What we learned at Online Information 2010

Due to its end of year scheduling, 'Online' presents opportunities to 'pause and reflect' and to consider where future trends are leading us.

Social media is ‘a game changer'

  • Already more people are regularly using social media (about 850 million) than use email. In his opening keynote address, Dion Hinchcliffe, of the Dachis Group outlined the challenges and opportunities presented by the growth of social media as the dominant form of communication.
  • Social media breaks down the way organisations communicate.
  • Increasingly, the way we consume information and collaborate in the workplace is becoming more social.
  • Social media supports improved engagement between those ‘inside' and ‘outside' an organization. Lee Bryant, of Headshift and Euan Semple  both outlined how social media encourages and facilitates conversations. Social networks are being used to solve real problems. For example, Hinchcliffe gave the example of KatrinaList which was widely used to help survivors find each other. Similar uses were made of social systems in the San Diego fires and Pakistani floods.
  • According to Phil Bradley, if organisations put up barriers to social media then conversations will go ahead without them - resistance is futile!
  • The use of Twitter was popular throughout the Conference (see Brian Kelly's blogpost).

Social capital is created by individuals

  • Social capital is more likely to ‘belong' to individuals rather than organizations. This theme, introduced by Hinchcliffe's keynote, was picked up later by Euan Semple and Brian Kelly.
  • The good news is that social channels do make this type of knowledge more visible.
  • The growth of social media creates information management and search challenges for organisations.
  • Hinchcliffe's view about the ‘ownership' of social capital was echoed by Brian Kelly who spoke about the ‘ownership' of social resources. He recommends we create simple social media policy guidelines - as organisations and as individuals. http://ukwebfocus.wordpress.com/

Analytics are the future (of social media)

  • What we need now is tools that can help analyse these interactions, giving us the ‘why' of information behaviours, and not just the ‘what'.
  • Hinchcliffe believes that analytics are the future of social computing and that, although it is not with us yet, ‘the Google of social computing' will appear.
  • A more detailed description of the opening keynote, written by Don Hawkins, is here

What Wikileaks taught us

  • It's now more difficult to have two different ‘stories' for two different audiences - especially if they contradict each other!
  • Lee Bryant of Headshift said that the divide between internal and external communication is no longer valid. He queried why some organisations hand over the control of conversations with clients to call centres!

Open data is a tool for democracy

  • The Open Data movement, according to Chris Taggart, of OpenlyLocal, contributes to a ‘data democracy' and allows government to be more relevant. Sarah Bartlett, of Talis, echoed these thoughts - the web has made information far more open and democratic; it was formerly open only to those knowing how to search it.
  • Governments have taken the lead in opening their data and linking it together. The task itself may provide challenges (because of varying data formats for example) but help is available. Richard Wallis of Talis explained how his organisation uses open source software to create a helpful toolkit for local government.

Open data challenges and opportunities

  • Personal information in the datasets and ‘messy' data.
  • Archivists that deal with government data have a huge problem following recent changes in legislation.
  • When documents meet data granular URIs are needed. (The National Archives have defined URIs for dates and times).
  • The semantic web is forcing the development of standards for how data is described.
  • Karen Coyle reminded us we need to think about how we structure our data.
  • Now, technology allows writers to focus on linking between varieties of text.
  • Linked data provides a definition of relationships, allowing broad insights to surface rapidly.

Mobile access creates content challenges

  • Smaller screens, touch screens, no drop down menus and bandwidth limitations all cause problems for content creators
  • More of us are content providers/publishers than we realize - think of how your webpage looks on a mobile device
  • Alan Pelz-Sharpe of the Real Story Group, recommends we all stop thinking of content as being structured into pages but into components or chunks. His company's strategy has been to target specific devices rather than try to make their content available on ALL content devices.  Read Real Story's report on mobile content here.

Robin Neidorf, of FreePint, outlined the findings of a study on mobile content in organisations.  Key findings have some lessons for content providers:

  • Mobile workers do not want to do their own searches, but they want to send the request to a deskbound searcher and have the results e-mailed to them.
  • Many companies have a major investment in Blackberry technology
  • Data security is highly important.Many organizations have designed their systems so that a user never has to remember a password. This is a major challenge to apply to mobile devices.
  • The user surveys showed that the most widely used actions on mobile devices are texting personal contacts, accessing e-mail, and searching via a major search engine

David Kellogg, CEO of MarkLogic, outlined how information providers are seeking to help end users solve real business problems - he called this ‘content in context'.

  • Information providers need to know now, more than ever, HOW their information is being used. That way they can design content to accommodate behaviour.

The challenges of effective search

  • Judging by the tweets and note taking in the cost effective search session, even information professionals can find it hard to keep up to date with search engine developments (Karen Blakeman, Marydee Ojala and Mary Ellen Bates all provided expert search sessions and write and share presentations regularly on the subject of search)
  • When it comes to search, end users really love a search box they can type into and are less keen on ‘crowd wisdom' or ‘new content' (David Nicholas on the Europeana project)
  • The future of search was debated in the conference Closing Session.  Read a full summary here:


Times are tough, as reflected in the reduced size of the exhibition.  Early winter weather caused some disruption in London during the conference and delegate numbers were slightly down on the previous year.  However, many of the free sessions held in the exhibition hall were standing room only.  People are still keen to network with and learn from each other.