The Big Picture

Networked Information Economy

The literature here is too vast to cite in even moderate detail. For the wider technology trends affecting the information environment Benkler’s ‘The Wealth of Networks’ remains a much cited foundation text for the new ‘networked economy’ enabled by the internet and digital technologies. Benkler’s key theme of ‘social’ mode of production, driven by non-monetary motives, and working alongside, and competing with, the conventional market economy remains influential and relevant to sectors such as higher education (HE).


One of the facets of the social mode of production is what Benkler calls ‘commons-based peer production.’ He views ‘commons’ as the opposite of ‘property’ and divides commons into various types based on two parameters: firstly whether they are open to anyone or only a defined group. The second parameter is whether the commons system is regulated or unregulated. These themes underpin much of the debate around intellectual property, copyright and various forms of openness in terms of scholarly communications including open access. These issues are developed more fully in the later section on trends in Higher Education


In 2007 David Weinberger, in ‘Everything is Miscellaneous’, captured some key issues around the changes wrought by digital technology and made significant references to libraries. He was one of the first to state that the problem is not so much information overload (more information is good) but how users can filter that information to meet their needs. He comments: “Knowledge has been shackled to the physical. Now that the digitising of information is allowing us to go beyond the physical […] the shape of our knowledge is changing.”


In his 2008 book, ‘Here Comes Everybody’, Clay Shirky, a professor at NYU, analyses the effect of technology on people’s ability to share with one another, work together or take some kind of public action. In essence, tools such as instant messaging, blogs and wikis have dramatically lowered barriers to social interaction and ‘amplified’ group effort. Shirky challenges the norm that ‘professionals’ are essential to mediate between content and consumer. Like Weinberger he also talks about ‘filtering’ and claims that, “Mass amateurization has created a filtering problem vastly larger than we had with traditional media […] the brute economic logic of allowing anyone to create anything and make it available to anyone creates such a staggering volume of new material, everyday, that no group of professionals will be adequate to filter the material’. The ‘material’ itself is shifting. Much of it is ‘conversation’ (as in blogs) rather than traditional ‘content.” Shirky issues a blunt warning: “[…] when a profession has been created as a result of some scarcity, as with librarians or television programmers, the professionals are often the last ones to see it when that scarcity goes away. It is easier to understand that you face competition than obsolescence.”

Current technology trends

In terms of an up-to-date look at overall technology trends, Forrester Research emphasises the important of ‘the cloud’ and, in particular, predicts that companies will be dealing with ‘elastic’ application platforms and wider adoption of Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS). Forrester is predicting that it will ‘cross the chasm’ to wider adoption. Elastic platforms are those that enable scaling by workload so may well be important to library system vendors for the next generation platform based systems. Finally, Forrester says that “social technology will become enterprise plumbing” and social tools will make social interaction part of normal workflows. In terms of mobile computing they note that enterprise mobile platform strategy is going to change due to personal device momentum. In short, users will increasingly be bringing their own mobile phones/devices and expecting to use them. Forrester notes that this will continue to be a problem for asset management and security. Finally, Forrester says that the ‘app’ internet will usher in the next generation of computing.

Gartner’s trends for 2013 (published in October 2012) also puts emphasis on mobile computing and the cloud.

  • Mobile Device Battles
  • Mobile Applications and HTML5
  • Personal Cloud
  • Enterprise App Stores
  • The Internet of Things
  • Hybrid IT and Cloud Computing
  • Strategic Big Data
  • Actionable Analytics
  • In Memory Computing
  • Integrated Ecosystems

Gartner talks about ‘the personal cloud’ as a place that: ‘Will gradually replace the PC as the location where individuals keep their personal content, access their services and personal preferences and center their digital lives. ….Users will see it as a portable, always-available place where they go for all their digital needs’. The ‘mobile device battles’ will to some extent be played out here. Organisation will find need to find their place in a complex ecosystem where ‘no one platform, form factor, technology or vendor will dominate and managed diversity and mobile device management will be an imperative’.  They point out to a battle going on for control of the ecosystem. ‘The market is undergoing a shift to more integrated systems and ecosystems and away from loosely coupled heterogeneous approaches. Driving this trend is the user desire for lower cost, simplicity, and more assured security. Driving the trend for vendors the ability to have more control of the solution stack and obtain greater margin in the sale as well as offer a complete solution stack in a controlled environment, but without the need to provide any actual hardware. In the mobile world vendors, including Apple, Google and Microsoft, drive varying degrees of control across and end-to-end ecosystem extending the client through the apps’. This trend can be seen, to some extent, in the new generation of library services platforms where ‘discovery services’ that were previously ‘decoupled’ are becoming integrated back into the library system platform (‘ecosystem’). For example ExLibris’s Alma resource management system will only work with its own Primo discovery service.


‘The Wealth of Networks’. By Yochai Benkler. Yale University Press. 2006. ISBN 978-0-300-11056-2 (Full text (PDF) available from

‘Everything is Miscellaneous’. By David Weinberger. Holt. 2007. ISBN 978-0-8050-8811-3

‘Here Comes Everybody. The Power of Organizing Without Organizations’. By Clay Shirky. Allen lane. 2008. See also Clay Shirky’s blog

‘Forrester’s Top 10 Tech Trends for Enterprise Architects’. By Joe Brockmeier. Readwriteweb October 13th, 2011

‘Gartner Identifies the Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2013. Analysts Examine Top Industry Trends at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo, October 21-25 in Orlando’. Press Release. 23 October 2012