Online Information 2010: a small-business perspective

By Onlineability,

As every information professional who hasn’t just given up on this frigid winter season and gone into hibernation with a tin of Roses and a bottle of sloe gin will tell you, London has just played host to one of the biggest meet-ups in the industry – Online Information 2010.

This conference and its associated exhibition is designed to bring together people from a vast number of disciplines, from library management, epublishing and web development to search engine optimisation, content resources and social media.

Held at Kensington Olympia, the conference attracted people from around the world who somehow managed to get to the venue despite a London Underground strike the evening before and the apparent work-to-rule of the Gulf Stream turning London into a fine approximation of Longyearbyen.

The conference is priced at a level that reveals that freelancers and small businesses like ours are really not envisaged as the target audience. For an organisation sending one or two delegates the prices ranged from £617 to £793 per person depending on how early you booked, although there were discounts for subsequent bookings from the same organisation.

There was plenty on the programme we could have benefited from; a key feature of the information industry is its extreme flexibility which means people who adopt all kinds of working structures may find themselves involved in all manner of projects from the very small and focused to implementing the extremely large enterprise-level solution. It is certainly not just employees in big companies or public-sector organisations working at the cutting edge.

However, while the conference was in all honesty priced well out of our range, attendance at the associated exhibition was free, providing a very welcome way for professionals working at our level to benefit from the event.

It provided a packed timetable of seminars and speakers over three days. Business considerations meant that taking more than one day out for an event like this was a luxury so we chose to attend on day one, because there was more than enough on offer for each of us to pursue our particular interests, and for the simple reason that everyone is always at their most engaged and enthusiastic on the first day of an event like this.

Our major reason for attending was undoubtedly professional development. While networking is always a feature of such events, so many people are at it, and your time for meaningful conversations is often so limited, that any contacts you do make or refresh are usually a welcome bonus rather than a reason for attending in their own right.

Several of our areas of interest were represented – content management and social media marketing, which is closely involved with the day-to-day running of our business, and library management, which is of interest to the member of our team that is shortly embarking on a masters degree in information and library management.

The rest of this blog post will be taken up with the seminars we attended. A second blog post will follow with the ones not covered here along with our list of organisations well worth meeting.

So, here’s how we spent our day:

Making money from online conversation – Andy North, Online Media Consultant, SIFT Groups
A useful briefing on some ways of thinking past banner advertising and onto other more effective ways of monetising a website, in this case by providing market intelligence to interested parties through leveraging a community of users. The example given was fortuitous – a closed group for professionals who would welcome the privacy of a login-only environment and the filters so conspicuously absent from most social networks. The trick of this approach is offering people something they can only get by joining – and then treating them with the utmost respect once they have. But the method was definitely promising, and the talk insightful.
The Digital Library Licensing Service: Providing online resources to public libraries in England – Ben Taplin, Licensing Manager, JISC collections
This was chosen for the insight it could give into the way that public libraries are adapting to the digital revolution, and also for a guide to industry practice. The speaker gave an engaging explanation of how using model content licences could provide a means of giving libraries enhanced buying power and the ability to negotiate the terms they need, and also how the movement of academic journals into the online world may help develop good practice for ebooks. More information is available at http://www.librarylicensing.org
Fight Cuts With Stats: How to prove your value and survive – Penny Bailey, Managing Director, Bailey Solutions Ltd
This timely talk focused on the issue of the library enquiry desk – how, in the most extreme library cuts in our lifetime, do managers and librarians justify their staff and the work they do? The speaker suggested some ways of using software for collecting and recording statistics and demographic information from such activities. This was interesting both from a library practice perspective and also with wider applications to information practitioners. Our work so often goes unrecognised, and this is especially true if it involves improving usability, which means that if you’ve done it right your input is invisible.
Career Development Talk: Transitioning from employee to business owner – Margaret King, President, Association of Independent Information Professionals
Having been business owners for more than a decade already, this might not seem the most obvious choice of seminar to attend. But it was a feel-good reiteration of some important points that all of us self-employed information professionals can do with reminding of from time to time – such as the need to know your market and your customer, keep on top of the paperwork and network with other like-minded folk. Also, it was very nice to flock together with some birds of our own feather for a while.
The Next Step: The palette of changes needed – Esben Fjord, Head of Development, Gladsaxe Public Libraries
A really interesting talk about some of the ways in which Denmark’s public libraries have embraced web 2.0 technologies, and the lessons learned. The speaker pointed out that libraries are moving from transactional to relational models and provided examples including a dedicated social networking site for older users, reading groups and arts projects for young adults. He said the online space often works best as an extension of the physical space, with some real-world interaction proving beneficial. He also talked about the ‘cognitive surplus‘ – a concept pioneered by Clay Shirky – and pondered its relevance to libraries.
CMS selection: The process, pitfalls and best practices – Peter Sejersen, Analyst, J Boye
A valuable look at best practices in CMS selection, this talk outlined the process from a client deciding to undertake a website commission or redevelopment through selection of partners and platform. A useful briefing which raised a slightly wry smile when compared to our experiences of some clients who show very little engagement indeed with what happens under the bonnet.
Beyond the Printed Newspaper – Mark Ritchie, Manager, Global Business Development, Newspaper Direct Inc.
A straightforward demonstration of the PressDisplay.com product (complete with promotional graphics) which brokers online access to visually-accurate newspapers and which is used widely by libraries. Perhaps most interesting was the Q&A discussion of the business model – rather than paying to have their product distributed, publishers are charging for their content. 10 years ago we were laughing at a local paper for creating a website by simply making giant JPEGs of its broadsheet pages. Looks like that idea had better legs than we knew…
10 steps towards effortless migration to an open-sorce web content management system – Tjeerd Brenninkmeijer, CCO and co-founder, Hippo
The most controversial seminar we attended, in that it provoked a right royal ‘discussion’ between us. The company is proposing a method of putting all content in a central repository that allows it to be served to any platform, not just a traditional website, and especially mobile ones. That this is the solution in an era of new devices and platforms coming onto the market weekly is unarguable. But to what extent is it a new idea? Is this not a continuation of what we did when we separated content from style using CSS coding, or started storing our content in databases? And what about those organisations – sorry folks, but they ARE out there in huge numbers – who have barely engaged with the web as we’ve known it, never mind anything more risky and radical? Hours of fun have been had already arguing this through – and no doubt hours more are there to be had…

Now we’ll start work on part two of this post, which deals with those seminars not yet covered, and will probably have more of a content management and SEO/social media focus.

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