next up previous contents
Next: Stage I Penetration Up: The New Publishing Previous: The New Publishing

Mapmakers, Ferrets, and Filters

As the number of books published per day mushrooms, the value of the publisher's editors and their reputation will increase. The publisher functions as a stamp of approval, a selector, and a collator. Soon there will be a whole new profession--people who find things, or know who to ask--perhaps they will be called ferrets. For those who want to rummage for themselves there will be another new profession--people who arrange things--perhaps they will be called mapmakers. And everyone will need people who select things--perhaps they will be called filters.

These three professions mirror the three basic aids in non-fiction books: indices (ferreting), tables of contents (mapmaking), and bibliographies (filtering); and the three basic uses of computers: searching (ferreting), sorting (mapmaking), and selecting (filtering). All three are marketable services.

Publishers may try to enter all three markets, but unless they enter them understanding their importance they may be shut out by more aggressive third-party companies. Eventually they will also have to compete with computer programs. Word processors like WordPerfect, spreadsheets like Lotus 1-2-3, and database programs like dBase are the three biggest reasons business adopted personal computers. In 10 years, ferrets, mapmakers, and filters may be the equivalent of these programs today.

As computer power becomes more widespread each user's computer may run hundreds of ferret programs continuously, all separately exploring the world's data for useful information. When a ferret returns it may have to face dozens of filters who try to prevent them from adding the data found to the user's personal information base. Data that enough filters judge to be important or relevant is passed to the mapmaker to be linked into the user's personal map of what's important, where it is, and how it relates to other information in the personal map.

Human beings often use different archival schemes than print. Librarians are fond of telling horror stories of naive library users who ask for the large green book on cartoons they flipped through a month before. But weight, size, smell, and color of a book are noticed easily, while title, author, International Standard Book Number, Dewey decimal number, and Library of Congress number are artificially imposed because they make easier search keys in traditional databases. The ferret, filter, and mapmaker programs will benefit those who want to recall the blue book with the funny picture of President Bush that Joe lent them.

To most Americans, the 20 million books in the Library of Congress, perhaps the nation's greatest intellectual resource, are less useful than a home encyclopedia, because the information retrieval problem bars access. As books become electronic, indices, commentaries, databases, annotations, bibliographies, reviews, concordances, compendia, and selections will be in high demand. The more data there is, the less information there is; the more information there is, the less knowledge there is.

To take a household example, partly because they are on paper the Yellow Pages function poorly. To get the most from them the user must understand exactly how the phone company organized them. The user must also have a detailed map, a subway guide, bus routes, Consumer Reports, the local Better Business Bureau Report, and plenty of time.

In addition to an alphabetical listing by type of business Yellow Pages should list all businesses on each street, in each neighborhood, and in each mall; by the time needed to get to them from the user's current location; by their relation to various landmarks; by whether they are currently having a sale; by whether they accept checks, cash, or credit; by their hours of operation; by their nearness to restaurants, gas stations, public restrooms, or other stores the user cares about; and by their expensiveness, reliability, revenue, experience, and returns policy.

All these ways of organization are possible with electronic Yellow Pages, and that applies to every other kind of information. And businesses would pay the mapmaker to be included, just as they pay credit card companies today, since it means more business for them. Only 5 percent of the roughly 6.5 million U.S. businesses advertise outside the Yellow Pages.

next up previous contents
Next: Stage I Penetration Up: The New Publishing Previous: The New Publishing
Gregory J. E. Rawlins