The day I bought my iPad was the day I began questioning my lifelong commitment to reading several print newspapers a day. For some people, it was the digital subscription app and the interactive crossword puzzles from The New York Times that did it. It took being able to get Wired magazine's videos and other multimedia on the iPad for me to really grok life without print subscriptions. Tablet computers may be the long-awaited electronic newspaper delivery device.
Back in 1896, an employee of the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railway noticed that everyone is drawn to a train wreck. So, for a publicity stunt, the railroad staged a head-on collision between two locomotives, both going at 45 mph. When the locomotives collided, the boilers exploded, killing several people and injuring many. The crowd had been assured that engineers were consulted and an explosion wasn't possible. The inability of experts to sufficiently imagine something outside their realm of direct experience contributed to major catastrophe. No one questioned the basic assumptions or thought to ask, "But what if the unthinkable does happen?"
By Mary Ellen Bates
Posted Jun 27, 2011
When I was a kid, we subscribed to morning and evening newspapers, we sat down with Walter Cronkite each night, and most debates were settled by consulting the Encyclopaedia Britannica. User participation was limited to sedate letters carefully typed out and mailed to the newspaper editor; one didn't engage in a conversation with either Uncle Walter or the EB.
In August, The Wall Street Journal covered Seth Godin's decision that, going forward, he would solely self-publish. Godin, a best-selling author of marketing books such as Tribes and Permission Marketing, felt he no longer needed his traditional publisher. Notably, Godin defined "publishing" far more broadly than did Penguin Group. He plans on distributing his content in a number of media—audio books, apps, podcasts, print on demand, etc. This may be the beginning of a disintermediation between the content creator and the content user, similar to the old one between library users and high-end digital information.
I started my online life back in the late 1970s, when data entry meant typing punch cards and praying that a typo didn't hang up your program. As we evolved to more personal interactions with our computers, I chose an early IBM PC over an Apple II. Even back then, there was the divide between PC and Apple users. The marketing and communications folks were early Apple adopters and the first to appreciate the value of the intuitive interface and navigation with a mouse rather than only a keyboard.
I never did believe that information wanted to be free ... just respected for more than its good looks. Apparently, no one else got the memo. Econtent, in and of itself, often isn't seen as particularly valuable. We can find the same material elsewhere on the web if we look hard enough, or we can find something else that we perceive as good enough. For information-and access to it-to be priced profitably, the value of the content must be readily apparent.
New data analysis tools are overwhelmingly enhancing the way we access data. These new offerings from content providers allow us to do more with the information we find so that we can extract more meaning and insight from the content.
I used to differentiate between the Old School of Research and the New School whereby one started a research project. Old School info pros like me still catch ourselves framing a research project around what databases we subscribe to. New School info pros head directly to the web.
These are interesting times for the publishing industry. Newspapers are shuddering after watching their classified ad revenue disappear, their subscribers die off, and their readers migrate to news content that is more current than the morning edition. Editors complain bitterly about the public's apparent preference for unverified crowdsourcing and (even worse) blogs over professional journalism.
December 2009 Issue
Posted Nov 24, 2009
Every generation has its axioms that seem to resonate and to succinctly express a significant belief.
As SLA examines what info pros are valued for within their organizations, it has become clear that the value of info pros is our ability to provide strategic information when, where, and how it is needed. It's not what we know or what we do with what we have access to-it's that we can add value to the entire decision-making process.
I won't lie; I am starting to feel resentful of many of my longtime information providers. I love you, man, I really do. It's just that we've grown apart. You still offer me tons of sources, computing power galore, and our very own advanced search features—but I think I need more.
I was recently blogging about a conference presentation I was preparing, and, being a conscientious info pro, I was planning on tagging my blog post (and, heck, my Twitter Tweets too). And suddenly, I realized I was channeling my grad school Cataloging 101 professor: Am I going to be doing descriptive tagging or subject tagging?
I monitor new web tools and resources on a number of internet sources, including AltSearchEngines.com and KillerStartUps.com. Both sites offer a fairly good sense of the web "solution" zeitgeist, and I am seeing a lot more applications that are focused on aggregating Web 2.0 contact. Sure, some of them are doomed, including, I suspect, the "resource that caters for those who are looking for love to hit them and end up ‘walking on air.'" But even that one indicates the perceived need for web solutions that help people stay connected.
I don't want to sound ungrateful to our long-time econtent providers; I cannot imagine running my business without the value-added information I can find through them. However, I have taken a few new search interfaces out for a spin, and that familiar old search screen from my tried and true online service is starting to look a bit, well, dated.
