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1997-2007: A Decade of Find, Use, Manage, Share
Saturday, 1st December 2007
On the evolutionary scale, 10 years isn't even a blip, not a blink,
not a breath in. It's hardly anything at all. But on the information
scale, especially in the years from 1997 to 2007, a decade is a new
mountain range, a new species, a new world.
FreePint has been covering this evolution revolution from tip to tail,
keeping up with changes in the business information industry as
they've happened. Now, as we celebrate our 10th birthday, we've
invited four top experts in their fields of finding, using, managing
and sharing information to explain what these changes mean from a
By the time you read this, the landscape is likely to have evolved
again - who knows what earthshaking ideas are rippling forth? Until
then, here are the hottest trends in the last 10 years. We'll keep an
eye on the seismograph while you read.
Use By Tim Houghton
The blindingly obvious information trend of the last decade has been
the development of the Internet and the continued growth of computing
and digitization, which has led to a vast increase in the volume of
information. A study by researchers at Berkeley University back in
2003 reckoned the global stock of information was increasing by 5
Exabytes per annum (that's 5,000 million Gigabytes).
But whilst the sheer volume of information has increased, many of the
techniques employed to solve business problems - in other words, 'use'
information - haven't changed. Spreadsheets are still a basic tool of
analysis. Graphs are still a standard of visualisation. More complex
techniques like regression analysis and scenario planning were around
well before 1997.
Nevertheless, there are a few significant trends that emerge from the
last 10 years in the field of using information. Here they are:
Business Planning Software
Large firms have been able to run sophisticated analyses of sales,
cashflow and inventory since the adoption of the mainframe. But
increasingly such systems can be used by any size firm, thanks to the
growth and democratisation of enterprise analysis software. Think SAP
for small businesses and Web-delivered systems like Salesforce.com.
Social Information Usage
Web 2.0 and social media are obviously all the rage right now, but
actually using information collaboratively in a professional context
has moved through two distinct phases. In simple terms, the period
1997-2002 saw increased collaboration within the enterprise via
intranets. And post 2002, we have seen increased collaboration outside
of the enterprise via blogging and extranets.
In 1998 Tim Berners-Lee, one of the founders of the Web, wrote about
his hopes for 'a logical web of data' or a Semantic Web. Nearly 10
years on, his vision has been partly achieved. Think how XML helps
firms share data or RSS helps researchers track news. Or how open
API's enable mash-ups of related data. This is leading to very great
changes in the use of information whereby machines can read and
analyse information from multiple sources in real time.
This is, in a way, the next step on from the Semantic Web. It involves
computers actually extracting meaning from text in order to suggest
relevant articles, conduct automated summarisation of articles and so
on. In other words, it is computers 'using' information in ways humans
used to. Important companies in the field include Corpora and
Computing-Based Decision Making
The logical conclusion of the ever-greater usage and digitisation of
information is that computers can use information to make their own
decisions. This for me is the most exciting and controversial
development of the last 10 years. In many fields from medical
diagnosis to bond trading computer systems have started to outperform
their human peers. It was 1997 when IBM's Deep Blue computer beat the
greatest chess player of modern times Gary Kasparov. Read Ian Ayre's
fascinating new book 'Super Crunchers' to see why computers may soon
be writing film scripts.
Looking forward to the next 10 years is always hard but the rise of
computerised analysis and decision making seems set to continue. Does
this leave no room for the talented human being to use data? Certainly
not, for it is people that write the algorithms that data-processing
machines use. And there is still a place for intuition and creativity.
Fortunately, humans aren't obsolete just yet.
By Tim Houghton
More articles by Tim Houghton »