Gimme! Gimme !
By Barbara QuintMarch/April 2013 Issue
Times are tough. Phooey!! In this world, there's always a profit to be made, an advantage to be taken, even from someone else's sad face. In fact, when you think of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations wisdoms-ironically, published the same year as the Declaration of Independence, i.e., 1776-making sad faces into happy faces or tough times into good times is how society's inhabitants usually pursue happiness. Tough times often serve as the sticks that goad people to look for the carrots that will appeal to customers.
But enough of the mixed analogies. What would appeal to us today and tomorrow? And I don't want to hear any dismal talk about how poor we all are. That's one of the advantages of tough times. When everyone is poor, vendors know from the git-go that they will need to be inventive in planning for funding. On the other hand, these days most technological advances reaching the consumer market focus more and more on customization to the individual consumer's needs and tastes. And that kind of focusing opens up opportunities for tapping the one source of funding consumers like second-best, i.e., OPM (Other People's Money), such as advertisers. Of course, the champion-free-is the eternal first-place winner. Even on the cost side of the pricing picture, tough times can offer initiative and innovation a break. A vendor with a talented staff will want to keep those assets. Working on new and interesting projects holds good teams together and fuels the hunger to perform well.
So, step up to the bar! What's your pleasure? What new services, new products would you like to see developed? In some cases, you might just want something that's already out there for one market to come over to you and yours. Or maybe it's something almost magical, a dream of ease to fix a world filled with too many obstacles. Let's think. What would make our lives-and maybe those of the world's or at least a large chunk of it-better and happier?
More scholars and easier scholarship. Open access has made scholarly content much more available, with improvements in accessibility that have reached the point of broadening the number of scholars in a field. But the voluminous content needs organization and structure, all the way from individual writings to groupings by field and types of users and usage. Open access needs editing, stratification, categorization, ranking, and anything else that can enable users to use it in a curriculum of learning. The structuring should involve standards independent of specific disciplines. A "Renaissance human" should be able to use the same knowledge of the structure of scholarly information no matter what the human wants to study today.
Look at any Amazon entry. You'll see all sorts of categorizations on the side that help you target different decision factors-price ranges, specific suppliers, product categories, etc. A supermarket's online delivery service will let you browse by aisle with sublevels (shelves??). What about identifying articles and other scholarly content by its utility in serving the learning needs of different levels of learners? Is this content that could serve as a text for a basic introductory training? Would it fit in a package of material for advanced studies? How about linking to general learning by analyzing the sources cited or the online forums mentioned? How about providing contact information for the authors or institutions involved in creating the content? We need an online edifice of learning with blueprints that would work across disciplines. It would probably be best to have the work led by librarians as the information professionals with the broadest scope of interests, but supported, of course, by experts in each discipline getting the curricular treatment.
Isn't your mind just humming with ideas as to what needs doing and how to do it? Once this kind of thing gets off the ground, it should have a lot of positive aftereffects. Awarding an "Open Access Certified Scholarship" seal could become a prestigious factor useful not only for promoting support and usage of open access content, but also in the careers of scholars looking for enriching a resume for hiring and tenure decisions. It might even grow into a secondary level beyond the curricular but still imposing on open access certain quality standards, such as editing and reference linking, and access standards that include assured archiving and our old friend, free. Wow! Could we make a wiser world with this or what?!
Here's another. Why don't we try to rebuild the Tower of Babel? Remember the old legend in Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, about the good old days after Noah's Ark rescued humanity from the Great Flood? Humanity may have been small, but at least it all spoke the same language, that is, until it came to Shinar and started building a Tower in Babel to reach the sky. Apparently God didn't like people getting too high on themselves, so he had the builders start speaking different languages and that was the end of that. Well, after all the things humanity has done since, maybe God will let us off the hook. I doubt we could ever convince ourselves we were such a much as Noah's kids.
So I have a dream that language differences are erased. Not just Google Translate for text, but all differences. Hmm. We'd need a microphone to process our speech and a listening device to hear/record/translate anyone speaking to us. My, my, where could we get all that equipment and the cloud devices to do the speech recognition and recording and translating and translation-to-speech? Talk about "No Problem"! Your smartphone has it all right now, all but the cloud service. Hey! Has anyone seen IBM's Watson perform its magic? Match that with Nuance's Dragon services and voilà-the Tower of Babel babbles no more. There's a dream of ease come true!
This is only the beginning!! If you have an idea to add to the pile, just send it my way (firstname.lastname@example.org). I'll find some way to get it out to the world. Maybe through the NewsBreak service on infotoday.com. We know Google News picks that up, as does the Newslink service.
Look out world! Here we come! Tough times be damned! These are Opportunity Times!
Barbara Quint is senior editor of Online Searcher, contributing editor for ITI's NewsBreaks, and a columnist for Information Today.