Recently, I needed to find a house to rent for my folks. I decided to see what I could do online ahead of time. Using the Street View in Google Maps, I could virtually cruise the neighborhood: I could drive up and down the street, look at the neighboring houses, and get a sense of whether this was a place for my parents or one that was better suited for students or folks who keep their cars up on blocks.
I have been on the road for much of the last few months, and I have begun to dream of the day when I could appear virtually for some of my workshops and presentations. While it doesn't yet engage me enough for me to consider it my second life, I think of Second Life as a crude example of what the internet will soon become.
It seems like everyone's talking about free information again: The old meme that "information wants to be free" appears to be recycling in the web's hive-mind. I am still not convinced that information cares one way or the other, but I do know that content owners and providers have widely divergent views on whether or how they should be compensated.
Back in ancient times when the Earth’s crust had not fully hardened and bulletin board services (BBSs) were bleeding edge, I got hooked on The Well, a vibrant BBS with an unusual premise—no anonymous users. Subscribers had a persistent username, and, in fact, people were encouraged to meet face-to-face, in order to connect each username with a real person. The idea was to encourage deep conversations and to eliminate at least some of the trolling and flamefests that erupt in some virtual communities. A corollary to the principle of no anonymous postings was “you own your own words” (or YOYOW in Well-ese); you are responsible for what you say, and no one can port your words outside the discussion where you posted them.
A colleague recently pointed me to ResearchBuy.com, a market research aggregator that promotes its free, short industry profiles as well as access to off-the-shelf market research reports and customized research. What I initially found interesting was that it had a real Web 2.0 feel. The free industry reports are in the MarketWikis area of the website, and they are, in fact, in a wiki format, complete with discussion and edit tabs.
It’s funny how, once you get an idea in your head, you start seeing things in a different light. I have moved from “just in case” reading of blogs and discussion lists to “just in time” searching of list archives for what I need right now. Sure, I still read and participate in a few lists, and I can’t start my morning without a few of my favorite blogs, but I have given up on trying to stay on top of new developments throughout the infosphere.
When we are searching econtent, we often focus on constructing the perfect search strategy. If the information is out there, we'll find it, right? Well, no. While intelligent indexing, tagging, and enhanced metadata all help construct bigger needles in the information haystack, we still approach the haystack assuming we know what a needle looks like.
Just because some organizations do not appreciate libraries or research analysts does not mean that these are not good career paths; it just means that individual librarians need to reposition themselves and emphasize the value they offer to an organization.
OK, let’s start out by acknowledging that Web 2.0 is so last week—or, in the parlance of Wired magazine, “expired.” Guess if I were really wired, I’d be writing about Web 4.3 or something. That said, I still find it intriguing to think about how collaborative technologies have had an impact on how we interact.
Sometimes my personal interests coincide with my professional life. Not often, thank goodness, or I’d probably spend my days working as a reference librarian in Second Life (otherwise known as The New Crack).
I seem to be turning into the User Interface Police. I am sure that, back in 1982 when they wrote the user manual for my “Generation II” microwave, pushing nine buttons just to set the clock made perfect sense. The UI Police will let these folks get off with a warning—it was written in 1982, after all. I had hoped that household appliance manufacturers had gotten a clue in the last two decades, but my spiffy new vacuum cleaner came with a 40-page manual, complete with obscure line drawings and text in 9-point font. Evidently, there is still a need for good user-manual writers. In my work, however, I’m now on the other side of the equation.
Sometimes the pace of change scares even me, and I'm generally an early adopter. But today, while contemplating my navel and the state of the info pro universe, I realized that hip new trends in the info world go out of style faster than a Paris Hilton retrospective.
A little while ago, I read a column in The Wall Street Journal titled “Hoarders vs. Deleters: How You Handle Your Email Inbox Says a Lot About You.” Essentially, it’s like what your mother used to tell you: “Disorder on your desk indicates disorder in your life.” (My personal belief system is more along the lines of “a clean desk is the sign of a sick mind.”) The columnist went on to describe “hoarders” who have 1,000 email messages in their inbox and are virtually paralyzed with guilt.
The other day, my sweetie taught me a new word: virga (defined as “wisps of precipitation streaming from a cloud but evaporating before reaching the ground”). We see a lot of that here in the Rockies—long trails of rain in the distance that never get to us, tantalizing us in the middle of yet another summer of drought.
We librarians are so far ahead of the curve in terms of information familiarity that sometimes we overwhelm clients with all the powerful databases we pay a bundle for, which we just know they’ll find useful. Unfortunately, it’s roughly the info equivalent of taking a tree-hugging tofu eater into Jean Georges in New York City. (Um, I’ll just have a salad and dessert, please.)
