Before coming to London, I made the following list of what I expected to hear about and what are the top subjects of interest in the information industry.
• Information discovery/searching, desktop search tools, enterprise search
• Wikis, blogs, RSS, social networks, online collaboration
• Open access, digital repositories, effects on publishers
• Digital Rights Management
• Google Scholar, Google Print, and anything else to watch out for in the “Googlesphere”
I heard about some of these things, but it was interesting to note the things that I did not hear about. There wasn’t a lot on taxonomies, and little on the “Googlesphere”. This is in contrast to the Internet Librarian 2005 conference in Monterey, where there was lots of discussion and “buzz” on Google’s entry into the information industry, especially with Google Print.
Information discovery and searching continue to be hot topics. It was interesting to note that many search engine companies are adding other capabilities to their core search engine businesses in an attempt to secure loyal users. And the strategy seems to be working—for example, many people have installed the Google toolbar, use GMail as their e-mail client, search for driving directions on Google Maps, create a blog with Blogger, or search their desktop with Google Desktop Search. Google has even begun to move into information creation with Google Books and Google Scholar, thus creating products for a wider target market. The portal approach was tried a few years ago, but it does not seem to have succeeded as well as the strategy of adding discrete products and services to basic searching.
Blogs and wikis are becoming increasingly important, and not just for personal use. Companies are adopting them successfully, as the BBC example shows. They are being used for everything from ways to locate expertise to developing policies or communicating with employees. Blogs and wikis are an example of social networking, which is changing some of the fundamental characteristics of the information industry and how people communicate and find information. In turn, the role of information professionals is changing as they not only use blogs and wikis to communicate among themselves, but also deploy them in the organization. These social networking activities will enhance the visibility and status of the information activity, especially in these days of teamwork by geographically dispersed teams.
Podcasting—listening to shared audio information—is just emerging as a useful technology. We experimented with it on this blog—did you listen to Barbara Quint’s three podcasts or some of the interviews that were posted? Podcasting raises interesting issues, especially piracy. It is easy to record a talk or presentation and then post the recording on the web without the speaker’s knowledge or consent. But a presentation is a speaker’s intellectual property, so how do we control the distribution of podcasts? These are all issues that will need to be addressed in the coming years. What is clear is that social networking technologies are ushering in an entirely new way of dealing with information; however, as with all new technologies, it is important to consider first the problems that need to be solved and not use technology just for its own sake.
New business models continue to roil the publishing industry. The debate on open access and institutional repositories, perhaps somewhat moderated in the past year, continues. Libraries and other customers of publishers are clamoring for the freedom to make wider choices, but this has increased the complexity of information procurement options. Agents therefore still have a significant role to play in helping them decipher the myriad of options offered to users and choose the most advantageous one for them. It seems clear that complexity will continue to increase with time.
These are just a few highlights on the state of the information industry. We can expect to see continuing change and uncertainty; in fact, that is about the only thing we can be certain about!
Columnist, Information Today