Online Information Conference 2012

Online Information Conference 2012

I have the honour, once again, of chairing the Online Information Conference, now just two working days away.  Preparation for this year’s conference started In February this year, so this is the culmination of many months of planning by the organising committee, who have tried – and I believe, succeeded – in identifying the key issues and trends that influence – or are influenced by – the information ecosystem.

Information is all around us, in fact we’re bombarded with it; our cognitive powers in making sense of it, finding the signal within the noise, have never been more challenged. We can’t move without bumping into technology, which is no longer a choice of whether to use or engage with it – it’s become fundamental to our survival. So this conference is an opportunity for information professionals to share their knowledge, hear about industry trends, listen to and question industry experts, and explore new opportunities for personal and professional development.

As a prelude to the conference, I was asked to answer a few questions posed by Knowledgespeak.  The following is a transcript of this interview.

1.    Can you briefly tell us about the forthcoming Online Information Conference, and also share with us any interesting events / trends that you expect to see during the event?

The Online Information Conference 2012 is the largest gathering of information professionals on the conference calendar, with delegates from over 40 countries attending. The conference will take place over 2 days – 20/21 November – at the Victoria Plaza Hotel. This is a purpose built conference centre in the heart of London. Included in the delegate pass (for the first time) is lunch and refreshments  – plus access to the co-located sponsor showcase where up to 30 companies will be showcasing their latest products and services.

This year’s theme is “Multiple platforms, multiple communities: making sense in a big data world”. The conference will focus on 5 key topics:

  • Adapting to a multi-platform, multi device world
  • The power of social: creating value through collaboration
  • Making sense of big data and working in the cloud
  • Search, research and discovery
  • New frontiers in information management

We have invited some excellent and internationally renowned keynote speakers: Cory Doctorow, editor of the popular weblog Boing Boing and a contributor to The Guardian, the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, Wired Magazine, and Gerd Leonard, Futurist and CEO of the Futures Agency, Switzerland, referred to by the Wall Street Journal as “One of the leading Media Futurists in the World”.

Also, this year we have introduced a social media conference app from Vivastream that will enable speakers and delegates to engage and interact before, during and after the conference, thereby providing a far richer conference experience.

As in previous conferences, we anticipate lots of lively debate and informative presentations that will reveal and give shape to the emerging trends around digital information production, management and consumption.

2.    Publishers today are increasingly making content available in mobile format. What, according to you, does mobile technology mean for the future of publishing?

Sales of mobile devices (laptops, tablets, smartphones etc.) have been outstripping sales of traditional PCs for some time now, so Publishers are only reacting to the visible trends.  Any new service or product that is not designed and optimised for mobile working is doomed to fail.  Many publishers have stepped up to this challenge and are delivering innovative new ways of presenting information to their consumers. This change extends far beyond just integrating rich media, such as video, into published content. It’s a move from text culture to screen culture. It extends to use of things like GPS for delivering local news and services, motion control, voice control and delivering an altogether more personalised and interactive experience. Social, local and mobile (SoLoMo) is the new mantra, where consumers want and expect information, anytime, anyplace and on any device, and preferably personalised to their specific interests. These are the challenges that publishers now face, and I believe we’ll continue to see some real innovation in this sector. After all, it’s a case of survival.

3.    Social networking is becoming a mainstream component of scientific research and the proliferation of social networks is driving a change in the way social media platforms are engaging users. How, according to you, are organisations using these platforms and tools to improve knowledge sharing and build collaborative cultures?

I think there has been a lot of hype around social media, social networks and social business, much of it unhelpful in getting real understanding what this is all about. For some people, “social” will always mean frivolity and time wasting, for others, social media just means marketing and communications.  Predating all of this hype, social learning networks and communities of practice have long existed as ecologies that would encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing. Off-line knowledge sharing communities have been around since the Middle Ages, where crafts and skills were honed, and perhaps best exemplified by the many Worshipful Companies – from bakers to candle-stick makers!

What has happened over the past several years is that social technology has made it easier than ever before to find, connect and engage with “experts” and people with similar interests. This trend was encouraged by Andrew McAfee in 2006 who coined the term “Enterprise 2.0” to describe how the strategic integration of social technologies into an enterprise’s intranet, extranet and business processes could improve decision making. This has given new life to learning, sharing and personal development. Enlightened organisations have recognised that investment in social technology and (most importantly) the organisational development that must accompany it in order to nurture and embed a collaborative culture, can overcome the limitations of silo’d structures that inhibit information flows and opportunities for innovation.  However, it’s still unfortunate that in many cases social media platforms are seen as technology projects and not as part of a wider and more embracing strategic organisational development project. It’s only when poor adoption rates become apparent that organisations begin to focus on behaviours, education and training. I’m hoping some of these issues will surface at the conference.

