The World’s Information Desk (part two)

Posted by jlubans on July 21, 2015

Caption: Go, Duck, Go! (Competitor to Google, DuckDuckGo.)

After a week of cogitation, since the publication of part one
I am ready to do some futuring. Like the Oracle at Delphi, a bit groggy from the noxious effluvium (see this article about the Oracle’s cave), but with more than a little temerity (no one’s surprised, right?), I am primed to offer up two forecasts about information and the Internet. And, I will conclude with some thoughts on the importance of leading from the middle during times of urgent change.
Now, most prognosticators play it safe and time their predictions to occur after their death date. You can imagine them all circled up as a futurist choir, grinning and plucking harps in the “singularity” or “Cloud”, thinking naught but of lofty matters, predictions long forgotten.
Mine is a much shorter view, one that may come back and bite me. These two trends, I predict, will grow and strengthen in the next two to three years, maybe less.
Search Engine Darwinism. Google is the Tyrannosaurus Rex of search. It has held first place in search since the late 90s and enjoys most recently a 45% separation from #2, Yahoo powered by Bing. Competition has been weak, but a sleeker and leaner model is on the horizon: DuckDuckGo. Plus it offers no tracking of individual searches, something which Google does with a vengeance and by which it generates beaucoup bucks.
Almost as good as “being banned in Boston,” DuckDuckGo is off limits in China, because it refuses to track users. That “bad boy” badge should give it an extra boost in its battle for search market share in the free world.
I hope this little start up can give Google a run for its money and a serious kick in the pants. Regardless, I think search engines will experience marginal growth and there will be more links to commercial sites. In other words more ads and more tracking, more targeted ads and more annoyance. It is not healthy for Google or for us for them to enjoy what is nearly a monopoly on search. Anyone with a single provider cable service knows well how a monopoly can behave toward the customer when it puts profit above all. However, monopolistic behavior is not limited to the corporate world; a not-for-profit agency can go off the rails just as easily once it knows and accepts that there are no consequences for anti-consumer behavior.
The antidote to this kind of behavior is competition or a leader who will not tolerate arrogance, bad behavior or poor service. Capitalism was never meant to be free of competition; it thrives on it, it dies without out, making socialism’s “inefficiencies” all that more tolerable.

The End of “Free”. Much of what the Internet runs on is free. One of the most frequent go to sites is the Wikipedia. Its business model is based on volunteers donating time and expertise. That’s fine if one has a day job, much less so than when unemployed. How long can this type of business model continue?
Of course, there is no such thing as a free web site or blog. Someone is paying for it.
“No one,” according to Dr. Samuel Johnson, “but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” Well, in that case “never have so many (blockheads) written so much (for free) to be read by so few (for free).”
Then again, my blog while "free" is not written for “free”; it is linked to my teaching and selling my current book and a future book or two and my keeping current with trends in my area of expertise.
I am not alone in this. There are better examples than mine, ones of high quality and excellent scholarship; for example, the ones edited by Laura Gibbs, a professor at the University of Oklahoma.
When revenue is required to keep a site going, one option is to put up a pay wall. Doing so may drive away the most loyal readers, but I do believe the pay wall is already a trend and will increasingly reduce access to relevant information, ideas and opinion. Unless you are willing to register and pay, we will see reduction in free access beyond a few “free” items each month.
These restrictions will limit search effectiveness (unless you have a pass through the pay wall.) So, the World’s Information Desk (the Internet as facilitated by Google) will produce fewer relevant results and other venues may become more attractive, including library help desks.

Finally a brief word on the importance of leading from the middle. I cannot remember a time (from 1995 to today) when there has been a more urgent need for staff, especially star followers, to take part in an organization’s decision-making and innovation. Those libraries (and other organizations) that have made gains during these tumultuous time have only done so because of effective followers thinking independently and taking action. Staff generated ideas have been far superior to those ideas coming down from on high with minimal discussion among the people doing the work. A certain kind of follower has been most effective during this time: those with personality, curiosity, heightened adaptiveness, and an unsurpassed technical expertise, all of which has led to excellent collaboration with users/customers.
The leader with the ability to “let go” and to work with staff ideas creates a leadership that gets things done and improves services and productivity. In some ways, that is a third trend. Perhaps it is not as visible, but at some point some will stop and reflect and draw conclusions about why some organizations did well and others only so-so.

© John Lubans 2015

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