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Day 1 of the Global Information Summit: Stay out of China?

Yesterday morning, the Global Information Summit in Amerstam kicked off with a speech (accompanied by detailed PowerPoint, sadly) by Ruud Bakker of VNU, one of the major international publishers based here in Holland (others are Wolters Kluwer and Elsevier). It was fascinating to see how focused VNU is on adding social media to its publishing program, both because that doesn’t seem to be common, yet, in the B2B companies that form the bulk of SIIA membership, and because it would surprise me if a mainstream business audience really wants to contribute to online forums and a “virtual wikipedia.”

(What is a virtual wikipedia, anyway? A wiki encyclopedia on the subject of the particular database or service, I suppose, but it’s hard to see why lots of people would want to contribute to that instead of throwing the same content onto When you’re writing for nothing, you usually want the widest possible audience. On the other hand, I have been thinking about starting subject-specific wikipedias with authorship limited to a certain group; but that requires some market research: would our authors want to contribute, and how would we provide editorial controls?)

Mr Bakker ended by saying said that online directories were very promising, and that virtual search was vital. I am puzzled by this and would have loved to have some debate about it (maybe that’s what I’ll propose to SIIA for next year, panels to debate issues that are important in the information industry, just as those of us in publishing are debating issues like the Google library program and the role of books in libraries). The online directories I bump up against in Google searches for restaurants or hotels are annoying, not useful, and surely the whole idea of web search is that we don’t need directories because the search engine will pull together the right current information from original sources (the actual restaurant websites, for example). I must talk to some of the delegates about this today and get more information.

Next up was our Asia panel, criticized by some people in the audience for being too negative, and we’ll probably end up bending over backwards to be positive during the roundtable this afternoon (though as you can imagine, I wasn’t negative about working in China—but someone told me at the cocktail party last night that I kept a poker face so they weren’t sure if I was agreeing with my copanelists). The panel on Europe was led by EPS’s David Worlock, who said that the most gold is in old mines. I don’t think that’s necessarily true—when the California Gold Rush was over, it was over, and when old mines, or oil fields, continue to worked, the costs get higher and higher. But eastern Europe is new territory for many publishers, and Berkshire Publishing has barely begun even in western Europe so I appreciated this overview.

I was surprised to learn that the EU has 51 official states, 37 languages, and 27 currencies, but had known that Skype (which I use all the time for phone calls and instant messaging) originated in Estonia. It’s good to be reminded that working in Europe, too, requires cross-cultural skills. It would be interesting to know if one could identify cross-cultural aptitude for working in different places and cultures. Are some people better adapted to working in Eastern Europe, or in Asia? I’m going to propose a panel or workshop on this for next year’s conference.

I’m sneaking out now to see something of Amsterdam.

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