Lately I have been reflecting a lot on the ways in which we gather information. In the information age, it has been argued that it is no longer important to know something explicitly, what is important is to rather be able to learn how to know something as quickly as possible in context. I believe that knowledge is constructed and not absolute. Technology has enabled us to have so many conversations, constantly refining and reconstructing what can be known.
Technology has without a doubt increased access to information on nearly any subject. You can find anything on the internet these days. In fact the sheer amount of information available has given many of us what we call information overload; an inability to cope with and digest the volume of available information. Certainly no one person can interact with the wealth of information available on the web.
Google and other search engines went out to catalogue and index all of the pages on the web, so that we could search and find content based on what we were looking for. Forums and message boards used to be great for getting answers to common problems. I used them a lot for technical issues or for dealing with software problems. The problem was that you either had to hope someone had experienced your problem before (and you could find their conversation), or that you would get a quick answer which often did not come.
The growth of Wikipedia as a community driven and collaborative knowledge base has been incredible. Would you even consider buying those printed encyclopaedias that used to come out annually? I remember we had a set when I was a child, and while they certainly did provide me with lots of interesting information, I was always left wanting more. (Or looking for that notoriously missing Q – S edition
Social networks like Facebook enable us to connect to our friends and gather in groups. I have never really used Facebook for anything other than social connections and some media sharing.
Twitter is a massive collection of people’s thoughts, links and reflections over time. It is also immense and full of lots of garbage so one needs to know how to navigate and attach themselves to relevant streams of information. Twitter is in fact one of my most rich sources of information on a daily basis. I am currently quite proud of the collection of Twitter people I follow. I have hand selected the people I follow to give me a good balance of news, issues in my discipline, useful links, and fun. It occurred to me that I rarely even check news websites anymore, because the most relevant news is most likely coming through my twitter stream. Twitter has allowed me to personalize my inbound information flows.
In the future I thing their could be real value in the curated collections of networks people create. For instance I think it would be really interested to see the Twitter stream of George Siemens or Stephen Downes. The stream would be made up of the people they have chosen to follow and would reveal quite a bit about what makes them unique individuals. Just like at one time we could by pre-loaded iPods with a selection of music from a famous artist, we may see a demand arise for curated networks. I pondered the idea that perhaps as educators we should be creating and offering the networks that our students need to thrive in a discipline. So if you study biology, these are the people you need to follow to get the latest biology knowledge. Of course this would have to change and grow over time, so network curators would become essential (educators?).
Connecting information to object
Awhile back I saw this amazing ship in Cape Town harbour and wanted to know more about it. There were a few people around but all I could gather from asking was that the ship was 450 + feet and that it was privately owned. My curiosity was piqued, and I wanted to know who owned this amazing ship. Unfortunately when I got home I had forgotten the name on the back of the ship.
I tried searching Google and could not find anything specific to ‘Cape Town harbour’ and ‘big yachts’. I found a web page which listed the largest yachts in the world and figured it must be one of those. Still could not determine which one.
So I tried searching Twitter and behold I found a tweet.
In this case Twitter became my best source of information about the yacht in Cape Town harbour. I managed to get the name of the vessel and some more information from Wikipedia about the ship itself.
Information is becoming more and more time and context sensitive and its becoming more bite sized. No one is going to write a book about “The Yacht in Cape Town Harbour this weekend”, granted some will write blogs about it, many will photograph it and many more will tweet or update their status about it.
So I think one of the most fascinating things that the new web is offering is the ability to connect information to objects in our world more rapidly. We can explore the information behind nearly anything in our world. Information on places is being integrated into Google earth/maps and there is a Wikipedia page or Facebook Profile, article for nearly every person, place, event, phenomenon, we have ever known.
In the future augmented reality will grip the mainstream, thereby giving us even quicker access to the “code behind our world”. Augmented reality is actually more of a form of enhanced information infused reality. Augmented reality allows you to point a camera at an object or place and bring up information about the object/place – historical photos, Wikipedia articles, anything that can be drawn from the web in relation to that object. The camera has the ability to recognize the image in the viewfinder and bring up the relevant information. It is kind of like the way that Arnold in Terminator II used to bring up information using his robotic brain.
Augmented reality on the iPhone showing wifi zones in a city scene.
Its an exciting time to be alive.
The eXtended Web by Michael Paskevicius is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.