Saturday, November 8, 2008

Is Web 2.0 a Revolution?

In the final post in my series on Clay Shirky's book, Here Comes Everybody, I want to share with you his idea that Web 2.0 tools may actually revolutionise society, and consider what that might mean for Libraries.

In my first post I introduced the idea that new technology can only effect societal change once it becomes ubiquitous or invisible. When Web 2.0 tools become ubiquitous everyone becomes a content creator. This is what Chris Anderson calls the democratisation of production in his book, The Long Tail. Shirky argues that once the lines blur between producers or publishers and consumers there is a fundamental change in the way our society operates, that "the category of 'consumer' is now a temporary behavior rather than a permanent identity." (Here Comes Everybody, p. 108). The result is that previously impossible things start occuring.
The hallmark of revolution is that the goals of the revolution cannot be contained by the institutional structure of the existing society. As a result, either the revolutionaries are put down, or some of those institutions are altered, replaced, or destroyed. We are plainly witnessing a restructuring of the media businesses, but their suffering isn't unique, it's prophetic. All businesses are media businesses, because whatever else they do, all businesses rely on managing of information for two audiences - employees and the world. The increase in the power of both individuals and groups, outside traditional organisational structures, is unprecedented. Many institutions we rely on today will not survive this change without significant alteration, and the more an institution or industry relies on information as its core product, the greater and more complete the change will be. (my emphasis)
Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody, p. 107

What is the role of Britannica in the age of Google and Wikipedia? I think they're trying to work that out themselves. What role do reference librarians have when only 1% of college students begin their information searches at a library? (OCLC Perceptions report, 2005).

I think that information is the core product of libraries and that the sharing of information now and into the future will profoundly affect how libraries operate. What do you think?

1 comment:

Ellen said...

Thanks for bringing these ideas together. It is very helpful and makes for interesting reading. I also recently read Here comes everybody - it certainly provokes thought.

I would like to have a broader discussion and some scenario planning about ideas and innovations for reference and information services into the future.

Library staff need to discuss these ideas as we are at a time when library use could increase or could move toward extinction. I would prefer the increased use as libraries have a vital role to play (still) in helping people find information for decision making and for leisure - and will have for the long term future.

Libraries can help address issues of inquity, but we need to keep letting people know (and showing) that libraries are critical for their lives. It comes back to getting better at telling (and showing) people what we do.

Libraries may need to change - increasingly engaging in collaboration with community partners for content creation will grow. This could have some great partnerships around community information, local studies collections, but also tapping into local specialists. This actually bring some ideas in from the 'library' novels by Mel Odom which has a librarian race who deal with content creation as well as content management.

There are also some great ideas about libraries and thinking about the future in Neal Stephenson's latest book Anathem. He raises issues of technology (how we think about it and how we use it) collaboration and appreciation of difference. I will write about this soon.