January 2, 2006 — 2005 was quite a momentous year, by almost any measure—devastating hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, the ongoing war in Iraq, worldwide terrorist attacks, a new pope, changes in the Supreme Court, political wrangling, data thefts, scandals, and more. Possibly the biggest headlines for the year in our world—the library community and the information industry—centered on the various content digitization efforts, particularly Google's book scanning project, and the reactions of publishers and libraries. The biggest drivers of the news were not traditional information industry companies but "GYM"—Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft. Of the 88 NewsBreaks posted this year on the http://www.infotoday.com site, 24 (or 27 percent) covered news from these three or another Internet search company, such as Ask Jeeves, AOL, blinkx, or Amazon. Another 12 articles covered content/service offerings from startups or other companies not considered to be "traditional" content providers, including companies like Newstex, Healthline, Inform.com, Answers.com, and PubSub. (You can review the full list of NewsBreaks at http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com.)
I went back and reread my NewsBreak, posted 1 year ago, that looked back at developments that we had covered in NewsBreaks and in ITI publications (Information Today, Searcher, and ONLINE) during 2004 and glanced ahead to 2005 (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=16296). I hadn't looked at it in some time and was surprised to see so many of the same trends continuing this year. Ongoing themes include open access initiatives, the growth of blogs and RSS, Google's dominance and influence, traditional information companies partnering with Internet search engines, geographic search, desktop search tools, and more.
Community Networks and User-Generated Content
This was the year that user-generated content had a huge impact in the online world. Besides blogs and podcasts, some examples of user-generated content include feedback mechanisms, reviews, ratings, tagging, social networking, and wikis.
Social networks with user input are clearly a key focus for Yahoo!. The company first bought the social photo sharing site Flickr and recently acquired the social networking service del.icio.us, Inc. The increasingly popular del.icio.us site offers social bookmarking—it lets users save, annotate, and tag links to favorite sites and share their lists of links with others. Yahoo! recently launched Yahoo! Answers, which lets people ask and answer each other's questions. Yahoo!'s My Web 2.0 beta (http://myweb2.search.yahoo.com) is a "social search engine." Analyst John Blossom of Shore Communications observed: "Yahoo is shoving a big stake in the ground to become a leading destination site for user-generated media." James Fallows of The New York Times said this is "Yahoo's systematic plan to build ‘community intelligence' into nearly all aspects of its operation—and in turn, to entice users to spend more and more of their time on Yahoo sites, where they can see Yahoo ads."
Gather.com launched its "next generation blogging platform"—said to be the place to share and find user-generated content online. "Gather.com brings bloggers, writers, individual contributors, and readers together under a single, organized platform that prioritizes the best of what has been written on topics from politics and poetry to Tuscany and tiramisu." (Whether Gather.com will gather any momentum is the question.)
Eurekster introduced the swicki, a free search engine designed for personal Web publishers (including bloggers) and small-business Web sites to put on their sites (http://swicki.eurekster.com). It's a blend between a search engine and a wiki in that it learns from the behavior of a site's users to deliver tailored search results. There's also a link on every search results page for swickis that allows you to compare the results side by side with any of the main search engines. It's designed to show that the swicki results are more targeted.
Topix.net now lets users contribute original news articles to the site. New participation functionality also makes it possible for users to join discussion forums for all 360,000 news channels on the site, including local forums for every city and town in the U.S. and Canada. Topix.net recently added 15,000 top Weblogs to its crawling/tagging engine.
digg is a new technology news site that uses social bookmarking, blogging, RSS, and "non-hierarchical editorial control." U sers submit stories for review by other users, who then decide what gets on the home page. If you wonder about the potential impact of such a site, a recent report indicated that digg already has 80,000 registered members and 500,000 daily visitors. Those are fairly impressive numbers.
And, if you doubt the impact that the Internet and user-generated content is having, just consider the assessment of the situation by Editor & Publisher. It recently reported that more than 1,900 jobs have been cut from major and mid-sized newspapers over the past year, and this doesn't include the cuts at many of the smaller papers.
Concerned about this development, analysts from Outsell wrote: "It's ironic that as more and more opportunities arise for using news—think news readers, cell phone delivery, cable Media Center enablement, podcast/blog alternatives—the greatest engines of news content are slowing down rather than picking up speed. As they slow down, look for new funders of content creation—remember the string of Yahoo! content-creating announcements at midyear—to make more noise and change the rules of the game in 2006."