Scan this post


Kevin Kelly’s NY Times Magazine article, Scan This Book, blew my mind. I read it straight through on Sunday and have re-read selected snippets a few times trying to wrap my mind around the implications. Here are a few selections that really jumped out at me (with my comments if I rally the brain cells to assist me.)

Kelly writes,

The link and the tag may be two of the most important inventions of the last 50 years. They get their initial wave of power when we first code them into bits of text, but their real transformative energies fire up as ordinary users click on them in the course of everyday Web surfing, unaware that each humdrum click “votes” on a link, elevating its rank of relevance. You may think you are just browsing, casually inspecting this paragraph or that page, but in fact you are anonymously marking up the Web with bread crumbs of attention. These bits of interest are gathered and analyzed by search engines in order to strengthen the relationship between the end points of every link and the connections suggested by each tag. This is a type of intelligence common on the Web, but previously foreign to the world of books.

Mind blow the first: Simply by clicking on a link we are affecting the order the of the web. What seems to be a “read” action, turns out to be more of a “read/write” action. The more we click on something, the more likely it becomes that someone else will find it and click on it.

Kelly writes,

Once digitized, books can be unraveled into single pages or be reduced further, into snippets of a page. These snippets will be remixed into reordered books and virtual bookshelves. Just as the music audience now juggles and reorders songs into new albums (or “playlists,” as they are called in iTunes), the universal library will encourage the creation of virtual “bookshelves” — a collection of texts, some as short as a paragraph, others as long as entire books, that form a library shelf’s worth of specialized information. And as with music playlists, once created, these “bookshelves” will be published and swapped in the public commons. Once snippets, articles and pages of books become ubiquitous, shuffle-able and transferable, users will earn prestige and perhaps income for curating an excellent collection.

Mind blow the second: Individual enthusiasts writing, selecting, “curating”, mashing, may soon be on an equal footing with the “experts.” I can already see this happening with wikis and blogs. The truth is, I now get almost zero useful information from our professional literature (It takes me about 10 minutes to read American Libraries and/or LJ.) But I get an immense amount of useful and stimulating information –information that is helping me do my job better– from a number of library and marketing blogs that I read regularly with the the help of RSS. (So how long before we hear, “Dude, have you heard my mashup of Federalist #51 and the new Neil Young album? Publius rocks!!)

And there’s more. A lot more.

  • The sorry state of our copyright law, and the black hole of out-of-print information it has created (sucking, sucking, sucking information away from the public domain.)
  • The fact that a large % of out-of-print info can’t be put back into print because, well, because no one even knows who owns the copyrights.
  • The possibility that Google can bring much of this “lost” information back into play by scanning and indexing it, thereby shifting the onus to copyright holders to exert claims (if they have them.)
  • The filtering power of hyperlinks and tags to bring items that exist out on the long tail to peoples’ attention. (think: If you like Ryan Adams, you may like the Jayhawks, and if you like the Jayhawks you may like, Uncle Tupelo, and if like Uncle Tupelo, you may like Calexico, and if you like Calexico you may like Giant Sand, and if you like Giant Sand, you may like their album Glum (and that’s about as long tail as it gets.)

I’ll be re-reading this piece, and reading other blogger’s thoughts on it, trying to flesh out and extrapolate what it all means for libraries. It occurs to me that the Overdrive audiobooks platform already allows us to add our own pdf and audio content to the collection. Will librarians soon be performing more local collection development of digital formats?

The possibilities (and challenges) of adding exponentially more community created content (like Atlantic City’s teen poetry slam, or flickr photo sets, or autobiographies) as permanent additions to the collection is intriguing!

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