Tuesday, April 08, 2008

First timer at UKSG Conference

As a first timer at the UKSG Conference I was unsure what to expect when I attended the opening of the Conference yesterday morning. Paul Harwood, UKSG Chair introduced the 31st UKSG Conference admitting that he had been a bit concerned that people might not come to Torquay in the usual numbers? He needn’t have worried though, judging by the 754 delegates at the event this year it seems people have battled with the snow to get to the new seaside location. In contrast to the 14 hours spent at Gatwick Airport by one of the speakers, Kevin Guthrie, my own 4-hour journey from Paddington Station in London was relatively straightforward.

So what did I learn yesterday? I watched and listened with interest to James Gray’s presentation ‘The Digital Supply Chain’ but was a bit worried when the first few slides contained pictures of warehouses and machines in Nashville. Fortunately Gray, CEO of Ingram, was an enthusiastic speaker and skilfully presented an overview of the complex world of electronic content distribution with a focus on integration. I was interested to hear how Ingram are working with Microsoft, who, he said ‘are trying to catch up with Google’. The Google aim had seemed ambitious a few years back but now everyone is interested in indexing all their content and offering it in new formats. The presentation was interesting and covered a wide range of topics from digital printing to widgets under the digital supply chain umbrella. While it seemed initially like a sales pitch for the variety of products and services offered by Ingram, including barges strangely, it successfully offered an insight into the complexity of electronic content distribution and the opportunities offered by the rapidly changing landscape.

Next up was another interesting and entertaining speaker, Muir Gray, NHS National Knowledge Service. He talked about the way medical evidence is presented and expressed in journals and how there are many flaws in the process of research reporting, peer reviewing and editing. He argued that errors due to chance and incomplete reporting of research leads to an unfair positive bias. He joked that he should publish a ‘Journal of Negative Research’ and mentioned that on a recent visit to Google he was the oldest one there by about 80 years…

He also suggested that researchers need more training and highlighted the growing influence of industry in trials leading to constraints on data made available. He also mentioned his work on reducing the carbon footprint of the NHS and its supply chains. See www.knowledgeintoaction.org for further information.

Kevin Guthrie, Ithaka, talked about sustainability and, like the first two speakers, mentioned Google in his presentation. He said that we are now all involved in the academic enterprise and that we use the same tool (i.e. Google) for very different searches.

He spoke of the speed of growth and innovation which now makes today’s value-added feature (which would have give an individual or organisation competitive advantage for years previously) tomorrow’s commodity.

He used the newspaper industry as an example and warning of the possible future of all publishing. Newspapers successfully sold advertising, in particular classifieds, and this revenue plus subscriptions ensured that the market was buoyant for a long time. Now, the market for newspapers is shrinking with the growth of the web and print advertising revenue has slumped and even online advertising has slowed down. Some argue that with a vast increase in the different ways we can access news (and be sold to) the newspaper industry is in permanent decline. He argued that the traditional insulators for scholarly publishers were no longer available and that more focus on the end user was the key to survival for the publishing industry. At least I think that's what he argued but with the low lighting and my poor notetaking I could be mistaken...

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