Knowledge sharing of the futureAugust 2010
Trying to find a needle in the proverbial haystack? Clare Sinclair visualises how knowledge sharing of the future might evolve into better needle-locators.
Internet search engines like Google or Yahoo! are windows onto a vast (and mostly hidden) landscape of information. With information overload being a day-to-day challenge, it's likely that search engines will develop to help us more easily find the specific information we need, at the time we most need it.
The future of web-based search has been enthusiastically described as semantic'. Essentially, this means that search engines won't just deliver hit-and-miss lists of web pages in response to a search query, ranked in order of relevance to a search term. Instead, the search engines of the future will try to understand the meaning of the search. In other words, the software will start to understand words conceptually, not just as a cluster of letters and symbols.
This sounds pretty futuristic, but a search engine that can discriminate between techniques and products or jobs, when asked to search for energy efficiency' for example, should deliver more accurate and personalised results.
This is a promising future for intelligent information retrieval; but as a library and information professional, to me it also sounds a little familiar. Libraries have been doing information retrieval for centuries - although people tend to imagine libraries and their staff as being rather bookish, the wider scope has always been about finding and preserving information to enhance the sum of human knowledge. So, format is not everything - we started with clay tablets and are now collecting e-books. The Library of Congress is archiving all Twitter posts for posterity.
Real-time search is another priority for search engine companies who want to instantly present informal comments, blogs and tweets into search results to provide more immediate views on topics.
While this development presents many challenges relating to the reliability of content, intellectual property and so forth, there's a question of how we get that information out there in the first place. This is because much knowledge can be described as tacit' - experiences and thoughts that are not necessarily written down or published, and therefore not easily accessible by others.
In my previous role at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), I specialised in how architects could contribute to - and benefit from - this information landscape through peer-to-peer networking and collaboration. Online social and professional networking technologies are ubiquitous (such as Linked In, Twitter, and Facebook), so I was interested in how the profession was adopting these tools.
For example, the architects in Second Life (an online 3D environment) have fostered virtual open communities to share ideas and designs. I believe these complement, rather than replace, face-to-face interaction and communication. Also, regardless of the hype, online networks should be viewed as tools to support professional activities rather than something one should feel guilty about not using if they are not useful or relevant to one's professional or personal life.
So, are building services professionals also adapting online networking and information technologies and integrating them into their working day? I'd be interested to see examples.
If you are a BSRIA Member and you're not already asking us questions, you're missing out on a key Member benefit. We offer a free enquiry service by phone, email or online. So I challenge you as follows - the next time you start scratching your head at your web search results, give us a call and see if we can find the answer for you. If we've got it (we do have over 70,000 items), you can borrow the source material the same day.
Clare Sinclair is BSRIA's information and knowledge manager. email@example.com
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