Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Book Review: Information 2.0. New models of information production, distribution and consumption

Kevin Wilson reviews Information 2.0 by Martin de Saulles, a book which looks at how information is produced, distributed and consumed in our modern, Internet connected world.

The previous edition of this title was published a mere three years ago (reviewed in Ariadne here), but such are the changes in the digital information landscape since, it is entirely right that de Saulles should revise and the update the title.

De Saulles sets himself an ambitious task; to survey the entire digital information landscape and consider the implications of changes in technology for the information industry, which includes those who publish information, such as broadcasters and publishers, to those who manage information, such as information professionals. Because of the potential scope of this topic, it is to de Saulles’ credit that he is able to summarise these changes in a concise paperback. He accepts that he cherry-picks examples, using real-life case studies, but these more than adequately illustrate the changes in information and the direction in which it is heading. Information 2.0 is a linear text; that is de Saulles follows the information life-cycle in order, devoting a chapter each to information production, distribution and so on. However, he reiterates the point that these chapters and processes should not be seen in isolation, but that they are inextricably entwined.

De Saulles’ introduction defines what ‘information’, a nebulous term at the best of times, actually is. He confirms how important the rapid flow of information is through the means of an anecdote about financial markets. In 2010, Spread Networks spent $US300 million to lay fibre optic cables that would shave four-thousandths of a second from the time it takes to financial traders to send and receive data. The potential value of this is worth billions, which confirms how valuable information is to the world’s economy. At the same time, de Saulles explains how information is booming just in terms of how prolifically it is being produced; 90% of the information ever created by humans, spanning thousands of years, was created in the previous two years. These are dizzying statistics but they endorse how important it is to understand the information landscape.

Chapter Two looks at new models of information production in existing (newspapers, book publishing) and new industries (social media, wearable technologies), and de Saulles explores the key debates that emerge from these new models of information production, concentrating particularly on economic and ethical issues. Blogging and social media, for instance, have had irrevocable changes upon print and digital media, as well as being agents for social change (e.g. The Arab Spring). A significant example here is that of the Daily Mail, which sells about a million and a half copies per day in the UK, yet has 56 million unique visitors to its website each month, many from outside the UK. The revenue generated from online advertising more than negates what is lost from its declining print sales. At the same time, our use of Google isn’t benign either; our searches are financially lucrative for them and there are ethical issues about what Google knows about us.

Chapter Three is concerned with how information is stored. Whereas before, technologies would have become obsolete and discarded, and information would have been lost or destroyed, now organisations and institutions are keen to preserve the Internet, whether it’s the public-spirited Internet Archive or the likes of Google or Facebook, who see preservation as having profit-making potential (see Facebook recently opening new data storage facilities in Sweden). Many universities now have institutional repositories populated with the research undertaken by their staff, whilst the likes of Tesco and Sainsburys retain data about their customers’ buying habits with their Clubcard and Nectar schemes. Cloud services, too, allow us to outsource data storage, whether it is via Dropbox or Google Drive, but these cloud storage suppliers have experienced high-profile hackings.

Chapter 4 considers new models of information distribution. The arrival of the Internet and changes in communications globally has created a networked world. Half of the world is connected to the Internet, whilst 90% of the world has a mobile phone and this is where and how we are consuming information. De Saulles illustrates how the Internet changed distribution models by giving examples of how the various sectors were shaken out of their lethargy. Napster allowed listeners to share their music collections long before any legal means of listening to music were available. Now iTunes is where most listeners purchase music, and even those who are not interested in buying music stream through Spotify instead. Youtube has changed how video content is distributed, whilst Netflix has caused nothing short of a television revolution. Models of education are being challenged by the likes of the Khan Academy providing free, non-profit education.

Chapter 5 examines new models of information consumption. Whilst the sensory functions involved are the same, de Saulles outlines how the methods and devices for consuming information have changed dramatically. Barriers such as time and location no longer constrain us. Of particular interest to de Saulles here is the rise of the smartphone, which allows us to be constantly networked and able to consume information; even more so with the even more prolific rise of the app (by mid-2014, 75 billion apps had been downloaded from the Apple Store). De Saulles chillingly suggests there is almost no hiding place; that privacy is almost non-existent.

Information 2.0 is an informative and thorough title that makes sense of how changes in technology are impacting all aspects of society; economics, education and more. It is even-handed throughout; there are arguments made about the democratizing influence of the Internet and how barriers that might have constrained our access to information have been reduced. Yet there are still cautionary tales. The likes of Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook, which aimed to make information via the Internet accessible to us all, are the now the new monopolies and there are significant issues about how they use our information. Although we live in an era of information overload and that information seems difficult to control or keep on top of, de Saulles reiterates the need of the information professional and that its role is equally vital in the ‘Wild West’ free-for-all new information landscape. This is a title that is very readable and clear. De Saulles uses case studies to outline his points and does not veer into jargon that might leave the casual reader to engage in head-scratching. Information 2.0 is just as valuable for the casual reader as for the information professional and it clarifies what otherwise is a very confusing picture.