I've been thinking about the skills that are no longer taught to the next generation of workers (and, I might add, contributors to my Social Security payments). Information-seeking literacy seems to be up there at the top of the list. With the increase in deployment of information to the desktop, and with the arrival of a generation of workers who have always had the Web as an information resource, there is a growing need to raise the dissatisfaction level of information users. Why?
In the early 1990s, Freenets were making Internet accessible to the masses. We could finally tap into bulletin boards, Usenet newsgroups, and even some rather primitive Web sites. I remember feeling very butch that I could configure my Trumpet Winsock and figure out how to establish a dial-up PPP connection. Everything was plain ASCII, and downloading text-only email took ten minutes, but it felt pretty exciting--not earth-shattering, though. Yes, it was nice to be able to connect to a remote BBS without paying long-distance toll charges, but the Internet was still mostly populated by us geeks. What a difference a decade makes.
I recently returned from giving two weeks of workshops on using the Web for research and was surprised at the number of people who were unfamiliar with blogs and their use for research purposes. One of the first questions I heard was, “How do I search blogs? That’s not on Google, right?” Well, the 800-pound gorilla has made another hefty move, and now we can use Google to search at least some of the blogosphere.
I got to thinking about the impact on information professionals of all the alternative avenues our clients have for getting access to the high-end content; we used to be able to control access, as owners of a Dialog or LexisNexis password. It is almost staggering to see how many sources people now have for published articles.
Whenever I give a workshop or presentation, I ask the people attending to raise their hands if Google is their default search engine. I am always somewhat surprised that at least 80% of the audience still start their search with Google, although it is heartening to see that at least half of librarians and info pros say they routinely use more than one search engine. (And, for the record, my default search engine this week is Yahoo!, although I use Firefox’s pull-down menu to change my toolbar default search engine regularly.)
I have been reading about the value of knowledge management for years. The underlying idea is an appealing one—not only do all of us collectively know more than any of us individually, but when we combine our knowledge, we can glean additional information not apparent to any of us. So often, though, KM initiatives fail to take off, or at least fail to revolutionize the workplace in the ways promised by evangelists. My hunch has been that there have been two major stumbling blocks.
I am a frequent conference speaker, and preparation is always a challenge because I know that most of the attendees at my sessions are experienced information professionals; I want to tell them something they do not already know. For a change of pace, I recently gave a series of workshops to groups of people within a variety of organizations who use the Web as part of their work, but who are not information professionals or Web researchers. From their questions and comments, and from watching them do hands-on searching afterward, I was reminded once again of some of the knowledge that we info pros take for granted.
The blessing and curse of the price drop in storage media is that we have more of an incentive to save information rather than evaluate it and decide whether or not it’s worth keeping.
We are accustomed to looking for a brand name but, clearly, a number of info pros are still reluctant to put our seal of approval on an emerging reference source.
I can only imagine how my teenage years would have been different—but probably no less misspent—had there been online social networking systems like Friendster or orkut.
In their enthusiasm to embrace all things digital, some info pros place themselves in awkward situations.
September 2004 Issue
Posted Sep 09, 2004
There is a deep, truly invisible Web of information that will forever exist beyond the scope of search engines—the knowledge residing in the brains of experts.
User interfaces are going to be a lot fuzzier in the next couple of years. The skills that I have been so proud of all these years do not make much of a difference when working with an information management system that relies
on the 30,000 foot view of the information landscape.
Think for a moment about how much information we maintain solely in electronic format, with no acid-free paper backup. In our haste to digitize the content of our lives, we may be losing the ability to reconstruct it later.
Some clients of mine are intolerant of large quantities of information; true, they don’t suffer abdominal distress or anemia, but they do fail to “digest” the information if it’s presented in a way that’s unfamiliar to them or if it’s just overwhelming in terms of amount or breadth.
Google has taught us that it is no longer necessary to go through the effort of defining our information need. We put a word or two into the search box and let a search engine disambiguate the query and provide an answer.
What fascinates me is the idea that, while the concept of cataloging all the world’s knowledge is impossible, so many people are willing to spend time cataloging their small corner of the world.
I find that my searches, particularly in the value-added online services, are a lot broader, which means that rather than wading through 15 or 20 records, I have to slog through 200 or 300 to find the answers I need. I use whatever tools I can when reviewing search results and have been keeping my eye on data visualization tools.
Finding market research online has gotten more difficult every year. Instead of going to the usual supermarket sources, we now have to hit the Web aggregators, many of whom are now in the business of selling their reports on an à la carte basis to anyone with a credit card.
I’ve been asked to speak a number of times about the problem of information overload. At the first invitation, my initial thought was, “This topic is so last year!” Yet even though we’ve faced this problem for years, recent developments have made it that much more difficult to keep from being overwhelmed with info-noise.