The Library of the Future (Part 6): The End of History?

The End of History?

An article in Wikipedia provides background information to the phrase “the end of history“:

The End of History and the Last Man is a 1992 book by Francis Fukuyama, expanding on his 1989 essay “The End of History?”, published in the international affairs journal The National Interest. In the book, Fukuyama argues that the advent of Western liberal democracy may signal the endpoint of humanity’s sociocultural evolution and the final form of human government.

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

Are we seeing the end of history for libraries? Will the ‘hyperlinked library’ mark the end of developments, with the ideology of, say, the collection-focussed library being consigned to history and the global social networks infrastructure being provided by companies such as Twitter, Facebook and Google?

This might be one interpretation of the mantra “don’t build new services” which, as described by Rebecca in her post on “Reinventing the Wheel” which summarized the key messages of Sarah Ludwig’s guest lecture:

1. Whenever possible, use tools that already exist.
Don’t reinvent the wheel!  If you can utilize a current social media platform which does everything you want, you don’t need to create something from scratch that users won’t be as familiar with.  Even something as simple as a message board will be used more often if students can log in with a Gmail or Facebook account instead of having to create an entirely new profile.

 

However it would be a mistake to take this advice too literally. I feel this advice is based, in part, on the support benefits which can be gained from standardizing on common applications but, more importantly, the benefits to be gained from use of common social web service which can improve as the numbers of users grow (e.g. there are more people with similar interests who can provide relevant advice and answers to queries).

But does this advice suggest that, although there may be changes in the tolls and services used to deliver the hyperlinked library environment, the hyperlinked library represents the pinnacle of library evolution?

The hyperlinked library has been described as “an open, participatory institution that welcomes user input and creativity” which “provides spaces and places for users to interact, to collaborate and to create content“; in brief the hyperlinked library “is simply the Read/Write library, where conversations, connections, and community are born“.

But of course we didn’t see the end of history, with Francis Fukuyama failing to foresee the implications of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the 9/11 bombings and the economic crisis. The era we are currently living in will provide interesting material for future historians! Might there also be a move away from the hyperlinked library? What could come next?

Beyond The Hyperlinked Library

Ownership of the Hyperlinked Library

The hyperlinked library based on popular global services such as Facebook and Twitter could be replaced by open source alternative which address concerns such as the ownership of content posted on such social networks, privacy concerns, etc. Although such alternatives, such as app.net, have not gained a significant user base, we could imaging a scenario in which there is a backlash against the current market leaders (perhaps a reaction against these companies providing access to personal data to the US authorities?). But, as described in Michael Stephens’ summary of the characteristics of the hyperlinked library, the vision isn’t dependent on any specific services. Such a scenario might represent a development (a welcome development for many, I suspect) of he hyperlinked library, but not the demise of the hyperlinked library.

Library 3.0

A few years ago after the ’Web 2.0′ term (and the ‘Library 2.0 ‘term) grew in popularity we saw the term ‘Web 3.0′ beginning to gain some momentum. This term was a rebranding of the vision for the Semantic Web environment. According to Sir Tim Berners-Lee “The Semantic Web provides a common framework that allows data to be shared and reused across application, enterprise, and community boundaries“. Might library services based on the Semantic Web (or Linked Data) – Library 3.0 - emerge as a replacement for the hyperlinked library?

Sig.ma provides an example of a tool which providesa demonstration of live, on the fly Web of Data mashup. Provide a query and Sig.ma will demonstrate how the Web of Data is likely to contain surprising structured information about it (pages that embed RDF, RDFa, Microdata, Microformats“.

As shown in the image a sig.ma search for “hyperlinked library provides many search results from social web tools, such as blogs, Slideshare, RSS aggregators, etc.

sig.ma search for 'hyperlinked library'

Since social web services are widely-used and centralised it should be possible for these services to provide data they host as linked data. Indeed Facebook currently make use of the Open Graph Protocol which illustrates such approaches. As described on The Open Graph protocol web site this protocol “enables any web page to become a rich object in a social graph. For instance, this is used on Facebook to allow any web page to have the same functionality as any other object on Facebook.”

This would suggest that the technologies used to provide the hyperlinked library will provide an evolutionary path to a more structured linked data environment.

People’s Interests May Change!

But if it does not appear that there are technological developments which would make the hyperlinked library obsolete, perhaps we might find that users lose interest in the highly connected environment which the hyperlinked library seeks to provide. Might the development which could make the hyperlinked library obsolete simply be a loss of interest from the user community?

But how could this happen, in light of the current worldwide obsession with social media and the success of companies such as Google and Facebook? Some thoughts on why a backlash could develop:

  • Spam: Just as the early generation Internet services such as Usenet fell into disrepute as they became channels for spammers, we could see today’s social media services become marginalised due to a takeover by spammers and marketeers.
  • Lack of trust: People may feel that social media services aren’t to be trusted, and move to more traditional information sources.
  • Information overload:Users may react against the information overload which social media services may provide be ceasing to make use of the services.
  • Reactions against government monitoring: User concerns that government is spying on their use of online services may result in a move away of use of such services.   
  • Reactions against commercialisation of social networks:  User concerns of commercial exploitation of their use  of online services may result in a move away of use of such services.
  • Moves towards hyper-local services:  Rather than ceasing to make use of social media services, user may move to ‘hyper-local’ services which are used by known friends, lading to fragmentation and the loss of the benefits of scale provided by global companies.
  • Fashions change: se of social media may turn out to have been a fad, which ceased to be fashionable.

The Need to Observe Trends

I’ve come across people who have closed down their Facebook or Twitter accounts of who have said they no longer find the services as useful as they had been in the past. However the numbers have been small, and I do not feel this indicates any significant indication of a drop in use of social media services. But we do need to continue to monitor changes, which go beyond people migrating to new services; rather changes which suggest a decline in use of social media itself. I’d be interested to hear if anyone has encountered evidence of such trend already,

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