Milena Dobreva reviews the newly published book of Martin de Saulles which looks at the new models of information production, distribution and consumption.
Writing about information and the changes in the models of its production, distribution and consumption is no simple task. Besides the long-standing debate on what information and knowledge really mean, the world of current technologies is changing at a pace which inevitably influences all spheres of human activity. But the first of those spheres to tackle is perhaps that of information – how we create, disseminate, and use it. This book looks into the core of the changes in the last years, and is very much about the interplay of new technologies and how we humans deal with information in this changing technological world.
A book on this topic could be expected to concentrate on the manifestations of change: what is special about Martin de Saulles’ offering is that it convincingly draws a picture of the changes, but also manages to go deeper in clarifying how the changing environment actually influences the very nature of the spectrum of our relationships with information. It looks at changes which are evolutionary, for example, moving to a new environment something which already existed in the analogue world, such as podcasting as a digital analogue of radio production, or blogging as an alternative to writing in a print newspaper. But de Saulles also looks at revolutionary changes where the digital world comes at us with a new form without any form of predecessor in the analogue world, for example the Google search engine. This definitely helps the reader not only to see what are the new information vehicles and tools, but also to ‘place’ them in the more general picture of working with information.
The book is surprisingly compact for the broad topic it addresses, and this reflects the succinct and clear style of the author. It has a very clear structure starting with an introductory chapter which sets the major themes developed in more detail further in the book. The introduction contextualises topics such as what is information: what are the foundations of the information society? What makes the Internet such a driver of change? What new challenges are generated by big data? How do all these changes influence information providers? What new ways of creating information are emerging, and where are we going to put all this information? This neatly introduces the following four chapters, which look in depth into new models in four domains: information production (chapter 2), information storage (chapter 3), information distribution (chapter 4) and information consumption (chapter 5).
Chapter 2, ‘New Models of Information Production’, looks in further detail into blogs as a modern phenomenon – and at the ways publishers have to adjust to this challenge. Starting with a negative perception of blogs, the chapter shows how current publishers use blogs to engage closer with their readers. The chapter goes on to explore wikis and collaborative publishing, search engines and podcasting as well as the democratisation of the media. The informative case studies in this chapter feature The Huffington Post (p. 19) and GigaOm (p. 22) as examples of a very successful blogs (in the latter case also an example of a blog which implemented a revenue generation model offering in addition to the freely accessible blog a specialised premium service on a subscription basis). A case study on podcasting features The TWiT Network of audio and video programmes. A particular strength of this chapter is that it looks at the challenges a new medium presents to traditional industries and related potential commercial conflicts. The examples of integrating the new media in traditional information production are actually quite inspirational since they demonstrate how the strengths of old and new models can be combined, quite at variance with the stereotypical perception that new models must automatically be rivals. One conclusion the reader is entitled to draw is that modern times require the flexibility of being able to see how traditional and supposedly disruptive approaches can be combined to produce a better service to users – and to the benefit of those in the information production sector.
Chapter 3, ‘New Models of Information Storage’, covers issues such as preserving the digital content on the Internet; challenges to storage of information in an organisational context; legal requirements; data mining; collection digitisation; personal information storage; digital footprints, and the future of storage (including a brief section on cloud storage). Again a highly informative set of topics around the changing landscape of storage, and the legal implications on both the personal and organisational level. Case studies in this chapter include analyses of the University of Southhampton e-Prints institutional repository and the sales in the giant American retailer Walmart.
Chapter 4, ‘New models of Information Distribution’, delves into the architecture of the Internet, the appearance of new intermediaries, online video, open government, and threats to the open Web. Case studies presenting StockTwits and The Khan Academy illustrate new distribution channels used respectively in financial services and education.
Chapter 5, ‘New models of Information Consumption’, presents the issues surrounding information consumption devices, information ecosystems, renting and buying models, and implications for information professionals. The case study selected for this chapter is addresses the new model of information consumption established by Amazon.
Who therefore might have to reconsider their current role in the light of all these changes? de Saulles contends that the publishing and broadcasting industries are going to need to accommodate the new models of information production. He also thinks that information intermediaries will need to adapt to a new environment just as information professionals will also have to adjust to the changing environment.
In his concluding chapter, de Saulles summarises the implications for information professionals, publishers and society as a whole. The tone of this chapter is very reassuring: with information professionals currently confronted by so many changes, one might anticipate some light lamenting of the ‘good old days’; but this work most definitely concentrates on all the new opportunities emerging across the entire spectrum of information.
What Makes This Book Different?
What I found particularly helpful were the ‘Questions to think about’ listed at the end of each chapter. These questions help the reader to go beyond the understanding of the facts presented in the book and to ponder more deeply on the essence of the information lifecycle, and the technological environment which helps to organise and use it. Indeed some of these questions could be developed into further books. Just to take one example, ‘How real is the threat of disintermediation of library and information professionals by the Internet?’ (p. 83).
Another special feature of this book is that it provides numerous real-life examples and case studies without making for too laborious reading. It is pleasing to be allowed to follow the logic without being diverted by verbose descriptions of examples. It requires a certain mastery to write clearly and coherently and yet provide concise evidence of what happens in a domain diverse as this.
Yet another helpful feature to mention is the clear presentation of value chains of historical and new models of production, distribution and consumption of information. The diagrams of value chains capture the activities, actors, costs and revenue sources and help the reader to analyse similarities and differences across models, old and new.
The book also benefits from a well prepared index.
Whom Would This Book Benefit?
As a lecturer in Library, Information and Archive Sciences, I will definitely put this book on the reading list of my students. The new generation of information professionals will have to develop the ability to look out for the cross-fertilisation of old and new models, and we badly need texts which identify how this is likely to happen in the context of information production, storage, distribution and consumption.
The book will also be very informative for managers across the information sector with the clear presentation of value chains and how old and new models are orchestrated to work for specific organisational goals.
Last, but not least, de Saulles’ book will be a very informative read for anyone who is just curious about information, technology, or both.
Martin de Saulles, a Principal Lecturer at the University of Brighton, has extensive experience of working on the interface of information and technology sectors. His most recent work includes topics such as mobile technologies and the information sector and the related implications of social media, as well as the generational changes in how users create and search for information.
Martin de Saulles
This work by de Saulles is informative, thought-provoking and well-written. Of course one could always add more examples and phenomena to such a vast topic as the change in the models of dealing with information – for example digital preservation could have been addressed in more depth – but the idea behind such a book is not to document all instances on the border of old and new models, but to capture the spirit of the general process of change in the information sector. de Saulles achieves this in a very elegant and coherent manner.
Web site: http://www.um.edu.mt/maks/las/staff/dr_milena_dobreva
Dr. Milena Dobreva is a Senior Lecturer in the Library, Information and Archive Sciences Department of the Media and Knowledge Sciences Faculty at the University of Malta. She was the Principal Investigator of EC-, JISC- and UNESCO-funded projects in the areas of user experience, digitisation and digital preservation and is a regular project evaluator for the EC. In 2013, she will be co-chairing with Giannis Tsakonas the biggest European research event in Digital Libraries, the 17th International Conference on Theory and Practice of Digital Libraries (TPDL 2013).