Online Information in London, sponsored by Learned Information Ltd, has an energy and identity unlike any U.S. online information show. I attended my first conference in this series in 1986, and I felt like a kid in a candy store. (At the time the conference went under the name International Online Information Meeting, and indeed many people still refer to the conference as IOLIM.) There were so many products that I had never seen before and so many different perspectives on the practice of librarianship or the information profession among the European delegates. I still have that feeling seven shows later.
I am not alone. A first time U.S. representative, an old hand at U.S. shows, said that Online Information '94 was totally different from shows in North America. The target audience is not only librarians but also the information publishers and providers as well as local business persons. She was amazed at the genuine curiosity of the exhibition attendees who were asking questions in an attempt to learn more about products and services.
"It's wonderful," enthused a representative of the Russian National Public Library for Science and Technology.
"This is the most productive of the online shows I have attended" stated an Asian colleague who went on to say that he was able to line up new and exciting schemes for the Southeast Asian market.
The show resembles the National Online Meeting in New York, with its extensive exhibits, delivered papers that are often more theoretical than practical, product reviews, satellite events, and a concurrent Electronic Publishing Conference, which is a recent addition. Also included are "Technical Tutorials" and "Library Lectures." The lectures are sponsored by library and information associations, such as ALA, IFLA, and FID and open to delegates, exhibitors, and exhibit attendees
Two things differentiate Online Information from other shows. First, obviously, is the multinational makeup of the delegates and exhibitors. More importantly, this is a trade show for the information industry. Not only do information providers exhibit for information users, but information suppliers exhibit for information providers.
The heart of the show is the exhibition hall, housing 250 exhibits on three floors. People queue up, waiting for the doors to open. Over 12,480 people attended the 1994 exhibition, a 30 percent increase over last year.
"We never had a busier day than yesterday" stated one veteran Dun & Bradstreet exhibitor. Other vendors ran out of brochures, business cards, and even contracts.
To successfully cover the exhibition hall requires planning and focus. In previous years, I was looking at new international business information tools and felt relatively satisfied in my hunt for information. This year, being set loose to see what was new and interesting to the delegates, I was unable to take in all that was happening. I followed the crowds to the stands popular for their products, such as OCLC and SandPoint, to the stands popular for their give-aways, such as MAID's drinks and dessert stand, and to the stands which had issued press releases concerning "new" products.
Themes in the exhibition hall were information delivery, direct access to information from information providers, filters, and more CD-ROMs. New Windows interfaces continued to predominate at the traditional online stands. U.S.-based companies (whatever that now means) were out in force, but mostly with their European representatives in the stands.
Here are a few of the major announcements made at Online Information '94:
Chemical Abstracts held a press conference to introduce SCIFINDER in Europe. SCIFINDER is due for release in early 1995. This product combines end-user searching (Explore), a Table of Contents Service (Browse), and a current awareness service (Keep Me Posted). You can access it through Windows or on a Mac and via Internet or other high speed connections. It is an intelligent agent at the client end.
PIRA, the Pulp and Paper Industry, had a champagne announcement that was more interesting for the concept than for the actual product, Paperbase. Four of the world's major paper research organizations--CTP (France), KCL (Finland), Pira (U.K.), and STFI (Sweden)--are offering one new worldwide service. Paperbase will be available online and on CD-ROM and will include monthly abstracts, a weekly bulletin, and a current awareness service. April 1995 is the launch date.
BIOSIS and CD PLUS announced that Biological Abstracts will be on CD-ROM and hard disc using OVID software. This brings together medical and bioscience products with a single interface. The CD PLUS stand is always popular.
The European Union had prime property at the main exhibition entrance. The stand included many kiosks with products featuring EU's own data and also products designed through joint ventures with private enterprise. The products ranged from IMPACT 2, consumer market interactive CDs, to GIS systems for tracking seabed oil and gas pipelines. An example of an IMPACT 2 product is Edusex. This Italian designed, multimedia CD-ROM offers sex education to young people. Another featured joint venture is the AA Titan Project, the EU-Electronic Travel Planner CD-ROM developed in conjunction with the British Automobile Association. Next year's U.K. attendees can consult the Travel Planner to find the best route between West Pennard and London and where to grab a pint along the way. The goal is to have the project ready for the 1995 show.
