Monday, 22 February 2010

The BBC's Virtual Revolution

Saturday night saw the final part of The Virtual Revolution, a four-part series on BBC2 that has looked at how 20 years of the web has reshaped our lives. Presented by Dr Aleks Krotoski, it's investigated everything from how commerce has colonised the web, the way social networks are changing our relationships, to evidence that the virtual world is leading to a new brand of politics.

The Virtual Revolution has been a great series - intelligent but entertaining programmes that show the BBC at its best (and I'm sure Lord Reith is nodding in approval). This has been in part due to Krotoski's skill in leading the viewer through the mass of information, but also down to the high calibre of the interviewees. These have included everyone from Tim Berners-Lee, Bill Gates, Al Gore, the founders of Facebook, Twitter etc, to Stephen Fry - not to mention plenty of knowledgeable, and articulate, academics.

This week's programme, Homo Interneticus, included Professor David Nicholas of the independent research group Ciber, at University College London, who was talking about his study into the generational difference between how children and adults consume information online. Nicholas often talks about the 'Google generation' (see Digital Consumers) - young people who have grown up with the web. This group 'crowdsource' their knowledge, looking for the wisdom of their friends and networking what they know, rather than holding on to the information for themselves. Saturday's programme also included a Web Behaviour test (although according to Phil Bradley the BBC system soon crashed).

Nicholas has been looking at the changing information habits of various user groups for the past three decades. Back in the 1980s he was (probably) the first academic to start looking at the impact of online information on both journalists and news librarians. With the emergence of the internet in the following decade he conducted a huge study into how it was affecting information seeking in the media - a significant part of the research being carried out at the Guardian and Observer.

Aside from his research work, Nicholas was to be - although some would dispute this - the catalyst for the creation of the Association of UK Media Librarians (AUKML). As a senior lecturer at the (then) Polytechnic of North London, in the summer of 1986 he hosted a networking lunch for London-based news librarians that in turn led to the beginnings of the group. For more information about this see the News libraries chapter of British Librarianship & Information Work, 1991-2000.

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