How do we negotiate the online sea of information?
The internet has increased our freedom to publish, but the sheer volume of information can quickly become overwhelming
Posted on: 26th October 2012
Ever since it emerged, I have always seen the internet as a hugely liberating force. It allows people to share information with each other, directly, and without political interference. That is a hugely valuable thing to be able to do, and it is transforming the way we communicate with each other.
Within the world of publishing, the advantage of the internet is that it abolishes gatekeepers – the publishing houses and the mainstream media editors who decide what will and will not be seen by the public, or will receive coverage. Last week I blogged, in relation to the Man Booker shortlist, on how the internet is allowing a much wider diversity of voices to be heard. One indication of this is the growing number of small independent publishers.
But there is a flipside, nonetheless, to this very welcome coin. With the growing number of books and information online, how do we find out about what is worth reading – and what we want to read – without becoming swamped? Small publishers don’t have the marketing clout of bigger companies, and need to compete with thousands of others on Amazon, or in Apple’s app store.
How do we find the good books and apps? We need online guides and curators who we can trust to judge what is best and bring it to our attention – and this is what a growing number of blogs and websites are doing. If you are interested in fairy tales, in illustrated books or in adventure stories, for example, you can visit a blog that specialises in those genres. While we still rely on the judgement of traditional reviewers to perform this role, increasingly we are seeing more specialist blogs and websites starting up as well.
This is why I think Sir Peter Stothard, the chairman of the Booker Prize judges, was wrong to dismiss book bloggers recently. There are good and bad bloggers, just as there are good and bad reviewers in the ‘mainstream’ media. And as more and more publications – such as, recently, Newsweek – move to a ‘digital only’ format, or focus more on their online output, it will be increasingly hard to distinguish between them.
As the sheer volume of online information available grows, we will increasingly need trustworthy curators in order to help us make decisions.
In coming years, we will – I hope – see the development of new systems and methods to help us negotiate the sea of information with which digital publishing provides us. As for what form exactly they will take, I don’t think that anyone knows yet.