Cliff’s Notes on Trends and the Future

Opening keynote speaker Cliff Lynch, Executive Director, Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) provided a tantalizing look at CIL and the Digital Decades. Although CIL is 20 years old, Cliff started his timeline a bit earlier, noting that the Internet did not suddenly appear in the 1990s — Arpanet began in 1969. He started by saying he wanted his reflection of the digital decades to help assess the cumulative effects of the tumultuous changes we’ve been through. He identified some "big trends that arc throughout the last 20 years," which underscore the "persistence of institutions and the cyclical nature of technologies."

These big trends include:

The move from scarcity to abundance–content is everywhere and significant portions of entire historical public domain literature are being opened up on the Net. One example is the systematic backfile conversion by journal publishers.

The move from a world of surrogates to one of digital representations–the most obvious being the move from bibliographic records to full text. The implications for the abstracting and indexing services are immense.

The move from capabilities being reserved for large institutions to individuals — one result is more personalization. When everyone can own a computer and enjoy a fast connection, then everyone can become a broadcaster and publisher.

The rise in the use of images — we’re awash in images of every kind, including 3D images of physical objects. Just think what this means to museum collections. He also mentioned the prevalence of surveillance cameras and the addition of moving images to the digital realm.

The move to an age of broader, popular authorship. Here he specifically mentioned blogs, generating a few random cheers from the bloggers in the audience. Cliff reminded us that Tim Berners-Lee’s original vision of the Internet was as a place to collaborate and create content, not simply consume it. He also noted that, as libraries digitize special collections, they open these up to commentary by people who may have personal knowledge about some of the historical photographs or documents in the collection. Content turns into conversation.

More structured data is appearing on the Web. There’s a greater mix of content that humans read and that computers read. "These will get mixed up in interesting ways.

There’s a greater interest in preservation and the persistence of digital artifacts. This is not just a library problem anymore.

Cliff suggested we watch for flash points surrounding intellectual property and privacy. Now that we have several digital decades under our belts, we’re realizing its paradoxical quality. If something is fragile, you worry about preservation. But if you wish it would go away (early flame posts to discussion lists is one example, embarrassing photos another), then it persists and proliferates.

The generation of people who grew up with the Net are going to have to work this out, he concluded.

Marydee Ojala
Editor, ONLINE: The Leading Magazine for Information Professionals

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