The Web has become the universal library that a lot of futurists have dreamed of, but one that is completely different from what they foresaw:
- Information can be added to the library without anyone’s permission.
- Its indexing system is networked, not hierarchical.
- A lot of the information is wrong, unsourced, out of date, incomplete, or misleading presented.
- The fundamental unit of organization is the page, not the book.
- The information is largely untagged for keywords, topics covered, taxonomy, bibliogrphy, ownership, or creation date.
This goes against the grain and the conventional wisdom of information theorists, librarians, academics, policy-makers, academics, futurists, censors, law enforcement officers, intellectual propery owners, technologists, anal retentives and other stake holders and authorities. It’s…anarchy.
This takes some getting used to. Efforts to create a semantic Web, sell content, impose digital rights management, control linking, limit access, and standardize markup each may be marginalized by the populism of dirt-simple HTML, crawled by spiders, and created by amateurs for their own entertainment and that of their current and future friends: A billion users, all typing (and linking) as fast as they can think.
The universal library is here today and it can answer most real questions faster than the fastest proprietary database or reference librarian or science fiction computer.
A lot of official sources obsess about the (staggering) amount of misinformation on the Web. I knew the tide was turning when the other day a journalist friend told me something he’d heard and then said to me, “I’m not sure if that’s true, I should verify it on the Internet.”
What makes this mountain of dross so astonishingly valuable is the links, the information in the spaces between the information. We all benefit from this network of links. Every site that points to you, every site that points to a site that points to you, increases the value of your information to you and to the Net as a whole. Everyone wins.
Anything that diminishes the value of these links (subscription-based sites, deep-linking policies, moving free information to paid databases after a couple of weeks, or simply allowing links to die with your old content management system) diminishes the value of the Web beyond the simple loss of the information removed from circulation.