Back to the FutureCast: changing patterns of data production and consumption

This is the second in a series summarizing our recent meeting FutureCast: Shaping Research Libraries in a Networked Age. You can read the first posting here.

Our first keynote speaker was George Oates, the project lead for Open Library, a program of the Internet Archive. George started her talk on data consumption patterns by playing a Stravinsky arrangement of the Star Spangled Banner (otherwise known as the American national anthem), explaining that this “remixed” version of the tune, transformed by the use of minor chords was considered shocking at the time, but now seems like a mild modification. We live in a world that is accustomed to change. On the data side, the consumption and production cycle for information has rapidly accelerated. Information is consumed not just by people, but also by computers, which impacts the way we (should) operate. George then gave several examples of network-driven consumer expectations in the consumption and production of information.

The web is a place where things happen very quickly. George’s example of immediate action is the “Me Right Now” project on Flickr, where members take a photo of themselves and post it – right now.

Me Right Now
Brad Dielman's "Me Right Now" (working from a coffee shop)

Bicycle Built for Two Thousand is an example of knowledge organization as a creative act. Here the web is a collection, production and dissemination vehicle all rolled into one. In this project 2,088 voice recordings were collected using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Participants heard a short sound clip, then recorded what they heard via a web tool. Each person received six cents (US) for participating.

Similarly, internet dating site OkCupid has made use of aggregated data collected in questionnaires to make some interesting and surprising correlations (and depending on your situation some of these may NSFW – you have been warned!).

Kevin Kelly’s Internet Mapping Project is a good reminder of how users see and approach the web, and what they view as “home.” If you flip through the 118 very personal visions of the web, it’s useful to see what role the internet plays in peoples’ lives in helping them get real things done. (Can you find the library “on the map”?)

internetmap067 by Kevin Kelly, on Flickr
internetmap067 by Kevin Kelly, on Flickr

The internet is not all about enabling creative expression — George also gave a shout out to “old fashioned curation.” With so many choices, sometimes it’s nice to sit back and have someone do the work for you. The Tate Museum has some nice examples of exhibits that have been professionally curated, or you can create Your Collection.

“Individual sense-making in the inconsequential mess of the internet” is difficult, and so is seeing the potential role for the research library, so we invited a panel to help address the issues.

Michael Edson, Director of Web and New Media Strategy for the Smithsonian Institution stated that “the present is far weirder than we had imagined,” and suggested three key questions for organizations drawn from a recent article in the New York Times, “Serious in Singapore:” What does the future look like?; what is my institution’s role in that future?; what do I need to be doing now to get there? Michael has also been influenced by Clay Shirky’s “Cognitive surplus: creativity and generosity in a connected age” which lays out case for amazing collaboration potential fueled by the internet. How can the Smithsonian play in that future? Libraries can’t be so in love with what we have been that we miss what’s now, what’s next.

David Seaman, Associate Librarian for Information Management, Dartmouth College Library observed that “big data” is not only in the sciences, but also the humanities. Libraries have a great opportunity to work with humanists. Google Books can be seen a “queryable dataset for the humanities.” While we can see what the data is, we are not yet “there” with the tools – we are missing the middle layer for scholars to aggregate and make use of data. There is a lot on the web, not all of it worthy. “How to we take in tide of digital sludge encrusted with gems?” and “Sometimes sludge is just sludge” — not everything must be collected or curated.” Finally, monolithic strategic planning is doomed; need to have more scenario planning in organizations(or across organizations, I would venture).

Titia Van de Werf, Director of Collections, International Institute of Social History, noted a blurring of the distinction between web and research resources. Collections are built not only by libraries, but also by researchers. “Why are we not collecting the web collaboratively?” she asked. “We are constrained but it’s not impossible.”

Many thanks to George and our panelists for helping to provide fodder for a conversation about the changes in both the patterns and pace of research, and dissemination, and where libraries can should intervene or create services.