Back to the future - Online Information and Internet Librarian International

An interview with information industry pioneer Roger Bilboul, the founder of the Online Information meeting, about his memories of that event in its heyday, and about his current company's plans for Internet Librarian International.

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Dr Roger Bilboul founded the International Online Information Meeting (variously known as Online Information, IOLIM, and 'London Online') in the mid-1970s and the event grew rapidly from modest beginnings to become the information industry's largest and most succesful event in the 1980s and 1990s. Today, Roger Bilboul is the President of Information Today, the organiser of Internet Librarian International. He shares his memories of those pioneering days, and plans for the future.

Information Today Europe eNews: How did you come up with the idea for International Online Information Meeting – was there a 'Eureka!' moment?

Having been involved in the early developments of supplying information through data networks and being surrounded by a group of enthusiasts with a clear vision of the future it was apparent at that stage that there was no forum through conferences and publications that concentrated exclusively on this emerging field. We bit the bullet and launched Online Review magazine followed by the Online Meeting.

What are your memories of the first/early conferences?

We knew the subject matter but we had no experience in running conferences. It seemed that everyone in the field decided to attend the conference or exhibit at the show. We had to learn on our feet and cope with constant growth every year. Our passion with the subject matter was slowly being matched by building a professional conference and exhibition organising team.

Who were the major players on the vendor side?

The early days – especially in Europe – were plagued by regulatory obstacles. There were two classes of users; those who could afford private networks such as those offered by Reuters and those that relied on the evolving public data networks that were semi-tolerated by the PTTs in Europe. American online vendors such as Dialog and SDC were the major players and then a slew of European services burst onto the scene as the PTTs agreed to liberalising data access across Europe and by extension to the United States. The industry was still hampered by very slow transmission rates and so called dumb terminals.

What was the technology like in the early days? As you look back, what stands out as the most exciting technology developments over the years?

Undoubtedly, the most significant development has been the advent of the internet and the PC. What was the preserve of a few professionals is now within reach of everyone at speeds, and with a richness of information as well as prices that we could not dream of!

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