Jan Knight Access. Good? Bad? Double-edged sword?
Jinfo Blog

Friday, 22nd February 2013

By Jan Knight


The world of media and content is changing fast and Jan Knight examines FreePint's recent articles on the topic and the impact that developments such as user-generated content, crowdsourcing and open access are having on information professionals and journalists.


Typically in the information world when we talk about access, we’re referring to the ability to have access "to" information, and frequently it’s in the context of the digital divide. The question of whether people have equal access to information via the internet isn’t new, but with the advent of Web 2.0 tools, access is as much an issue on the other side of the equation. Now people have access and the ability to not only search for information, but to also create it. User-generated content, whether it be a blog, a YouTube video or a Wikipedia entry, is one of the things that is making access a two-way street. This increased access has advantages and disadvantages.

In Penny Crossland’s "Web 2.0 and its Impact on the Information Industry", she discusses how the roles of traditional gatekeepers of information - librarians and other information professionals - are changing because content is becoming easier for users, almost any of us, to create. With advances in technology almost anyone with a computer or smartphone can add to the world’s collective knowledge. This, of course, brings up the standard concerns of accuracy as well as the potential for bias. She notes that no industry has been impacted more by this digital revolution than the newspaper industry. Consumers are continuing to move from search engines to social media when searching for news and recently Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, confirmed that they are already working on creating their own search engine.

Tim Buckley Owen also discusses the threats to professional journalism from this growth of information sharing. Technology not only allows us to create or search for information but is also allowing us to “interact” with it. One form of interaction is sharing. Whether it be the fun photos of pets and children doing funny things, emotional stories to help promote philanthropy, or the news items we view and think others will enjoy, Facebook and Twitter are providing tools to allow ease of sharing. Another important issue to consider with sharing is that premium/fee-based news sources not only offer structure and credibility, but they require a licence for reuse, whereas free services do not.

For those still using search engines for accessing news, Africa Hands provides a great summary of the Big Free Three for News and compares three familiar news search tools: Bing News, Google News and Yahoo! News. Something that they appear to have in common is the ability for users to easily share news, often via social media tools and often on mobile devices.

It’s not just in a news environment where access is an issue. Tim also refers to the earlier proposed boycott by researcher/authors of Elsevier, a leading academic journal publisher. The researchers wanted their work to be made available through open access sources. This would indeed open up access to scientific research but would, at the same time, drastically affect profitability for the company. Again, depending on who you are, this is another double-edged sword.

Access to scientific and academic papers was also the topic of Penny Crossland’s article on Mendeley’s growth and success. Mendeley can be described as the “self-styled Wikipedia for academic data” and, according to its own blog, reached a milestone in the Autumn of 2012. This crowdsourced database now claims to have over 100 million queries per month emanating from 240 different apps. The 65 million scientific papers are now accessible from a variety of devices including Android smartphones and Kindles. The growth of this company and the number of people and devices that are able to access it, supports the fact that open access philosophy in academic research is definitely gaining in importance, especially with the help of social media.

So, access, often considered a good thing by many in the information profession, could, depending on what your role is, have downsides. The articles in this FreePint Report: Research - Part 2 (Information Content) provide a good summary of both sides.

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