Report From The Field:
By Shirley Duglin Kennedy
Unintended consequences? Of what? Technology, of course.
"We're getting to the point where there are an awful lot of unintended
consequences ... and surprises."
Clifford Lynch, executive
the Coalition for Networked Information
This theme surfaced repeatedly at Information Today, Inc.'s Computers in
Libraries 2004 conference, held March 10—12 at the Washington Hilton & Towers.
The event attracted nearly 1,600 registrants as well as 51 vendors to the busy
Although the title of Lynch's initial keynote address was "Expectations for
Our Digital Future," it could well have been called "The Unintended Consequences
Cell phones are more intrusive than ever, because "now we've added cameras
too," said Lynch. The "panic response" has been to ban cell phones from various
places "because you can't separate the camera from the phone anymore."
The Internet is getting "very, very fast at its core," said Lynch. "Meanwhile,
out on the periphery, things are not as attractive." Broadband to the home "is
not all that broad," because it's expensive and still not even an option in
many outlying areas.
"Remember the wired classroom, that marvelous piece of rhetoric? It's wireless," said
Lynch. Many instructors are now looking for a way to turn it off so students
don't surf the Net during class. The same is true in wireless corporations,
Lynch said, where employees in meetings are often disengaged, reading e-mail,
etc. On the other hand, the always-on network offers ready access to needed
information or the documents being discussed.
Geo-location technology means "the Net always knows where you are." Said
Lynch, "People are building all sorts of fascinating distributed sensor networks,
and they are beginning to hook them up to the Internet." Potential applications
are very useful: 911 emergency services, "smart" highways, RFID tagging for
inventory control, etc. But, as Lynch pointed out, "We don't know where all
of this is going to take us." The privacy implications could be enormous.
"When you talk about unintended consequences, spam is one of the more interesting
ones," Lynch said. The fact that we are constantly bombarded by advertising
has given rise to "a generation of anti-advertising technologies," such as
spam filters and TiVo. This issue is worth watching, since so much entertainment
is underwritten by advertising.
Debate over fair use, said Lynch, "has largely dissipated" with the development
of sophisticated digital rights management technologies. These are being used
in ways not originally intended. DRM is "baked into the infrastructure now" and
dictates "what can be done with an object, by who, and for how long."
A lot of our data is at risk due to security concerns, said Lynch, because "no
one is really responsible for it, or responsibility is diffuse, or [it] resides
with a single individual." We need to be practicing better "data stewardship" because "amateur
curation" is no longer good enough.
Systems used for "organized data management," said Lynch, are having unexpected
consequences for "our writing and what happens to it. When we wrote things,
we mostly assumed they would be read by human beings.... Now, we are about
a decade into a period where not all readers of things are humans," which means
we need to write "in a more structured way."
"Storage is getting really cheap," Lynch pointed out. Thus, we now save everything. "People
don't have to clean up after themselves anymore.... Just get a bigger hard
disk every 2 years." An unintended consequence is that your past history follows
you around, whether you want it to or not.
Focused on Advertisers
David Seuss, CEO of Northern Light Group, LLC, gave the second day's keynote
speech, "Ten Years into the Web: The Search Problem Is Nowhere Near Solved." In
May 2003, Seuss purchased his Northern Light search engine back from the bankruptcy
proceedings of divine, Inc., which had paid upward of $16 million for it in
January 2002. Seuss paid just $81,000 at auction to get it back. He's redeploying
it both as an enterprise search engine and market research portal.
"Web search results decline in quality with the size of the database," Seuss
said. He questioned the wisdom of attempting to include everything, à la
Google, which has 6 billion pages indexed. One unintended consequence: "A multimillion
dollar industry has grown up around spamming the Google results list."
And, he pointed out, since the focus of the search engine industry is on
advertisers rather than end users, the industry cannot be relied on to organize
the Web in a way that would be more useful to searchers.
The third day's keynote was a panel discussion of technology trends featuring
Roy Tennant, user services architect for the California Digital Library; Mary
Lee Kennedy, director of Microsoft's Knowledge Network Group; and Stephen Abram,
vice president of innovation for Sirsi Corp. (and president-elect of the Canadian
"Storage has become dirt cheap," said Tennant. "Software has advanced to the
point where there is really nothing you can't do." He emphasized the need for
standards and protocols and noted that XML "is part of our infrastructure now."
Kennedy said that instant messaging will soon be widely used by corporations
because it provides "immediate access to experts when you are trying to solve
a problem." She foresees the emergence of "personal portals," which allow users "to
work in different applications in one space." And she predicted an increase
in content integration. "Wherever I do my work, information will be delivered
to me ... in a particular application or on a particular device."
Likewise, Abram predicted increased "work-flow integration" that "moves the
content out to where the people are." Also, he said, we will be confronted
with "massive archives" because everything now is being saved. The information
professional needs to step in here in order to filter information for users "so
they can drink a glass of water, not drown."
Conference sessions that addressed federated searching played to packed houses.
In his presentation "Federated Searches: A Primer and Strategies," Jeff Wisniewski,
Web services librarian at the University of Pittsburgh, offered a succinct
definition. "Federated searching provides a single search interface to heterogeneous
resources." It is not a portal, he said, though it can be a component of a
portal. It is also not an OpenURL resolver, although this is a "complementary
technology" that can be packaged together with federated searching by a vendor.
Wisniewski explained that federated searching "addresses two fundamental
roadblocks for individuals doing research": "prior knowledge" (knowing which
resources to search) and "multiplicity of effort" (needing "to search over
and over through several databases").
Although this is an emerging technology and "the marketplace is in a state
of flux," Wisniewski said it may be better to start thinking about federated
search now rather than later. The range and diversity of electronic resources "is
increasing almost every day," he said, and many institutions are dropping print
entirely. The lack of standardization among database vendors creates difficulty
for end users.
Federated searching can help us get our money's worth out of expensive electronic
resource collections. Wisniewski said, "We built it, they came, got confused,
and left." This is a tremendous waste. "They think we are hard to use and they
use, you know, Google." Instruction can only do so much, he said. "You can't
teach them all."
Frank Cervone, assistant university librarian for information technology
at Northwestern University, focused his presentation on the relationship between
federated searching and OpenURL. He explained that federated search is an intermediary.
It intercepts the search terms entered by the user and translates the query
to the various databases. OpenURL takes the user from the search results list
to the actual results.
End users do not care which results come from which databases. "They care
about the journals," said Cervone. OpenURL can locate the full text of an article
from within an institution's subscriptions, regardless of which database contains
them, and link to anything that is OpenURL-enabled.
OpenURL does this by "redirecting URLs through a resolver," which can be
located in your library or hosted by a vendor. The resolver interprets the
data and locates "the appropriate copy in your system of databases."
Federated search itself is "very complex at this point in time," said Cervone. "Not
all products are supported by all providers." And not all protocols and metadata
formats are supported by all vendors. This new technology still has problem
areas, such as coping with various search protocols among different databases
and a certain degree of inadequacy when it comes to results de-duping and relevance
Many presentations and handouts from Computers in Libraries 2004 are available
Shirl Kennedy is the reference librarian at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa,
Fla. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.