Some thoughts about the evolution of Search, tech and people.

Some of you may remember this

You wanted to know something—anything. What did you do? If the people around you didn’t know, you probably went to the library. If the question was about something completely new to you, you had a talk with the librarian. Equipped with suggestions about possible routes you could take, you headed over to the little drawers with the index cards, each with a book name and directions to their place on a shelf, a.k.a. the cataloging system.

If the library closest to you didn’t have the information you needed (and you really needed it), you went to a bigger library farther away or you called the Reference Desk there. Remember the Reference Desk?

OK, so now we have a massive, gargantuan Library in the Sky, called The Internet, where there are

way more answers

This is good.

But there are also now thousands of Librarians (or Subject Matter Experts), many of whom are there to steer you only to their product, service or personal agenda (taking into account that a number of the past’s librarians had their own agendas). But we’ve got that bit sorted out, right? We’ve found librarians we feel we can trust, we’ve learned how to dodge most of the sell-y librarians, and we’ve vetted their agendas against our own.

Armed with our trusty Librarian-supplied list of better-phrased questions and possible places to find answers, we enter the Library, and here’s the next problem: the Library is actually an unimaginably huge structure with millions of (relatively) tiny rooms, and each room has its own (relatively) tiny cataloging system.

Even Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. have not yet figured out how to truly reconcile each of these little rooms to deliver the answers you need. They get better all the time: localization and personalization of search results, as creepy as they feel, are part of this great drive.

Should we develop a set of standards to which all content creators must conform? In a backhanded way, this is essentially what SEO is all about. It’s backhanded because the search engines are reticent about revealing those standards (for good reason: see the following paragraph). But even if we could succeed at corralling all the different cultures, communities and minds, it’s a very, very bad idea.

Like children in American schools right now, we and the producers of the content we treasure would suffer horribly from standardization’s conformity-demanding pressure. It’s a pressure that would only grow as the sheer quantity of information proliferates. Not only that, we’d lose the folks with great ideas but poor implementation and gain mostly those who pour more resources into perfectly meeting the standards (essentially becoming the loudest and most brightly colored) than they do into thought, quality or authentic value.

What to do?

I’m looking at an awesome resource I don’t need right now, but that I want to find again when the time comes. It’s telling that I don’t trust Search to help me do this. I’m a compulsive archiver, Kandinsky in Munich, available on the Guggenheim Museum websiteand have saved resources on Delicious, Pinterest and Gimme+, as well as Liked and Favorited items on Twitter, Dribbble, Facebook (in many ways, the most disappointing little room on the internet) and others.

I used to put everything on Delicious, but their visual bookmarking functions are awful and their added features focusing on social sharing kind of pulled it apart as a bookmarking tool. That’s why I expanded my personal Library to Pinterest. Only “Pinnable” content can be saved there, however, and there’s still no way to save items to more than one category at a time. In my search for something that handles both text and pictures, I checked out Gimme+, but so far I’m not convinced this will evolve into the research tool I had hoped for.

Why not just rely on Search? Because when the time comes that I’m specifically looking for some new insights about Wassily Kandinsky, I don’t want to sift through twenty pages of search engine optimized Framed-and-Unframed-Art sellers. I want to be reminded about the Guggenheim’s free art catalogue collection. I won’t remember, off the top of my head, that I spotted the resource on the Open Culture website and made myself a “mental note”. How will I find it when I need it?

Non-commercial search engines may provide a portion of the solution, but bear with me here: we’re trying to solve a bigger problem than simply non-commercial vs. commercial search results.

The process of curating may be more important than the resulting collection.

I suspect Google wants to be my Delicious-Pinterest-Twitter in some sort of brilliantly insidious way (i.e. without me consciously trying). But here’s another problem: I want my curating to be conscious. I don’t want my email client to decide which of my emails are most important, and I don’t want Google to employ its algorithms to decide for me that such-and-such resource is most relevant.

At least half the power of a personal Library is that I morphed and sculpted my very own brain cells to curate it. The process of curating may be more important than the resulting collection.

I have a question

All I know right now is that we need to step a little farther back from the picture. I imagine search engine folks are doing this to various degrees right now. I imagine meetings with diagrams, the latest brain research results, and statistical findings about our evolving search behavior. There are some very smart people on those teams and there’s a good chance they’re already building the tools that address these issues.

As we change the tools, the tools change us… and then we, in turn, change the tools…

At the outer edges of our awareness, there is always a bigger perspective. It’s hiding in plain sight, disguised by the routine uses we’ve been been making of our current tools (i.e the internet) without even realizing.

As we change the tools, the tools change us… and then we, in turn, change the tools, as we have always done.

The concept of Books got stretched and changed by the proliferation of media to the more-abstract concept of Ideas (I’ve decided “Content” misses the point because it smacks of bean counting, and lacks passion).

Similarly, the concept of Libraries is being stretched and changed by the proliferation of idea repositories to the more-abstract concept of Access to Resources. Not just resources: Access to Resources.

Banksy, Graffiti is a Crime

Click on the image to learn more about Banksy, who did not ask for permission to change the sign.

Part of both the challenge and the potential of this magnificent, growing broil of ideas, and of access to them, is that they are only a small piece of the internet’s functions. Just as somebody invented a wheel, and then somebody else came along and used it as a gear, humans are changing the function of the internet every day. As more humans access the internet, there will be more change and it will change faster. And that will grow the idea and definition of “library” (among other things).

What new functions will be created? What new answers will be made available? What new questions will be asked?

And how will we find them?

4 Responses to I have a question

  1. Penina says:

    Thanks, Chris! I’m really excited now about the bigger idea of “access to ideas”. I wonder where that will lead? (more questions!)

  2. I think you nailed this right on the head. This was a good read. That really is the question. I don’t want someone telling me what is relevant. Who are they to decide where the value is?

  3. Penina says:

    Thanks Julie,
    I’m super delighted that you enjoyed this!

  4. Julie says:

    Very insightful. I enjoyed the journey ur thought process lead me. Thanks.

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