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Online information 2003.

In December, most of us are focused on year-end issues: budgets, holiday plans, etc. But for the 27th successive REPORT year, thousands of participants in the information industry converged on London's Olympia Conference and Exhibition Centre from Dec. 2 to 4 for what continues to be the most important event on the online information business calendar.

No matter what other evidence there is about the state of the industry, the statistics associated with the Online Information event and the atmosphere in the conference and exhibit aisles provide endless fodder for speculation on the survival and continuing evolution of the services that create and distribute electronic information.

So how did Online Information 2003 stack up against previous years? The number of exhibition attendees who trooped through the Grand Hall remained steady at just more than 11,000, which is pretty much the same as 2002. At 224, the total number of exhibitor stands was up a little over the previous year, but about 30 companies occupied space in a new co-located exhibition called Content Management Europe. That fact plus the continuing trend of consolidation through company mergers makes it difficult to compare year to year, but overall the trend is down, with fewer companies using smaller booths.

However, talk to any producer or distributor and you'll get a pretty upbeat message--maybe tempered with the comment that although things will never be the same as before, there are strong signs that the worst of the recession is over. And while you don't expect to get complete candor with a dumb question like, "So how's everything going?" I did detect a small improvement in mood over last year.

Perhaps this was because there were more new developments and services among some of the traditional players than in recent years. There are those that won't simply wait around for extinction while leaving it all to the robot search engines.

Unlike 2002, when I found few new developments among the long-surviving players--including many that had at tended every Online Information show--I noticed four trends this year that showed product enhancements which play to traditional strengths: content development, improved timeliness in product updates, new analysis tools, and collaborative activity.

Content Development

The digitization of historical back-files isn't exactly an earth-shattering development, but it's one that many producers have recently embraced and that is difficult for the Internet generation of companies to compete with. Maybe it all started with the large society journal publishers that were persuaded by their membership to release online versions of their entire published output in full text.

This has created a sufficiently large online collection of original material that, with the added facility of DOIs and other citation-linking mechanisms, makes worthwhile the release of historical backfiles of bibliographic databases such as Chemical Abstracts, CAB Abstracts, Engineering Index, and INSPEC, to name but a few. It seems that virtually everyone with an archive of printed abstracts is turning them into online files.

In addition to a historical archive, INSPEC is increasing coverage to include a fifth section of the database, Section E: Manufacturing and Production Engineering. This will expand the number of journals that have been scanned for database coverage by more than 200 new titles.

The American Psychological Association will launch its gray literature database PsycEXTRA in early 2004. This is a bibliographic file that links to the full text of a variety of non-peer-reviewed literature, newsletters, magazines, and other material written for a lay audience. In April, APA plans to launch PsycBOOKS, which contains the full text of all APA scholarly titles plus additional psychology classics from other publishers.

Full-text journal publishers are looking to increase the content of their online journals so they fully match the print versions. In the past, most publishers simply created digital collections of journal articles only. However, readers need to see all parts of the traditional journal content, including editorial matter, correspondence, corrections, obituaries, and even advertisements. IEEE is adding such non-reviewed material to its Xplore electronic collection. Although no one is ready to sound the death knell for print journals just yet, inclusion of all content will be an essential requirement if a fully online version is to stand alone.

IEEE is certainly getting usage out of the Xplore platform: Some 4 million articles are delivered each month to a community of 1.4 million users. Advertising may be a risky topic for a group of users that can be made apoplectic by pop-ups and spam, but remember that many professional societies rely on advertising in conjunction with journal publishing to fund their activities. It's not surprising then that at IEEE's customer lunch, marketing director Jon Dahl mentioned that ways to include e-advertising with online journal access are at the very early stages of research at his company.

Publishers of online journal collections, both large and small, are also enhancing historical breadth and functionality. A new exhibitor at Online Information 2003 was New Scientist magazine. This popular U.K. weekly has released a 10-year archive for personal and site-license access. Meanwhile, the American Institute of Physics, an Online Information regular, announced that it's changing the name of its Online Journal Publishing Service to Scitation. This service provides access to 114 publications and will now offer features that allow researchers to personalize their usage.

Fast Release

Enhancing or expanding coverage is certainly one way to compete with the open Web, but timeliness is an area in which the Web can often dominate. Thomson announced that in the first quarter of 2004, it will launch Derwent World Patents Index First View, a fast-release patent database. DWPI First View provides an early preview of all the latest published patent documents in advance of their inclusion in Derwent World Patents Index.

