The 1999 Online World Conference

By Hoffman, David | Information Today, December 1999 | Go to article overview

The 1999 Online World Conference


Hoffman, David, Information Today


The focus was on ways to find, organize, manage, and share content

Online, Inc.'s Online World conference was held October 25 to 27 in Chicago this year. It took place amid a millennium-end atmosphere in the industry of anxiety and excitement at the pace of change and the number and complexity of issues to be faced. But given the innovative thinking that's being brought to bear on these issues--among old and new content and service providers and among their information professional customers--it's fair to add that an atmosphere of optimism also prevails.

The event provided a venue and a forum for addressing these issues and previewing and assessing solutions through its exhibit hall and numerous parallel conference tracks. There were, for example, the Practical Searching, Knowledge Resource Management, Web Technology, and Intranets tracks, as well as the forward-looking Millennial Searching and Outside the Box tracks. The usual content reviews and roundtable discussions fleshed out the parallel session offerings. In addition, of course, were three popular all-conference sessions--a keynote by Hewlett-Packard's Eugenie Prime, the seventh annual Online World Industry Announcements, and the second annual CEO Roundtable.

Speaking of Anxiety, the Keynote

'"Welcome to my parlor,' said the spider to the fly ..." began Eugenie Prime, manager of corporate libraries at Hewlett-Packard, referring to the allure of the Web for online professionals. Prime spun a cautionary tale of dazzled information professionals whose jobs have been tremendously affected by this "young and malleable technology"--an evolving technology that they themselves must help shape. She asked: "Why should we expect an intelligent answer when we put a question to the Web? After all, it's being run chaotically, by the participants, the users ... and that includes us."

To clarify her metaphor (sort of), Prime posed the question: Who's the spider and who's the fly in this story? "We are both," she said. "We are hooked, but we are the ones holding ourselves hostage." She then raised issues and crafted quotable quotes in charging her audience to remain actively engaged in the Web's evolution.

Information overload is upon us, she said, to no argument from the e audience! "Many times I just want to say 'Stop the digitization!' When I add content to the intranet, am I making life easier for my customers ... or harder? ... A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention." To deal with the crafty, alluring Web and avoid getting entangled, online professionals must make demands of it. Or, as in the following, demands of a search engine: "tell me your search strategy. Tell me how you define 'similar' or 'more like this'.... Why can't I have you limit my answers to those from 'authoritative sources' ?" On this subject of the credibility of Web sources, she drew a laugh when she said, "What we need is an 'Oh Yeah?' button that would interrogate the source [of an answer to determine its authority]."

Prime went on to tell her audience that the solution to the spider/fly Web entanglement scenario lay within them and their profession. "Librarians have always been about organizing information so you can find it," she said, paraphrasing a testimonial librarians often hear after conducting a reference interview and pointing a patron to an answer: "How is it that you know what I wanted when I didn't really know myself?" And she closed with some rousing statements: "We must break free from a denial of the past, complaints of the present, apathy of the future ... The search engine of the future is the online professional."

News, Announcements, and Exhibitors on Display

Hard news, such as it was, flowed both from the Industry Announcement session on Tuesday morning and from some of the vendors on the exhibit hall floor. As noted in the title tag line of this report, it was generally found in content management tools and strategies and not content itself. …

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