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NFAIS 2007 Conference Commentary

Not since the height of the boom have I participated in a conference where the sense of change underway made it seem like the very ground beneath my feet was shifting. Let me back up a minute to describe what NFAIS is - the National Federation of Abstracting and Indexing Services. Celebrating its fiftieth year of existence NFAIS is the professional association for top executives of library database vendors. Usually when I attend a conference it's a bunch of librarians or teachers talking about how fast the web and users are changing and how we've got to run to keep in place. This one really brought home to me how the vendors are in the same boat - something I've known intellectually but hadn't appreciated on an emotional level until I felt some of these speakers take the audience on what amounted to a roller coaster thrill ride of both the exciting and dire possibilities brought about by the advent of Web 2.0.

So enough hype, what really took place? The three days broke into three major components: inspire, instruct & network.

The first full day was inspirational - the "call to action" if you will. Lots of dazzle and pronouncements on the big picture from noted industry leaders talking about retooling your organization to become more innovative and experimental with Web 2.0 opportunities to develop new products or enhancements. Speakers like the CJ Rayhill, CIO of the noted tech publisher O'Reilley Media Inc, and a leading innovation strategy consultant, Larry Keeley, from the Doblin Group. Even with my own short background of working as an analyst in an innovation center, these folks redefined my undestanding of the process.

Now that their slides have been posted online, I won't go to pains to summarize more. But the key learning from Rayhill's talk was about the content repository they built to repurpose their data, such as the faculty-customizable "tech-book/coursepack" service derived from reconfigurable content in their Safari E-books platform. That plus the mandate to "treat content as a conversation" by "giving your audience a voice" - surely shocking news for this audience of scholarly publishers used to the one-way flow of information. Making all of this real was the awesome example that O'Reilley sets in keeping close to their prime customers (the "alpha geek") through conferences, web forums and even their seemingly unrelated hobbiest magazine (Make) where they can monitor cultural trends taking place beyond the workplace. Neat stuff!

The key point I took from Keeley's talk was his rigorous "types of innovation" spectrum, (slide #19) and his attention to "innovation metrics." Based on his metrics he contends that while the majority of innovation effort is expended on products or "offering" (slide # 21) the majority of new value creation actually occurs along other segments of the innovation spectrum - such as "finance" "process" or "delivery." He made his case with examples that mapped the types of innovation expressed by Dell, Apple, Craigs List and Google. Then went on to speak about an "innovation discipline model" (slide #30) and metrics that seemed to find their concrete expression in some of the most impressively detailed high-level industry "landscape" maps I've ever seen. (slides #32-38) I believe he stated that his staff painstakingly graphed instances of innovation evidenced by companies (in the press?) as single datapoints on these 3D maps across the innovation spectrum. I'll just have to take his word about how these graphs are composed - I know he said his appearance at NFAIS was due in part to his affection for database providers without whom his methodology would be impossible - and that he employed several librarian-analysts. I can only guess that they spend a lot of time searching for "innovation news" and recording their findings on these landscapes. It's the info-geek in me that has to marvel at these. The conclusion of his talk concentrated on examples of innovation "platforms" and a few innovation options for database vendors to study (slide #39). The "top innovations" list (slide #43) was fun and metrics for platforms (slide#55) potentially useful. But as I stated at the beginning - this was part of the "call to action" portion of the conference. PS - "Amazon Anywhere" doesn't really exist yet, but you get the idea!

This was basically how to actually do any of the cool Web 2.0 stuff talked about during the first day without going broke trying. I'll fill in a few more thoughts here as I have time - because in many ways this actionable techie perspective was the most useful takeaway from the conference. But for now, you can check out just a few of the slides here. The first speaker, David Kellog from Mark Logic seemed to be the go-to guy to cure whatever Web 2.0 ills a content provider might have - with their XML "contentbase" (not a database). I'll be poring over my notes from his talk and posting some more soon. But just from the fact that O'Reilley Media founder Tim O'Reilley is speaking at the Mark Logic users conference, you get the sense that their approach to content repurposing, management and publishing makes them the darling of this industry. I encourage techies to check out their free tools to get a better sense of how this is transforming the industry.

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