A febrile vision of the future

Unfortunately I am not around for day two of intraconf10 but this is a quick (and slightly tongue in cheek!) contribution for the Forward to the Future Discussion Panel that will close the conference on Thursday afternoon.

The panel:

Ian Watson, IRISS
Lorna Campbell, JISC-CETIS
Charles Duncan, Intrallect
Neil Livesey, Learning and Teaching Scotland

The brief:

During the final discussion panel we will discuss visions of the future. Rather than consider what you think might actually occur we would prefer you to envision what you think the future of sharing digital resources should be like.

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A few over-riding issues come to mind:

• IPR/licencing – pain in the proverbial; will the law be rewritten one precedent at a time?
• Revenue streams – business models will have to change
• Metadata – will we still need formal metadata at all?
• Cultural change/zeitgeist – it’s already changing and will continue to do so as the Google generation comes of age.

And perhaps to separate out from these, there are also interesting questions of how the infrastructure and indeed the web itself will continue to develop:

• The semantic web – will it ever be fully realised?
• Google – will it actually take over the world or be sued out of existence (unlikely)?
• The Cloud – likely to have an increasing impact on (institutional) IT infrastructure

I don’t know if it’s this blasted cold but, as I steam through the Scottish countryside on a Virgin train, I’m finding it difficult to take the mental leap implied by the brief to what *should* rather than what might actually happen. Maybe thinking about the rail infrastructure as a metaphor will help…

In the future the railways will be so cheap to build and maintain that people will expect to travel for next to nothing; they will be fast and efficient (mostly using super-conductors to glide on a cushion of air) and you will be able to get anywhere in the country within half an hour. In actual fact, “railway” is a bit of an anachronism and fairly soon you will be able to take a train to the moon (run by Richard Branson and Google, obviously). This will take a bit longer and there will be a variety of “value added services” to keep the punters entertained for the 12 hour round trip (which will be an important revenue stream to supplement the nominal moon-train fare).

Okay, may be that didn’t help after all but the point, if I have one, is that Universities, if they are to compete in the future, will simply have to share their digital resources for free (whatever precedents of IPR are breached along the way); they will need to create new revenue streams and develop new business models, perhaps based on value added services because their customers (the Google generation) will be used to accessing everything for next to nothing. They will still be using Google, (who still won’t be supporting OAI-PMH) and whose kidult engineers will have cracked the semantic web thereby rendering formal metadata irrelevant. Moreover, Universities will have to get used to storing their data in the cloud and handing over control of that data to a variety of third parties.

What part will repositories play in this brave new world? Well, they won’t need to support LOM or any other metadata standard (except may be user tagging for pictures and stuff) and instead, the emphasis will be on disaggregated instances of a super-portal that uses a secret, post Pagerank algorithm to return the best possible resources from the Cloud to an information illiterate user!

The Digital Economy Bill notwithstanding.


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