Saturday, October 01, 2005

Centralization and collaboration

Nearly 10 years ago, in the March 1996 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, James Fallows's article The Java Theory outlined a scenario in which computing applications and even operating systems would move from personal computers to the net, ultimately displacing PCs with simple gateway devices that connect users to the internet. Several new and useful applications are nudging us in that direction, uniting the advantages of centralized processing and storage with the enormous power of thought and knowledge that a collaborative community - as opposed to a mere individual - can bring to a project. Wikipedia is the example that comes immediately to mind, but wikis are also a good tool for more local or limited collaborations (see f.ex. posting here about Peanut Butter Wiki) Writely is similar to a wiki, but provides the functionality and formatting possibilities of a word processor. It allows you to store and share your documents online, and grant editing privileges to other users. is one of several "social bookmarking" services services that allows users to store and organize their bookmarks on the web and share them with other users. Esnips is another servcie that enables centralized storage and sharing of information. Particularly convenient is the esnips toolbar (currently for IE only), which allows you to select images, documents, or segments ("snips") of text while browsing the web and store/categorize them in your esnips folder. You can read more about esnips in an a Mary Ellen Bates's "A new approach to sharing web research" The potential impact of on-site witnesses providing vital information to a virtual community was nicely demonstrated by Scipionus during the disaster in New Orleans. The empowerment of local citizens all over the world as global reporters is further exemplified by the profusion of blogs and emergence of a "blogosphere." When a news story breaks, professional journalists (and librarians) worth their salt will know the value of consulting their amateur counterparts in the blogosphere; Jonathan Dube at the Poynter Institute put together some useful tips on finding local blogs a few months ago.