David Tebbutt, originally published on IWR

Well, the Online Information conference is almost upon us. It’s a great
chance for information professionals to mingle and share sob stories, revel in
their triumphs and tune in to the issues of the day. Hopefully they’ll leave
fizzing with new ideas and compiling action lists on the way home. Even if they
don’t, they’ll just remember it as one of those pleasant interludes which made
them feel good at the time.

In his welcome letter, conference chairman Adrian Dale chose to highlight
‘three strong tracks’ – two for the web (social and semantic) and one for
‘delivering value’. To see ‘social’ and ‘semantic’ picked out like that is quite
astonishing. Just a few years ago, these were marginal topics.

Of course, many of the speakers will be evangelists, and all that implies.
But don’t let that put you off. At Online Information five years ago, a couple
of evangelists, Phil Bradley and Adriana Lukas, introduced me to the joys of
blogging. It wasn’t even new then, but when did it eventually go mainstream?
Indeed, has it gone mainstream yet in your organisation? Delegates from that
conference came away mentally prepared for what was to come.

Choose the right sessions to attend and come away ahead of the game. Don’t
knock these people because their reality is so far ahead of yours. Listen to
what they say, grill them on practicalities and see if you can get some measure
of realistic timescales for your sort of organisation.

According to the conference website, a speaker from IBM, Ian McNairn, claims
to have abandoned email at work. This could trigger an interesting discussion.
If you want to prepare, read Luis Suarez’s accounts of trying to live without
email inside IBM. He’s been blogging about this since February 2008. In one
recent week, he received just 10 emails.

Looking at the semantic web stuff, you sense a lot of idealism about
information exchange and automatic hook ups and, indeed, when people are open
with their information and the metadata, this is possible. But we are beginning
to see moves against such things. Publishers would like to stick more material
behind paid-for or sponsored firewalls. They are beginning to fear sharing and
unmanaged access. They’d still like the rest of us to drive traffic to them, but
then expect to extract subscriptions or have the right to shove ads in our
faces. I try to avoid linking to these sorts of sites. It creates an imposition
on my readers. If I really can’t avoid it, I warn them of what’s to come. An
interesting battle is looming.

So questions around openness and access might be interesting. You might also
ask about how far the semantic meta information will go. Presumably, it could
include ‘rights’ and ‘payee’ information. If you get something you like, you
might want to zing a small reward to the creator to keep it in business. It’s a
thought. Or maybe the metadata could be used to prevent access without payment.
(That would seem to go against the spirit of the web, but would be wholly in
line with the desires of the publishing world and, it would seem, Lord

The interesting thing about Online Information is that we attend as both
individuals and as representatives of our organisations. We can listen to the
speakers while wearing both hats and ask questions from either direction. As
individuals, we might not be averse to copying some information to help a poor
friend with a legal problem (for example). As a business person we might be
horrified at the potential loss of a sale. By bashing out issues such as these
in public at events like Online Information, we have a chance to come away with
a more rounded view of our world.



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