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Technology: The Year in Review

Submitted by Jason Griffey on December 22, 2008 - 10:03am

In the spirit of the bazillion other  year-end lists you will see over the coming weeks, I decided to list my Top 5 Most Influential Technologies of the year. These are the technologies that I think librarians need to be aware of, examine, and find uses for in their library. Not all of these started this year, but 2008 was  the year they broke out and became necessities in many people's lives.

#5 - Ebook readers

While there's been a lot of criticism heaped upon the Amazon Kindle this year (it's ugly, it's too expensive, it's a DRM nightmare ), it remains the E-reader that garnered the most publicity. It's not the only game in town for E-readers, with the Sony Reader and the iRex Iliad on the market as well.  These have roughly the same feature set as the Kindle, with one glaring exception: they do not have constantly available wireless integration with the Amazon Kindle Store, the largest selection of ebooks in the world. In my mind, this sets the Kindle apart and makes it the one to beat. Full disclosure: I own a Kindle, and nothing has disrupted my media consumption habits so fully since I received my first iPod. It really is a revolutionary device.

#4 - Clouds, clouds, everywhere

Cloud computing became a buzzword, but the worlds of business and academia started to take a hard look at how these tools really could help customers. Google Docs, file sync services like Dropbox, backup services like Mozy and Carbonite, and's variety of services like their S3 storage or SimpleDB database service are all examples of the cloud services that people are beginning to rely on for their everyday computing. For the record, I do all of my writing on Google Docs, because it does a better job of letting me pour text out and gives me the same text everywhere I might happen to be. The power inherent in the lack of geographic necessity is hard to overstate.

#3 - Microblogging

Twitter set the bar for microblogging services, all of which allow you to pour out your thoughts in 140 characters or less. Like this.

#2 - The Rise of the Netbook

The largest growth segment in personal computers this year was a segment that didn't even exist seriously a year ago...the netbook. The name is given to what might have previously been called a subnotebook--these devices aim to be just good enough for the common set of uses for the mobile worker. The machine that created this new class of laptop was the eeePC, from Asus, with a 7 inch screen and a price of just $249. Just about the size of a hardback book, it was perfect for the on-the-go techie. After the success of the Asus, nearly every other computer manufacturer quickly hit the market with their version of the netbook, all priced below $500 and of varying sizes, specifications, and operating systems. 

#1 - iPhone 3G

The iPhone has driven the mobile space into a completely new realm. With the release this year of the App Store, Apple has created an entirely new way of delivering content that may end up being even more important than the iTunes Store. The iPhone 3G changed all the rules about what a cell phone could be, and the repercussions from the iPhone are going to haunt not just the cell phone market, but every part of the technology realm. While its dominance won't last forever, for the time being, there is no better or more important mobile device than Apple's glossy wonderphone.

Disagree with one of my choices? Did I miss something that should definitely be on the list? Let me know in the comments!


Comments (4)

Not disagreement, but it

Not disagreement, but it interests me that three of your choices are devices. I've been seeing two contrasting trends in that arena--the move toward a single unified device that can do lots of things (the iPhone, for example), and the diversification into specialized devices for particular settings or applications. For instance, I'm migrating most of my job work and not-job work onto a single laptop (which cannot access the shared network drives at my workplace for security reasons, which is why I too am moving to doing a lot of work on Google Docs), but the laptop is big enough that I might still get a netbook for travel.

Except, as StevenB implies, I think the netbook and the cellphone might well collapse into a single device. I've seen attempts to make phones that can be used for things like word processing (my husband is an IT manager for a cellphone company and occasionally gets to try out new products) and haven't seen anything in this department that really kills, but that doesn't mean it won't happen.

From my perspective, the end of desktop-based software, or at least of reliance on it, can't happen soon enough. We have so many issues with students losing work because they don't have a persistent place on the network to store it. I'm surprised that more of them haven't turned to something like Google Docs to write their papers; a lot of them already don't bother with the university's e-mail service and opt for Gmail instead.

Storing it in the cloud isn't necessarily more reliable, especially if your network connection goes down, but if you think of the cloud as an accessible collection of multiple locations, then suddenly you have the opportunity for lots of backups of your work.

As far as library services go, we avoid subscribing to anything that requires the installation of a desktop client. We have one database where we had to do that, and it's such a pain. Web-based interfaces are a lot easier to deal with--and we know that convenience trumps just about anything else, in so many cases.

As popular as cloud

As popular as cloud computing is, I am worried that it will not stay afloat unless interoperability addressed. This is a potential problem with cataloging/organizing of info. as well. Standardization normalizes biases that sneak into things like this. The real power of cloud computing is realized when all or most of these services are bridged together- that is when it becomes robust and better utilized.

I also think that networked operating systems, where computing is done by drawing upon several well networked resources is a splendid idea.

All topics with buzz, for

All topics with buzz, for sure. The cloud has actually been around for a while, but I think it's buzz is so great that we will be thinking of more and more services that can be pushed to the web. But heck, library collections are already existing primarily in the cloud (licensed, web-delivered services).

Good calls. If I had to add

Good calls. If I had to add one it would be handheld HD video cameras, both the Flip and Kodak. Librarians should know about them because video is huge, and these cameras make it easy to get involved.

As far as netbooks, I'd amend your text to indicate they are poised to really take off because the next step is to sell them using the cell phone model. Radio Shack is already offering the Acer model for $99 - if you sign up for AT&T mobile internet services at $59 a month. Will people see the netbook as an alternative to the iPhone? Speaking of Apple, don't expect them to deliver a netbook soon. Jobs was quoted as saying "Apple doesn't know how to make a computer under $500 that isn't a piece of junk".

Cloud computing? A hot term, but in last month's Wired Larry Ellison called it "gibberish" and others said it was just software delivered over the web - a practice that's been around a while. The real issue it seems is that librarians should be anticipating the end of desktop based software - and how that changes things.