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SLA Report: Karen Bleakley
Hot Technologies: A Peak into the Future
The second annual Hot Technologies program was hot again this year as an over-capacity crowd listened intently to the three speakers: James King, director of business and technology strategy for Microsoft Corporation, Denis Hauptly, vice-president of technology development for West Group and Joyce Ward, vice-president of editorial services. This session was developed last year for the first time in response to conference attendees' complaints that by the time the conference rolled around, many of the technology-oriented sessions were already out of date. In this session the speakers are invited ahead of time, but told to prepare their presentations as close to conference time as possible and to talk about their views of what technologies will most impact information professionals in the coming 12 months.
James King gave the audience a sneak peek at Microsoft's "digital dashboard", a unified data management interface that aims to provide the user with the right information at the right time in the right place. The dashboard provides a customized solution, which consolidates internal and external information on any device. The goal of the dashboard is to provide better, faster decision making. One example of an application for this technology would be "smart malls" where merchants would be aware of past customers entering the mall and friends would be able to track each other in the mall. This could provide marketing information of a much deeper level than has been available in the past. No one in the audience seemed particularly concerned when the moderator raised the question of privacy issues during the question period. Other innovations that King sees coming are device independent computing; logical and virtual world contexts for information; a plethora of interface aids (prioritization, navigation based on history, "always on" search aids); and content management and publishing services (clear type, ebooks, mCommerce, EtoECommerce).
Denis Hauptly wowed the crowd with gadgets. He started his presentation talking about the WWW wee wireless Web. Hauptly speculated that increasingly we will see wireless devices take over from our land line devices currently in use. He also commented that we would see deep personalization of information become more commonplace. Most impressive though were some of the wireless devices that he brought with him for "show and tell". Of particular appeal to the audience was the Palm Pilot with detachable, folding full-size keyboard. Definite "oooh-aaah" appeal.
Joyce Ward's presentation focused on content more than gadgets or technology per se but gave some great insight into what we can look for in the near term. Ward started her talk with "Everything old is new again", launching into a discussion of alerting services and custom filtering on the Web. She talked about three types of alerting services: those that search selected sites on a predetermined frequency; client side applications such as bookmark managers that alert you to new applications; and those services that filter the entire Web and alert users to results matching their custom filters. Ward then gave the audience a concrete example of how people use the Northern Light search engine to filter the Web and discussed other approaches to customizing the Web. Ward then discussed distributed versus real time approaches to searching the Web. As to whether one form of searching will replace the other, Ward predicted that they would more likely blend into each other with each bringing their respective strengths (comprehensiveness, relevancy ranking, depth in selected sites and freshness) to the table. Ward ended her presentation with a look at knowledge management tools. She suggested that we would see more and more specialized taxonomies developed over the next few years. Tools to develop and maintain these taxonomies (vocabulary management tools, thesaurus builders) are often homegrown or embedded within application software. We will likely see more and more librarians taking on knowledge management roles within their organizations.
The appeal of this session is that the speakers are not given a specific topic and are left to come up with their presentations close to the last minute. That usually means that the three speakers bring three different perspectives to the presentation and this year was no exception. From software (digital dashboards) to hardware (wireless devices) to content (search engines and filters), this year's Hot Technologies session covered it all. The audience questions focused mainly on what skills will be needed to accommodate the new upcoming technologies. One audience member asked whether XML will likely be the Web language of choice for new products this year. All three panelists confirmed that their companies are developing products on this platform and will likely continue to do so. Another attendee voiced concern about privacy issues in this completely wired world we are entering. The resounding answer was that the products themselves will have a certain amount of privacy built in, for example passwords, and that beyond that the individual must still remain alert for privacy and security issues. The new call of the information age seems to be "surfer beware".
In conclusion the Hot Technologies session continues to be an informative and insightful look into the near future of information technology issues. It would be interesting to have the speakers make actual predictions from one year to the next, if for no other reason than to give us a gauge to measure how quickly the information age is evolving. Maybe next year.
Karen Bleakley is Manager, Knowledge Services, PriceWaterhouse- Coopers, Montreal, Quebec. firstname.lastname@example.org