Participate in the digital infosphere

Last week, I spoke at a conference on the subject of ‘new technologies’. Not that I agreed with the title, mind you. It rather depends how one interprets ‘technologies’. To me, …

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29th April 2007 at 7:26 am

Last week, I spoke at a conference on the subject of ‘new technologies’. Not that I agreed with the title, mind you. It rather depends how one interprets ‘technologies’. To me, information, communication, culture and services are the important things. The technologies which support them are essential (broadband and computers) but not inherently interesting. The audience, I should mention, were information professionals, largely drawn from libraries and documentation centres.

These are people whose institutions have spent centuries being the guardians of information. They select, collect, categorise and disseminate. They advise and guide the searcher for knowledge. They are masters of their information universes and, by and large, they felt very uneasy with my description of the new world that increasing numbers of their clients and prospects occupy. A world in which information is a mouse click away. A world of sense and nonsense all jumbled together. But a world with its own pathways to authentic information and commentary.

A few times I asked for a show of hands – who’s written a blog, who reads blogs, who’s watched YouTube, who’s used a wiki – etcetera. A tiny, tiny, percentage of the 250-strong audience raised their hands in response. Yet this is, increasingly, the world of their clients. Yours too, I might add.

If you’re not a participant, it’s difficult to make sense of this new world. Of how traditional authority is being replaced by a mesh of information exchange between digitally connected and, often, well-informed citizens. A lot of the debate that followed my presentation was punctuated by the words ‘citoyen’ and ‘vérité’. (We were in Brussels.) Citizen and truth.

While my French is light years from perfect, the mood was clear. A hornets nest had been stirred. One example: ‘citizens’ were responsible for the inaccuracies in Wikipedia, so how can they be trusted? Regretfully, I’d mentioned Wikipedia in passing, after describing the value of wikis for collaborative projects. I’d shown a picture of an Amish barn-building project. 150 men erected a sizeable barn in half a day. No payment, just some good food from the womenfolk. I see the wiki as barn-building software.

Digital InfosphereThe point of all this is not to take a pop at my audience, because they are still in the majority at the moment, but to show them how the information world is changing. We are all surrounded by what I called a ‘digital infosphere’ into which we all tap to differing degrees. (To my irritation, Luciano Floridi had already coined the ‘infosphere’ term some years ago. I thought I was being original.) And people are going to tap in. And they’re going to find online tools and services to help them navigate, provide and extract value from this world.

Think tagging, rss, search, recommendation engines, blogs, wikis, mashups and so on. And, if you don’t know what I’m banging on about, then perhaps you need to consider whether your own customers inhabit this world. And, if they do, whether you’d care to join them. It could do you an enormous amount of good.

More from me if you want it. Just add your comments below.

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David Tebbutt is an award-winning columnist and feature writer who specialises on the subject of using software and technology to increase business productivity. He's an analyst with Freeform Dynamics but, in previous lives, wrote for Director magazine, Real Business and was also editor of Personal Computer World. http://freeformdynamics.com

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