Magazine article Information Today

Interactive Information Venture Forum: The IIA Meeting Highlighted Important Developing Industry Segments

Magazine article Information Today

Interactive Information Venture Forum: The IIA Meeting Highlighted Important Developing Industry Segments

Article excerpt

Having for so many years been part of the not-for-profit sector of the information business, I rarely attended Information Industry Association (IIA) meetings. I may have been missing something. Ron Dunn, the new and competent president of IIA, forced me into attending IIA's latest by asking me to chair and organize a session on a subject of great interest to me, full-text search engines. The title of the conference was "1996 Interactive Information Venture Forum," the first of its kind for IIA. It was held at the McGraw-Hill Conference Center in New York City, January 31-February 1.

The meeting was conceived as a forum to highlight important developing segments of the information industry. Those segments covered were Consumer Marketing & Advertising Online, Intelligent Connectivity, The Future of the News, Payment and Transaction Infrastructures, Health Care Information, Information Processing Tools, Education Information, and Intranet Communication Technologies. In attendance, among other entrepreneurs and information users, were a number of corporate and individual investors interested in growing investment opportunities in the information industry.

Paul Siegel of International Development Partners, Ltd., who was the conference chair, opened the session with, "While we were all waiting for interactive television, something called the Internet took over the world....It's exciting and frightening." He followed that up with an Icarus Theory quote: "Don't build it too big and don't fly it too high." He maintained that the Web was not built "too big," just big enough for entrepreneurs to be able to afford to invest capital for practical applications. As for "flying too high," he said, "the best Internet- and intranet-related businesses have focused on delivering meaningful solutions that hit their target from close up, not from a mile high."

This welcoming statement by Paul Siegel was a typically upbeat preconference statement. The chair of the first session on consumer marketing and advertising online brought us back to reality. James Coane of Telebase Systems, Inc. described his company's venture on the Web with Music Boulevard, which had recently won the IIA's Hot Shot Award for Best Consumer Site. This site offers the ability to search a catalog of 145,000 CD titles. The company generates revenue from three different sources: ads and sponsorships, subscriptions and memberships, and transactions (shopping). It has had more than half a million visitors to the Web site and many thousands of transactions and CDs sold. "Millions! Thousands!" Sounds great! His next words went something like this: "But is this a model for success? How are we doing? It's difficult to tell....The Electronic Gold rush of the '90s is on, but how much gold is out there? [There are] big gaps between the hype and the reality. Is this rapidly becoming a place only for the big guys?"

Partnerships and Integrations

The panelists, for the most part, did not direct themselves to these issues, but these questions applied to every session at this conference. The only answer that emerged, not often, but significantly throughout the two days, seemed to be that partnerships, mergers, and integrations were prevalent and would continue unabated for a while. Everybody's doing it, at least the integration part. The small business ends up being sold or integrated. Integration is necessary because there are so many pieces to put together and the expertise is dispersed. At the intranet session, the moderator noted that every company represented by the five panelists had either acquired a company or been acquired within the last two months.

Back to the consumer panel: Kenneth Koppel of ContentWare, Inc. (Shopping 2000) said that reworking what is in print is not enough; the products need to get better. That's a significant statement not heard too often. It relates to "content." David Strom of David Strom, Inc., who brilliantly moderated the session on intranet communication technologies later on in the conference, made a statement I disagreed with. …

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