SilverPlatter demonstrated its ERL system, the electronic reference library designed for WAN access to SilverPlatter and non-SilverPlatter held databases. It uses local software, WinSPIRS, and TCP/IP. The impact of ERL on the market was evident by UMI's own announcement that it will make five products available through ERL--ABI/Inform, Periodical and Newspaper Abstracts, Dissertations Abstracts, and Pharmaceutical News Index.
Financial Times, which last year announced its purchase of Extel Financial at Online Information '93, introduced its "concept" product, FT Discovery, which combines Extel data with other FT-held products. The package contains 5500 companies from EXTEL, industry sectors, countries, and news. Access is modem dial-in, direct with ISDN or Internet. The search platform is Windows. Output options include graphics, charts, and pre-formatted integrated reports.
Disclosure announced two "new" products, LaserD Online and LaserD II for Windows. LaserD online will deliver international corporate data by selected sectors rather than requiring a subscription to the total file. An ISDN line and minimum 486 machine are necessary plus additional software. The first sectors, available January 1995, are Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals. LaserD for Windows is also ready for a January 1995 roll out.
Data-Star demonstrated KR Probase, a Windows-based interface that resembles Data-Star FOCUS. The two major improvements over traditional Data-Star software are the ability to phrase search without the "adj" and to display one screen at a time. Data-Star will introduce KR Probase in March 1995.
"Internet Village," tucked away in a corner of the hall on the lower level, featured companies offering Internet access to individuals and organizations. The BBCs Neighborhood Club attracted a crowd. I was attracted to the Internet Book Shop that markets services to publishers. It provides lists of publications and ways to order them using World Wide Web. Also in the Village was DANTE--The European Connection--a cross-border superhighway which coordinates applications such as MailFLOW for mail service in 25 countries, and NameFLOW-Paradise, an international directory in 30 countries.
The conference portion of Online Information is chaired by David Raitt, editor of The Electronic Library. Themes for the paper sessions included interactive television, the Internet, consumer online, and multimedia. There appeared to be more interest in information technologies this year than in information content. The keynote session was on Interactive Television, a concept stretching the definition of end-user online to its extreme. The session was billed as an explanation of the technology and its capabilities and as a discussion of applications of I-TV as a new medium for information services.
Benefits of interactive TV included more choice, added interactivity to existing programs, increased user control, and improved access to products and services. With the addition of a "set-top box," transmission becomes two-way. The major application at this point, however, seems to be the ability to select the video you want to see when you want to see it, without running out to the video store. Another application is the ability to play along with the U.K. equivalent of Wheel of Fortune. We were left with the sense that this is a technology still searching for real education and informational applications.
From Wheel of Fortune, papers moved to 239.50 and ISO 9000 standards. Consumer online highlighted the four Cs--Computing, Communicating, Context, and Consumer Electronics. People were queuing up to get into the Internet session. At the same time, Philip Martin from the British Library was telling a small audience about the need to stop and think about how technology is affecting our profession.
Awards abound at Online Information--seven in all--but I'll name just a few. The Excellence in Writing Award, sponsored by UMI/Data Courier, went to Marina Roesler and Don Hawkins of AT&T Bell Laboratories for their article "Intelligent Agents: Software Servants for an Electronic Information World (and More)" (Online, July 1994). The inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, won the European Annual Information Product Award, sponsored by EUROLUG, European Online User Group. And Sauli Laitinen of the Technical Research Center of Finland won the European Annual Information Personality Award (roughly the person-of-the-year award), sponsored by EUSIDIC.
Worth The Trip?
Why should an American go to Online Information in gray December? The London meeting registration fee is more expensive than any U.S. show, and airfare from places other than the Northeast are generally higher than any within the U.S. Comparable hotel rates in London do not produce comparable hotel rooms. Information technology applied to the information industry in Europe usually lags the U.S. The papers are often read and sometimes very technical.
However, for any North American working in a corporation doing international business or in an academic, governmental, or research facility doing international research, a visit to Online Information is well worth the price of admission. It is the quickest way to expand your personal international outlook and get an understanding of the European information scene.
And then there is London itself--festive at this time of year, Christmas decorations everywhere, bustling sidewalks, the shops, the pubs. All in all, this is a very special place at a very special time of year.
Ruth A. Pagell is director of the Emory University Library Center for Business Information in Atlanta (rpagell(a)unix.cc .emory.edu).…