And When There’s A 3-D Web We’ll Do What…

You may recall that at some point in the past few years this profession questioned its complacency over not taking the lead in developing a new generation of discovery tools. Put another way, we were kicking ourselves in the behind because we failed to capitalize on our search expertise to give the world a great search engine – maybe something like Google only better. Well there was that group of librarians who believed they could create official catalog records for every site on the web – all 8 billion of them and counting. That idea never went too far. Will the Internet give us another chance to show the world how we can provide a better way to find information on the Internet? It just might.

In the August 13, 2007 issue of BusinessWeek there is an article that gives a preview of a future iteration of the World Wide Web – and they don’t even give it a number. The web is predicted to, in the next five years (or fewer) become a three-dimensional web. It would be, as described in this article, a “galaxy of connected virtual worlds”. Sitting at your computer your digital replica would go from stores to events to geographic locations – all of them in 3D virtual reality.

So imagine if you will a web in which individuals could go walking through a virtual bookstore or library and possibly look into virtual books on virtual shelves. But where is the opportunity for librarians to develop the next great search engine. Well what if we could promote the idea of librarian avatars who roam the web waiting to be asked for guidance in finding information? It’s quite possible that the future virtual web will offer an information environment that is even more difficult to navigate then what we have today. Perhaps this service could have a name that would allow users to type in the name or verbalize it in order to call on a virtual librarian.

Does it seem outlandish or too outside the realm of what we do? I just noticed that Indiana University’s library has signed a deal to partner with Cha-Cha to provide human-supported web research service. That strikes me as the right type of entrepreneurial advance this profession needs. Let’s partner with the search companies to explore the possibilities of a new service. Our most likely barrier is not creativity and innovation, but finding the financial backing that propels such ideas. We need to pay attention to the development of this three-dimensional virtual web, and start early to propose a new way of connecting searchers to the information they seek. It would be a shame to find ourselves saying five or ten years from now, “If only we had…”

4 thoughts on “And When There’s A 3-D Web We’ll Do What…”

  1. Does anyone remember the Librarian in Stephenson’s Snow Crash? That was a program, but I think we should consider positioning ourselves as ‘web guides’. While we might be frostily received in Second Life right now, I think that will change.

  2. Well, just to be contrarian, and since Steven wants librarians to mix it up more, isn’t our main job to serve our users–the faculty and students of our institutions? Who cares if we aren’t coming up with the next whatever? Let someone else do it and we’ll use it later on. I’d actually be much happier if we spent the next 5-10 years working on making scholarly information more accessible to more people through open access publishing.

    The Indiana project looks interesting, but I think the user often needs help earlier in the process, such as formulating the question, which comes before evaluating the results for relevancy.

  3. Hi there!

    Yeah, the “virtual web” experience seems exactly like the things that are currently happening in Second Life. Librarians are already getting involved and making their presence known. I have yet to be “frostily received” there. Most people that I encounter on Second Life are more of the “Wow, you’re a REAL librarian!?” disposition.

    I agree that there has been a lot of buzz about the failures of Second Life specifically, but I do agree that even if that specific platform takes a nose-dive, it will have opened the way for more successful “virtual web” sites that will have a fresh complement of librarians waiting to help out. 🙂

    And yes, our main job is to serve our users, but is anyone really suggesting that we abandon our day jobs to work on outside projects? As academic librarians, I think we all work on projects, go to conferences, and do research in our field independently of helping our users.

    Although open access publishing is a very noble pursuit. I’m not saying that anyone should abandon that either. [nods] 🙂

  4. So basically they are talking about Web 3.0, eh?

    Sorry, Steven, couldn’t resist. I’ve been waiting to hear it first, so instead, you heard it first…here.

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