Magazine article Information Today

Presenting an Alternative Weltanschauung; Contrasting Business Models Captured Attention at International Online

Magazine article Information Today

Presenting an Alternative Weltanschauung; Contrasting Business Models Captured Attention at International Online

Article excerpt

With 17,728 visitors, December's International Online Information Meeting (IOLIM), held in London, once again attracted record numbers. Attendance was 10 percent higher than last year, and, in anticipation of the increase, the show was held for the first time in Olympia's larger National Hall.

Delegate numbers, however, were down by 10 percent, at just over 1,000. A consequence, explained IOLIM marketing director Jill Cousins, of a 50 percent decline in the number of academic delegates. "We introduced a much stronger commercial emphasis to the conference this year," she explained, "particularly in the selection of papers. It appears that the academics didn't like this."

Opening Keynotes

Unsurprisingly, the recently formed Dialog Corporation was the main attraction of the exhibition. In recognition of this, the company's new CEO and president, Dan Wagner, was invited to open the conference. True to form, Wagner began his address with a boastful product pitch, informing the packed auditorium that he now had the largest online service in the world. The Dialog Corporation, he bragged, had "10 times the content of any other online player ... [and] 50 times the content available on the Web."

Moving on to the theme of the opening sessions, "Online Industry in Context," Wagner gave a brief recap of the last 25 years and asserted that the Internet had triggered a "quantum shift." "Our whole world has changed," he said, adding that this offered the industry a tremendous opportunity. Quoting figures from Forrester Research that predicted the number of corporate end users with desktop access to information to rise from 2 percent in 1996 to 40 percent by 2001, Wagner argued that online providers were ideally placed to tap this growing market. But to succeed, he said, they would need to add value to the information retrieval process, simplify pricing, and provide solutions focused on integrating internal and external data. "The future of online is in intranets," he concluded, "and knowledge management is the key."

Interestingly, Wagner was followed by the director of media & technology studies at Forrester Research, Bill Bass. In a paper titled "The Professional Online Industry in Perspective: Who Will Be the Winners and Losers over the Next Five Years," Bass used the same Forrester statistics to paint a less upbeat picture--one that placed less emphasis on size. With prices for online information collapsing, he argued, the only way forward for providers was to seek an alternative revenue stream through advertising-funded, current-awareness services. The future, he said, was one in which "every worker will have desktop access to business information, and it will be ad supported."

This meant, he concluded, that the winners in the online information market would be those who could offer advertising-funded current-awareness services. The losers would be the "archival services who had no current-awareness strategy, online services unable to sell advertising, and information professionals who don't adapt."

New Relationships, New Solutions

In fact, Bass was not the only person at IOLIM to dissent from Wagner's "big-is-best" archival supermarket view of the world--the model that clearly motivated the marriage of convenience with Knight-Ridder Information. Among providers, too, one could discern the seeds of an alternative Weltanschauang: one based not on the old-fashioned "till death do us part" model of a marriage, but on a more modern "let's live together" partnership footing.

Thus, while Wagner was boasting about the all-encompassing nature of the newly created Dialog Corporation, the president and CEO of the Institute for Scientific Information, Michael Tansey, was outlining a far less grand but potentially more radical strategy for the future. Pointing out to journalists that it had taken DIALOG 25 years to build up its current content warehouse, he suggested that even now its bulging shelves contained only a small proportion of the total information universe. …

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