Of Moore and Magic


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Every generation has its axioms that seem to resonate and to succinctly express a significant belief. "Give me liberty or give me death." "What's good for General Motors is good for the country." "I have a dream."

As a lifetime geek, two axioms have always offered me the promise of ever-expanding possibilities. The first is Moore's Law, which appeared in a 1965 article in Electronics by Gordon Moore, in which he projected a doubling every 2 years of the number of transistors that could fit on an integrated circuit. That trend hasn't stopped; we are still seeing exponential growth in not only the capacity of integrated circuits but also raw computing power and storage capacity.

The second axiom is Arthur C. Clarke's observation in 1973 that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." When I caught myself holding my hands under a faucet, wondering why it wasn't turning on automatically, I realized that what we now think of as commonplace looked like a 23rd-century invention in the Star Trek of the 1960s.

I see correlations between us info pros and both Moore's Law and Clarke's law of prediction. The pace of innovation in the infosphere seems to be following Moore's Law. When I think of the enormous changes our profession experienced with the emergence of the web, and then the explosion of new ways of creating information and networks on the collaborative web, I can't help but wonder what the next game-changer will be.

One of the challenges I see on the horizon is to simultaneously achieve two competing priorities: First is the need for mobile information-short, sweet, and receivable on a smartphone. Email is for nonconsequential stuff; we'll have to offer the instant delivery of answers. The competing need is for info pros to provide more in-depth analysis ... perhaps even more participation in the entire process of turning information into strategic insights. One possible solution is for info pros to not only find and analyze the information needed for a project but also to write a podcast script with a distilled summary of the results or the conclusion, to be recorded and delivered to the client's phone.

I see this trend dramatically changing the pace and focus of our work. Clients needing deep analysis fast will be asking us to be able to focus intensely on a topic, on demand, all day. Will we wind up competing with the equivalent of the Q&A sites on the web, where "experts" offer in-depth answers on the spot for $15? The way to avoid that devaluation of our profession lies in the other axiom.

Clarke's law of prediction can be changed only slightly to make it applicable to our profession: "Any sufficiently advanced info pro is indistinguishable from magic." Unfortunately for us, that means that our organizations often are not able to understand what goes on behind the scenes when clients use our services. Knowledge happens, and most people don't stop to wonder how.

We info pros have to examine how we are seen from the point of view of our clients and organizations. We must find ways to articulate the value we provide, in addition to the "mere" information we offer. We are all shifting the discussion from the features we offer to the benefits we provide our clients and organizations. (The Special Libraries Association is looking into this issue in depth through its Alignment Project; see www. sla.org/alignment.)

Our challenge is to look strategically at our organization and our environment, anticipate where our research and analytical skills are most needed, and then align ourselves with those key groups. This means taking a more market-driven role within our organization-figuring out not just how to do what we do better and how to provide more insight, but also finding the clients who would find our services mission-critical.

This also means looking at econtent differently. I find that my searching habits have changed dramatically over the past few years. I no longer care about the format my information arrives in; most of my projects require that I send analysis to my clients, not just the results of my secondary research. I take a much more expansive view of econtent sources, since most of that material won't leave my desk. What we need is a shift in our focus. Info pros can provide strategic answers. As for the information we retrieve? Merely part of what creates the magic of an info pro