Tuesday Night Deep Thought: Information Future?

Today I found myself pondering the following question:

“Where will information content be in five years? Ten years?”

And after a long bout of deliberation this evening, I couldn’t really come up with an answer. I think that’s part of our professional problem, really. I can’t think of one person who has more than the most speculative of an educated guess. I’m sure there are some who might read this and take umbrage at this statement, thinking that they are or know someone who could provide an answer. But my guess is that if we were to take the answers, seal them in an envelope, place them in a time capsule, and open them in five or ten years, they would be mostly (if not completely) wrong. (There could be a wager in this, I reckon.)

In thinking about the future, I did a survey of the past. I took a look at some of the sites I use now (and some related ones) to acquire a proverbial snapshot at what existed, what just started, and what was yet to be five years ago. Here are the results:

  • Established five or more years ago: Amazon, Blogger, Livejournal, Delicious, StumbleUpon, Google Picasa, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, Wordpress, LISNews, TinyURL.
  • Infancy/just started five years ago: Gmail, Facebook, Bebo, Flickr, Yelp, Netvibes, Ning, Reddit, Library Thing, Digg, Kayak, Vimeo, Newsvine, Renren (formerly Xiaonei; it’s the world’s largest social network based in China).
  • Didn’t exist five years ago: Google Calendar, Reader, & Maps; YouTube, Twitter, Friendfeed, Tumblr, Diigo, Foursquare, Jaiku, Plurk, Good Reads, Brightkite, Scribd, Hulu, Fancast.

This doesn’t mention the leaps in technologies like mobile phones (iPhone, 2008) or e-readers (Kindle, 2007) within this time period, nevermind the announcements of the last few months (the iPad and the Nook). Nor does it include the general decline in printed newspaper and periodical readership that has trended during this time period. And, to toss something else into the mix, it doesn’t account for the change in design of library spaces that make them more community oriented (this would be more of something of the last ten to fifteen years, give or take).

There is simply a lot of things going on; too much, I believe, for anyone to grasp in terms of the big picture. And I think it’s time that the librarian community admits that we really don’t know where exactly information content is going to end up in that time. Sure, we can’t say where it will be in the short short scale of maybe a year, perhaps two, but beyond that is lost to us.

Am I wrong?

Taxonomy upgrade extras: 


Yes. I have written all the reasons why and sealed it in a vault that can only be opened in 5 years.

Yeah, I set myself up for that one.


ok, almost all information... some stuff will always smell like poo...

And add to this that just shy of 20 years ago there was no web - having been there in 1993 (or was it 94) when I first experience mosaic it was profound and you sensed it would change everything about information handling - but we didn't know how and couldn't have imagined it. I recall just having completed a strategic plan we had spent over a year on at the Ivy League institution where I was a reference librarian. We were so proud of our new plan and guess what. Not a single word about how we'd use the web to connect with our users. So when we saw mosaic we thought - well - that was a waste of time (the planning). But we still had a blueprint for where we wanted to go as a library and we just needed to figure out how to build the web into that plan. I still believe that's true with all information technologies. As long as you have a process for serving the community and delivering a great library experience, you can manage the change - even if you can't predict what it will be or how it will manifest itself. That's what having an agile library is all about.

Steven B