Depending on the issuing authority, the First View record will initially appear from 2 to 10 weeks earlier than the final record. However, Derwent is also taking steps to improve the timeliness of the main file, which will result in a 2- to 4-week gap in the future. In particular, Derwent claims that the inclusion of Japanese information from all technology areas in DWPI First View within 9 to 12 days from its publication date will represent the fastest overall availability of this information from services of this type.

Tim Hamer, senior vice president of global marketing services for Thomson Scientific, described to me how a snapshot of the DWPI record is taken from a work in progress and will contain searchable bibliographic data, classifications, and front-page drawing images. Hence, a search of DWPI in combination with DWPI First View is the most comprehensive and current. Once the full DWPI record becomes available, the First View record is removed. First View will be available on both Dialog and STN.

While on the topic of patents, Questel * Orbit is addressing the time that it takes to review a retrieved set of documents by introducing technology to improve full-text reading efficiency. An agreement with Lingway, a provider of language-processing software, has delivered the means to quickly highlight text in a patent document that contains major advantages and claims, disadvantages of previous patents, and names of companies and individuals.

Analysis Tools

The Questel * Orbit feature also illustrates my third trend: analysis. Aside from improving speed and efficiency, many producers and vendors are introducing technologies that support the post-processing of retrieved results.

STN has released tools to analyze, tabulate, and chart data that's been retrieved from STN literature and patent files. In addition, it now has tools that improve the search process itself. The somewhat lengthily titled STN Express with Discover! Analysis edition (version 7.0) uses Wizards in combination with Microsoft Excel. For the information professional, the STN Analyze Wizard creates tables and charts from bibliographic data (for example, charts of the number of articles by author or year). For the chemist, the Variable Group Analysis Table Tool looks for common substructures in CAS REGISTRY answer sets, and the Select Discover! Wizard assists with search strategy development based on analysis of the search history.

Ovid is also bundling services with Microsoft software. It's providing integrated access to its online medical journals collection through a Research and Reference pane within the Office 2003 applications of Word, Outlook, PowerPoint, Excel, Publisher, OneNote, and Visio.

Both STN and Ovid's developments show a desire to make information-retrieval tools more available, familiar, and valuable on the scientist's desktop. These are essential features for competing with the likes of Google and Yahoo! to grab users' attention. This is especially true for companies that have adopted enterprise information solutions. Dialog has taken this on and is focusing on recently launched information-integration tools, particularly Dialog Portals and Dialog API, two services that integrate Dialog content with company portals and Web sites.


After several years of growth by acquisition, Thomson is now looking across its portfolio of companies to search for collaborative opportunities within its own organization. Coming this year will be a portal for the pharmaceutical industry. This will provide information from a broad range of Thomson companies that's relevant to employees in specific industries. It will include patents, scientific literature, medical information, and financial and business data. The portal will no doubt be based on experience gained with the Strategic Drugs database, which was released by the company's Current Drugs division in May 2003.

Collaboration between scientific societies remains active. For example, among the personalized features that will be included in AIP's Scitation service is a current-awareness alerting tool driven by the INSPEC database. Several collaborations between companies have already been mentioned: STN and Ovid with Microsoft and Questel * Orbit with Lingway, for instance.

The impetus for many collaborations, particularly between primary and secondary publishers, came about through Cross-Ref's cross-publisher citation-linking system. Such collaboration will undoubtedly increase as CrossRef has dropped its DOI retrieval fees for all members and affiliates. With 250 members now registered, the potential for collaborative interlinking has grown significantly.

Online Goes Online!

Finally, Online Information has quite a future itself. The show continues to evolve and attract some of the newer information companies as well as the diehards, but it would be more rounded with a greater representation from the younger generation that was spawned in the Internet age.

The 2004 event will be at Olympia, as usual, from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2. But in March 2004, Online Information is launching Online Information Online, a free 24/7 exhibition. The show that has tracked the evolution of the industry from its creation in a predominantly print era to today's Internet-age version is going virtual itself. For a preview, exhibiting details, and to register for notification when the exhibition goes live, see

We've all had to cope with the trials and tribulations of moving from one medium to another. It will be interesting to see how trade shows deal with entering a virtual arena. I just hope it doesn't mean the exhibitors' cocktail party will be replaced with a virtual one.

Jim Ashling runs Ashling Consulting, an independent consultancy for the information industry. His e-mail address is
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Title Annotation:Report From The Field
Author:Ashling, Jim
Publication:Information Today
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 1, 2004
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