Later this year they plan a major marketing and advertising campaign to introduce the EyeQ product and service to a broad business end-user market. They have already added Information Access Company's PROMT, Trade and Journal ASAP, Newsletter Database, MARS (Marketing and Advertising Reference Service), and Globalbase databases.
It's too early to say, but initial reports from users indicate that EyeQ has some very attractive characteristics including a "price tag" function that precedes the "purchase decision point" in each search. Basically the interface software re-packages information around user questions, rather than sources, and walks the searcher through the selection of databases and structuring of search strategies. But EyeQ has some reported problems as well. Installing it on Windows may pose some difficulties. Searchers accustomed to DataTimes' command language structure may find it difficult and onerous to push through menus and Windows' conventions to reach their information.
Among EyeQ's most atrractive characteristics is its pricing structure. As with consumer information utilities, users pay a flat monthly fee ($59) for basic functions -- in this case, searching and viewing the headlines, dates, and sources of documents retrieved. When the user decides what results they want to see, then they pay output charges -- 50[cts.] per citation, $1 for KWIC (keyword in context) or lead paragraph, and $5 for the full-text document. In the Business Analyst section of the service, extra charges apply to special sources -- $1.25 for stock performance from IDD Tradeline, $2 for company profiles from Standard and Poor's, $25 for annual reports from Disclosure, $5 for quarterly reports from Disclosure, $7.50 for credit reports from TRW, and $6.50 per letter-sized page from Investext's analysts' reports. Quick stock price quotes cost 5[cts.] per issue. Composite-source executive reports on U.S. and international companies and industry scorecards from Avenue Technologies, a DataTimes' subsidiary, cost between $24.95 to $34.95.
DataTimes may have been the first, but it apparently will not be the last. The conference saw a number of similar answer products and services from other major suppliers, most built around Windows software and re-priced along consumer utility models. Knight-Ridder Information (KRI), also known as Dialog and DataStar, announced several new such products, produced in concert with their new partner, Advanced Research Technologies, Inc. (ART). Custom DIALOG provides a Windows-based interface to all Dialog and DataStar databases. It is targeted at novice end users with little or no searching experience. Currently KRI is testing Custom DIALOG in major pharmaceutical, chemical, accounting, manufacturing, and consumer products companies for enterprise-wide access.
Even more exciting, KRI/Dialog has announced a series of subject-specific, Windows-based products. The first is BusinessBase. Users click on folders and icons identifying key questions in business searching -- Snapshot, with Brief or Full profiles of company business lines and financial highlights; Financials, with annual and quarterly financials, credit reports, stock information on publicly held companies, and recent company finance news releases; Market Position, with complete product listings, product news, market share, analysts' reports and lists of company competitors; Company Structure, covering ownership and operations, top management, mergers and acquisitions activities, joint ventures and strategic alliances, and personnel changes; News, with newswire, newspaper, magazine, trade journal and newsletter articles about companies; and Additional Assets, covering U.S. patents and trademarks and federal contracts awarded. Databases tied to BusinessBase come from Dun and Bradstreet, Standard and Poor's, Investext, PR Newswire, Thomson and Thomson, Reuters, Disclosure, Information Access Company, etc. In total, the service covers some 10,000,000 companies worldwide. Searching focuses on company names. Users can deliver results by e-mail, fax, or express mail.
At show time, KRI/Dialog had not priced the final service, but estimates run at around $50 a month plus various output charges. The monthly fee will cover telecommunications, software, and support. In the near future, searchers can expect to see similar products entitled ScienceBase and ProBase.
NewsNet also announced a complete re-design with an interface called Baton. Baton for Windows provides instant dial-up and sign-on, offline search strategizing, relevance scoring of search results through a color bar chart, and offline access to the NewsFlash current awareness service. The software will generate indexed, related, and variant terms, plus broader and narrower terms from the last set of hits, to build better searches. Searchers can choose between familiar Boolean search conventions or natural-language searching. Baton will let searchers set password defaults to one form of searching or another, or combine features of each. Display options include sorting by relevance or publication date.
At presstime, NewsNet projected a launch for Baton in July. They will automatically send copies to all current NewsNet customers. The Baton software runs on IBM PC compatibles running Windows 3.1 or higher with a VGA monitor or better and a minimum of 4MB RAM. The software engine now running behind the Baton system comes from Personal Library Software (PLS), which provides automatic singularization and pluralization as well as term stemming, string matching, more wildcard flexibility, and new field …