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I recently attended the 1st Annual Silverchair Strategies conference held at the Ritz-Carlton in Chicago. This was the first major event for Silverchair since their big splash into the STM online hosting pool this summer at the 2011 SSP Annual Meeting in June. Day 1 consisted of sessions for current customers and day 2 for guests, which comprised of a number of notable STM publishers, including a number of our current customers, who were there to learn more about Silverchair’s offering.

Similar to the SSP meeting, Silverchair came through with top-notch marketing and events, but this time added two impressive guest speakers to the roster including Tim O’Reilly, well-known intellectual of the computer science and technology industry and founder of O’Reilly Media, who gave the keynote address on Friday.

Since I wasn’t a current customer, I joined the meeting late on day 1 which wrapped up with a great talk from Robert Wolcott, Executive Director of the Kellogg Innovation Network (KIN), and a reception at the Contemporary Museum of Art. While Tim O’Reilly originally drew me to the conference, I was thoroughly impressed with Robert Wolcott’s talk and would later remark that his presentation was more engaging and inspiring than Tim O’Reilly’s keynote. Although cut short due to the last session running long, Robert gave a thought provoking and wildly entertaining speech on innovation which was based on chapter 2 of his book, “Grow from Within: Mastering Corporate Entrepreneurship and Innovation.”

The social event at the Contemporary Museum of Art was well attended and, as a supporting sponsor, The Sheridan Group sponsored one of the mixed drinks – the Sheridan French 75. A take on the famous French 75 cocktail featured in the movie Casablanca. Oddly, there were no opening remarks from Silverchair and for a better part of the event there were no Silverchair staff mingling around or engaging in conversation with prospective customers. On one hand you have to respect them for just letting folks enjoy themselves but on the other hand meeting the Silverchair staff and learning about their company is why the prospective customers were there. The team from Silverchair did eventually join the party with a quiet entrance sometime before food was served. One might say they were casually late.

There’s definitely a bit of a rock star quality or aura around Silverchair. They’re like the Virgin Atlantic airlines of the STM world and Thane Kerner, Silverchair CEO, is their Richard Branson. They’ve got a great marketing campaign, flashy planes, good-looking pilots and flight attendants but they’ve only flown a few flights, there was some turbulence along the way, and the take offs and landing weren’t perfect. However, give them a bit more time and a few more customers on the new platform and I think we’ll see Silverchair emerging as a strong presence in the online hosting business. If they can mange the transition of new customers, quality of the content presentation, and the expansion of their platform all at the same time then they will pave the way toward earning long-term credibility.

They’ve already built a solid reputation in the sematic technology field and in the e-learning business and the decision to expand into an online hosting company makes strategic sense. And the timing couldn’t be better. Other online hosting companies have fallen short of customer’s expectations in the past few years and they haven’t been able to adapt fast enough to satisfy publishers needs.

As the only other vendor at the meeting, more than one customer asked inquisitively, “Why are you here?” For years Dartmouth Journal Services has worked to forge strong working relationships with the peer review providers and online hosting providers. While some relationships are at the production level, many have a higher-level business relationship. Our goal in attending the meeting was to begin the process of building those relationships with Silverchair. By working cooperatively and collaboratively with them we help our mutual customers by ensuring that our interactions are efficient and effective. For DJS customers choosing to move to Silverchair, a strong business relationship means that our mutual customers can leave most of the heavy lifting to us.

Tim O’Reilly’s keynote address on Friday morning was powerful. Looking like he slept in his clothes, he took the stage in faded blue jeans, a button down shirt and a tweed jacket. He spoke of technology and innovation in the publishing industry and left the crowd with some deep thoughts on the future. It’s available on YouTube – check it out:

http://www.youtube.com/user/SilverchairSIS?feature=mhee

The remaining sessions included case studies from three current Silverchair customers including Kent Anderson from JBJS, Karen Tracy from APhA, and Michael Roy from APA. JBJS is a current Sheridan customer and APA just recently became a Sheridan customer with the awarding of their print services to The Sheridan Press and their editorial, composition, and content conversion services to Dartmouth Journal Services. The topic of the closing session from Thane Kerner was an unexpected surprise and wrapped up the final day.

An impressive and intelligent speaker, Thane always comes across as genuine and sincere. He spoke of a not-for-profit repository, called Taxonomy Commons, for all taxonomies serving the STM market. Similar to how CrossRef works, member organizations would pay an annual fee to join and would be able to deposit their taxonomic data and have access to other taxonomic information. He’s written a 2-page manifesto on the topic and more information can be found at www.taxonomycommons.org.

What I found interesting is that creating an open repository for taxonomic data would open the market to and encourage other service providers and software developers to create services and products that leverage the taxonomic information such as developing powerful semantic search tools and semantic encoding services. Ultimately those providers could become competition for some of the services that Silverchair offers or allow other online hosts to develop their own tools that tap the same taxonomic repository. Is this madness or genius? I suspect it’s the latter but well see if it has legs.