UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Top Technology Trends – For The Twentieth Century!

Posted by Brian Kelly on 13 Oct 2009

Top Technology Trends for Libraries and Information Professionals

Later this week I’m taking part in the Internet Librarian International (ILI) Conference in London. In addition to running a workshop and giving a talk on standards I’ll also be taking part in the closing panel session on Top Technology Trends for Libraries and Information Professionals.

What should I say, I wonder? Should I talk about the importance of social tools for resource discovery, using Twitter as an example of a tool whose success was unexpected. Or shall I try and quickly gain an understanding on Google Wave and talk about its potential relevance to information professionals.

But doesn’t this approach simply repeat the technological determinism which the postdigital advocates point out has continually failed to deliver on its promises.

Instead I’m intending to take today’s environment as the starting point and explore how technological developments promise to take us towards a better world – in the 1990s.

Today’s Networked Environment

How can we summarise today’s environment, which provides the starting point for a journey towards the past? Let’s mention a few examples.

Twitter: It might be appropriate for event aimed at the Library community to begin by talking about the success of Twitter, not only for providing community support but as a mechanism for resource sharing and resource discovery – yes, Twitter now seems to be a very effective tools for sharing links with one’s friends and colleagues.

Lightweight development: We now hear developers being critical of large-scale funding initiatives, preferring instead small amounts of funding to support rapid development work. The JISC’s recent Rapid Innovation Grants provided an example of a funding body recognising the benefits of such an approach.

Barcamps, Bathcamps, Hackfests, …: Proponents of light-weight development approaches also feel that meeting up with like-minded people, perhaps at weekends, can be a useful way of supporting one’s professional activities (and in the case of the recent Bathcamp, the weekend away also involved camping!)

Crowdsourcing: Examples such as the crowdsourcing of the digitisation of MP’s expenses claims, Galaxy Zoo, reCaptcha and other examples provide further illustrations of today’s networked environment, in which enthusiasts, who need not be developers, can achieve benefits which previously may not have been felt to be achievable without significant expenditure.

There is, of course, a political and social context to this technical environment – and, especially, for those working in the public sector, the context is the gloomy economic situation, an expectation that things will get even worse and a likely change of government in the near future.

Looking Forward to the 1990s

Let’s assume that, due to a malfunctioning (time) portal, we, like Benjamin Button, find ourselves being taken backwards in time, in our case towards the 1990s. How might the networked environment I have summarised above develop? Here are my predictions:

Twitter: The sceptics who argued that Twitter doesn’t have a sustainable business model will be proved correct. The Twitter service will die and, despite an attempt by Facebook to provide a simple type of service using its Status updates, the concept of ‘micro-blogging’ will disappear. The resulting productivity gains will be instrumental in helping the Twittering nations to move out of the global recession.

Lightweight development: The limitations of lightweight development approaches and simple (some say simplistic) formats such as RSS become apparent and, despite providing interesting exemplars, fail to provide an infrastructure for serious significant development work. ‘Enterprise development’ becomes the new ‘lightweight development’ and large-scale Content Management Systems become the popular with organisations facing pressures from their peers to deploy such technologies.

Barcamps, Bathcamps, Hackfests, …: The growth in large-scale enterprise development environment (accompanied by pressure from friends and families to achieve a more healthy work/life balance) brings to an end the culture of the amateur hacker and events such as barcamps, bathcamps and hackfests.

Crowdsourcing: The importance of the professional in the development of high quality networked services goes beyond the developer community. The failure of amateurs to provide the required levels of quality for digitisation, metadata standards, etc. results in an appreciation of the merits of the professional. Librarians and related information professionals become critical in the development of sustainable networked services.

Of course, as with many technological predictions, this vision of the 1990s is an optimistic one. Not only does the demise of social networks lead to an emphasis on real-world friends and relationships, but the political and economic environment will also see tremendous improvements – indeed I predict that in 10 years, or possibly 12 years time (say 1997), we will be very pleased with our political and economic situation and positive about the benefits that the future will bring.

Postscript

This post was influenced by the post-digital session which Dave White facilitated and Rich Hall as part of the fringe (#falt09) activities around the ALT-C 2009 conference. In a blog post about the session Dave White felt that “After the fringe session I was even more convinced that the post-digital was a useful concept but that we hadn’t found the right way of expressing it yet.

John Maeda has described how “Recently I have had the sense that no matter what new digital territory may arise, we end up where we first began – back in an infinite loop. My instinctive response to this personal perception has been to proclaim a new effort to escape to the post digital . . . which I am certain lies in the past.

Can we gain a better appreciation of our perhaps naive expectations of the benefits of technological developments by, as John suggests, looking back into the past?


Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

3 Responses to “Top Technology Trends – For The Twentieth Century!”

  1. On the Gadget show a couple of weeks ago they had a special show which tried to ‘look to the future’. At one point one of the presenters said something like “20 years ago people would have found today’s technology mindblowing”. This phrase stuck with me for some reason, and the next day I found myself wondering whether my 18 year old self would really have had my mind blown if I’d been presented with an iphone, or some similar piece of gadgetry?

    It’s hard to put myself back into the mindset of the late 80s, but I find it hard to believe I would have been that bowled over. The ‘future’ had already been on it’s way since the 60s, and I grew up watching Star Trek and Star Wars – and despite the progress we have made, somehow an iPhone still doesn’t seem to have quite the edge of a Star Trek communicator and as for light sabres… (and by the way, where’s my personal jet pack?).

    Watching this week’s ‘Electric Dreams’ in which a family ‘live through’ the 1980s a year a day in terms of technology (getting new gadgets each day), the basic thesis seemed to be (or at least, what I took away from it) was that todays technology is essentially similar at heart to the technology introduced to homes in the 1980s – but with better user interfaces and improved reliability. This seems like a persuasive argument thinking back, but I think there are some things that are revolutionary despite being just a way of doing an existing task more effectively or reliably.

    One of the common (cliched?) examples of a revolutionary technology is the printing press. Yet, would some at the time have claimed this was just a way of producing books quicker and cheaper than monks in scriptoriums could? “It’s like writing it out, but more reliable, and with a better interface”.

    Where am I going with this? I’m not quite sure :) I guess that when I look at the developments of the last 2 decades, the only one that I think is probably of really significant impact, and changes the game to the extent of being revolutionary rather than evolutionary is the web. I realise these technologies don’t exist in a vacuum – but in the same way we can focus on the printing press, rather than all the mechanics that made the printing press possible, I think we can use the web as a point of focus of a wide range of enabling technologies – where the whole was suddenly more than the sum of its parts. So I’d suggest that your look back would take on a different complexion if you went back just slightly further – to 1992 – before the introduction of Mosaic (I remember the first time I saw the WWW and Mosaic – at a library exhibition in Hatfield) – suddenly we can see the promise of global connectivity opening up in front of us – the world is about to shrink in unexpected ways, and the economic impact will be felt at a micro and macro level over the course of the next ? decades…

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