Online Information 2009, day 1

I visited the Online Information exhibition yesterday at Olympia. My first impression was that the exhibition area was very quiet – and a few of the exhibitors agreed with me. The current financial situation would seem the obvious cause. At previous shows exhibitors have given away all kinds of freebies, from bags, to mini mice, to branded juggling balls….but this year you’d be lucky if you came away with a couple of free pens and a boiled sweet.

I dropped in on the associated conference later, and caught a presentation titled “The Real Time Web: Discovery vs. Search”. Antonio Gulli of Microsoft told us about their new European offices, including one in Soho, that were concentrating on bringing new features to Bing – but the results look very familiar, is Bing doomed to play catch-up? The only ‘real time’ feature he discussed was indexing Twitter, although apparently they’ll soon be indexing Facebook as well. Surely real time encompasses more than these two platforms?

Stephen Arnold gave us his thoughts on what we should mean by ‘real time’, sensibly talking about how the financial services world has been using real time systems for many years. He also injected some notes of caution about how difficult it is to trust information spread amongst peers on social networking sites – here’s a recent case, read further down the page for a great quote from Graham Cluley.

Someone from Endeca (I didn’t catch the name, he was replacing the published speaker) showed us lots of slides of various applications of search, but his theme seemed more about how search can replace traditional databases than about ‘real time’, something I’ve blogged about recently.

We finished with Conrad Wolfram, demonstrating Wolfram Alpha, which isn’t really a search engine but rather a computation engine – it tries to give you a set of answers, rather than a list of possible resources where the answer might be found. Not a lot of ‘real time’ here either.

I’m back on Thursday as part of the closing keynote panel.

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