Editorial Introduction to Ariadne Issue 39: Humanity V Technology, Which Is in the Driving Seat?
Why it is in this particular issue that I should perceive two forces in ceaseless conflict, I do not know. Nonetheless my very imprecise recollection of Newton's Third Law speaks of every action having an equal and opposite reaction which puts me in mind of something Paul Browning wrote about the timeliness of Through the Web Authoring Tools . As institutions, rightly concerned by hostile attacks over networks, opt to remove telnet and ftp access, either permanently or to behind a firewall, so TTW authoring tools would be able to sidestep these issues in time. It would be fanciful to imagine them having been devised as a solution - but institutional authors denied ftp access may very naturally turn toward the newcomer. Paul, heading up our Get Tooled Up section gives an analysis of trends in writing for and through the Web and considers the options now emerging for institutions considering new content production and management models.
Not for the first time Ariadne has carried articles on the issues of institutional repositories and associated matters and if ever there was an area subject to the pressures of action and reaction, this is surely it. Morag Mackie's thoughts on Filling Institutional Repositories provide us with some of the strategies devised by her project and also some of the difficulties encountered in gathering content. Being involved in gathering content myself I have considerable sympathy - and it is true that those who promise content have sympathy - but not always much content. Machines of course have no sympathy, which is why it should be simpler to order them about. But as Penny Garrod demonstrates in The changing face of the public library they still cannot get it right for some; if, that is, the machines proceed to supplant resources to which people have become accustomed. Penny's column highlights the competing pressures on resources in public libraries - she even sympathises with the local authority chief executives who must decide who wins the tussle.
However, it would be ridiculously simplistic to characterise these pressures as the sort of conflict that made the Governor of California his second or third million. In truth the divide lies not between humans and machines but between those who can influence the development of machines in their interest - and those who, currently, cannot. No clearer illustration is necessary that that supplied in our At the Event section by John Paschoud in his report on The Biggest Digital Library Conference in the World. Here the divide between those with the 4 x 4 as opposed to those unable to place even a foot on the hard shoulder of the information highway could not be starker. Yet India is trying to broaden access and as John suggests, we would be unwise to underestimate her potential to expand. The sheer dimensions of ICDL2004 bear adequate witness to that, as does the massive undertaking to bring electronic voting to the largest democracy in the world .
Back in the UK, while the percentage of network connections is naturally higher, the degree of exclusion for those unconnected is no less. Liz Pearce and Neil Smith however demonstrate in IT for Me that the EU-funded project is tackling social exclusion of a more complex nature than just whether the wire reaches the socket: developments in personalisation are set to make a difference in currently low levels of user engagement. At a more strategic level Paul Miller considers how best the Digital Aquifer will meet the diverse needs of current and future users. Moreover the National Archives are building a National Archive of Datasets from government agencies that date back as far as 1963 and are working towards making them more accessible to the public online. Jeffrey Darlington gives a good description of TNA's strategies, solutions and plans for the future.
Meanwhile back at the coalface, Andy Powell and Phil Barker look at how a particular partnership is progressing with a LOM Application Profile and how it is being used to support resource discovery while Chris Awre reckons Seeing is Believing and explains how the JISC IE Presentation Programme is investigating in a variety of ways how to make the interface between users and the functionality of a Web site more intuitive and so attract more users and traffic.
And with a quick sortie on my hobbyhorse I must mention Michael Day's report on the recent Erpanet conference and Daniel Teruggi's burning question Can We Save our Audio-visual Heritage?. Daniel places the development of our audio-visual content in the context of our general cultural development and makes a compelling case not only for its high ranking - but also its preservation. It has already been established that a truly staggering amount of audio-visual running time is in need of preservation. Now PrestoSpace is tasked with the rescue of yet another endangered species, victim of our collective insouciance.
Once again this issue comes to you thanks to the commitment of its authors together with support from colleagues at UKOLN, in particular Shirley Keane for her work on Ariadne. I hope you will enjoy it.
- 'Indians vote in hi-tech election', BBCi News, 20 April, 2004,