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Evolutionary Information Behavior

The notion that the Internet is changing people's relationship to information is not new. The principle of good enough is now well document as applying to both design and consumption on the Web. And reams of deep-log analysis conducted by the Centre for Publishing at University College London's School of Library, Archive and Information Studies show clearly that even serious academic researchers are not immune to the frenetic skimming and jumping-around behaviors the rest of us exhibit on the Internet.

What excites me, though, is the potential next evolutionary stage in our relationship with digital information: from the hunter-gatherer behaviors described above to a sower-reaper model. We have only begun to exploit the potential uses of XML-based technologies, such as RSS feeds, which push only the information we want to us. And we are approaching a critical mass on social networking sites, which have built-in trust metrics for referral—likewise a way to harvest information without having to search blindly.

Just as Google harnessed and exploited the Web's linked structure to improve search, XML and social media harness and exploit the human desire to save time in the face of mass information and connect with like-minded people. What impact might these tools have, both good and bad, if refined?

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