Put simply, I think we’re all still on the learning curve on how to build and sustain a truly collaborative culture, and must be continually reminded that technology is an enabler and not the solution.

4.    This year, the Online Conference will focus on 5 key topics that will address important industry trends. Can you briefly talk about these individual sessions?

(i) Adapting to a multi-platform, multi-device world.

This topic examines the challenges facing organisations and information professionals as we confine the traditional PC desktop to history and increasingly embrace the world of mobile working. It will look at how organisations are delivering content to different platforms and devices, the implications of ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) and how libraries are driving mobile innovation. It will also explore the relative merits of the major platform vendors, such as Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon.

(ii) The power of social: creating value through collaboration.

Social media is now ubiquitous and the proliferation of social networks is driving a change in the way social media platforms are engaging users. This topic will explore how organisations are using these platforms and tools to improve knowledge sharing and build collaborative cultures. It will look at the practical steps organisations are taking in order to build and sustain effective knowledge sharing. It will also look at the perennial issue of privacy and staying safe online.

(iii) Making sense of big data and working in the cloud.

No conference dedicated to the information profession can ignore the key topics of ‘big data’ and ‘the cloud’, now part of the common lexicon. But how much is hype and where is real value being delivered?  There will be a number of case studies showing how organisation are tapping into big data to drive innovation, and the practical steps in making the move to the cloud. Some potential insight and learning here for organisations and information professionals considering, or currently engaged on, data and cloud projects.

(iv) Search, research and discovery.

Are we finally seeing semantic search come to fruition with Google’s Knowledge Graph, Microsoft’s Bing and Apple’s Siri as open and linked data becomes more closely tied to search and discovery? The rise and rise of open source continues with proprietary systems now tailoring their marketing activities to respond to the growing interest in open source search solutions. This topic will explore the options and provide six trends in open source search. Our popular search gurus return to provide an update on the latest search tools and industry trends.

(v) New frontiers in information management

This topic will look at the future of a once well-understood profession – library and information professionals as custodians of and guides to content. Now that professionals with library and information credentials are active in such diverse areas as information architecture, knowledge and collaboration management, and social media, some suggest the profession is losing the identity it may have had in society in earlier times. We will look at how we can secure a productive occupational future for the profession’s members as well as exert positive influence on the world.

We will also look at the increasing momentum for making more data available for public use, especially from government and agencies, and the practical applications of open and linked data.

5.    You have an interesting panel of speakers lined-up to address these five tracks. Can you give our readers some highlights from the schedule?

All of our keynote speakers are internationally recognised experts in their respective fields, and bring with them a deep knowledge and understanding of the evolution of the information industry and where it is now headed.

Cory Doctorow will deliver the opening keynote and will cover issues that many casual information consumers may be blissfully unaware of, but of increasing concern to information professionals. Namely the random and inappropriate use of copyright that challenges our rights to engage in debate, political campaigns and the ability to freely share knowledge. Cory is an opponent of Digital Rights Management, claiming that it limits the free sharing of digital media and frequently causes problems for legitimate users, including registration problems that lock users out of their own purchases and prevent them from being able to move their media to other devices. I’m sure these themes will resonate with all of our delegates – and beyond, and I’m anticipating a very lively Q&A session.

Our keynote speaker on the second day will be Gerd Leonard, who will give us a glimpse of the future of digital publishing, mobile working, the rapidly evolving human-machine interface (think Google Glasses) and how we can anticipate to communicate, get information, create, buy and sell, travel, live and learn in a rapidly changing and evolving world. Gerd will consider the biggest threats and the hottest opportunities – not just in financial terms, but also in societal and human terms. As we are constantly reminded by our political leaders “we are all in this together”, so if there is no escape we all need to understand and be prepared for the future.

Other keynote speakers include:

  • Charles Arthur, Editor of The Guardian UK and Author of Digital Wars: Apple, Google, Microsoft and the Battle for the Internet
  • Lee Bryant, MD Europe, Dachis Group UK
  • Mark Whitehorn, Chair of Analytics, University of Dundee
  • Nicola Cavalli, Partner and Manager Ledi International Bookseller, Italy
  • Stephen Arnold, Managing Partner, ArnoldIT, USA
  • Tony Hirst, Lecturer in Telematics, The Open University, UK

I’m confident that this year’s conference will be the defining event in the 2012 conference calendar, and will provide the platform for the challenges and opportunities that await the information profession in 2013. I’m looking forward to it!


Stephen Dale,

Conference Chairman


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