Trends on the Online Horizon: National Online Meeting '95

Article excerpt

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. …