Internet editorial

Reference Reviews

ISSN: 0950-4125

Article publication date: 1 October 2006



O’Beirne, R. (2006), "Internet editorial", Reference Reviews, Vol. 20 No. 7.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Internet editorial

Lately there has been a change in the way I get information from the web. I used to look at a large number of web sites in an attempt to stay in touch with various issues within my profession, and also, to keep up to date with new developments outside my immediate sphere of knowledge. For similar reasons I also subscribed to about a dozen e-mail lists and, as a consequence, wrestled daily with a bulging inbox usually containing irrelevancies and the all too common duplicate messages prefaced with the hackneyed “apologies for cross posting” caveat. Well, I knew that those days were numbered, particularly as a host of new technologies became mainstream. Indeed, I remember some years back in this column, writing rather suspiciously about the merits of emerging push technologies versus the more traditional pull technologies. Now that future has arrived. Instead of hunting down information from all over the place, I am now drip-fed highly relevant information displayed ticker-tape fashion along the foot of my browser. A new dawn for accessing information and a new way of working for me. But of course, I am not alone, there is a widespread and fundamental change in how information is used, gathered and distributed through the wires of the internet.

Information as a commodity is now more difficult to contain, particularly when it is hyper-linked, ephemeral or worthless to many, but priceless to a few. Information now tends to seep out of containers and to flow in any direction. One might say we have lost control of information which at one time we placed in a structured language which in turn was placed in ordered sequential flows recorded in physical entities such as books, which in turn were categorised and classified into ordered collections where they were preserved and their use was controlled. This was what we called knowledge and this knowledge soon became the truth.

Social networking has for some time been an important concept closely associated with and dependent on the internet. The rise of web sites such as which, by its own estimates, has grown to cater for 87 million users, one-quarter of which it should be noted are under the age of 16 years, is phenomenal. MySpace’s worth can be quantified; it was purchased by News Corp. for $580m last year just one year after its launch. The unique selling point seems to be the ability for users to widen their circle of contacts through links with current contacts. A user will register his or her details including some interesting personal characteristics. Rather humourously, the Librarian of Brooklyn College Library has registered the library as a 76-year-old female with a great deal to offer! (

Some may say that sites such as MySpace are testimony to the desire or, more forcefully, the need, of humans to wallow in the inane and the banal. Yet at the other end of this wide spectrum there exists the very successful social networking concepts associated with CSCL and CSCW Computer supported collaborative learning and working. The technology and the information flows are similar; it is merely the human input that determines the level or importance of the communications. Many information or reference enquiries can and do end up in a social context. What I mean by this is that often a non-human resource, be it paper-based or born-digital content, fails to satisfy the enquirer. In such instances great benefit can be drawn from a timely intervention from an expert. With the huge growth and increased use of blogs it is difficult to assail their movement towards being a new type of information source. Indeed, it is a state that is somewhat reminiscent and anticipant of the rise and rise of the now ubiquitous search engine. In the emerging information landscape blogs and wikkis are set to play a crucial part in the digital information lifecycle.

The channels along which information flows become less easy to control, so the solution rests with a greater use of technology. We see this most obviously with the filtering processes, where people pull – while machines push. As a consequence of the greater use of technology to control information the level of complexity increases. To the librarian there appears to be little structure within a blogsphere or social network, yet it is far from chaotic; there exist a growing number of blog search engines, this includes Google which has a dedicated blog search feature.

The combination of all three aspects; the timely delivery of information direct to the desktop, social networking using blogs and the facility to search that network is, quite obviously, set to be the next killer application on the web.

Without wishing to finish on the precipice of a post-modernist Marxist discussion of how, in information terms, the means of production has found its way into the hands of the proletariat, it is worth asking where might the future of libraries lie?

Rónán O’BeirneInternet Column Editor Reference Reviews and Principal Libraries Officer, Bradford Libraries, Archives and Information Service, Bradford, UK

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