the annoying side of disruptive technology

Disruptive Behavior! by bdunnette on Flickr

It is often true that, when technology disrupts our existence, it starts subtly … when Facebook appeared on the scene it was limited to university undergraduates (and so its impact was limited to that population). When Twitter appeared many people were interested but didn’t quite know what to do with it. Lately, though, everyone knows when Facebook changes the timeline or when Twitter’s fail whale makes an appearance.

Sometimes more disruption comes from when an established technology leaves the scene for good. Often this comes with no notice: in 2001 an alternate DSL provider, NorthPoint Communications, ceased operations suddenly leaving tens of thousands of customers without notice and without service. At the time I was only without service for a few weeks, but my service was restored so quickly in part because I had friends at SBC (now a part of AT&T) who could track my installation closely. At the time it was quite annoying–I ran my own mail server at home, so I went without email for a few days while all the pointers were reset to point to more reliable systems and networks. Of course, this wasn’t the end of the world–the only remains of the event are my memory of the event and a red “NorthPoint” sticker on a biscuit (a “biscuit” is one of those wall-mount boxes where you connect a landline phone to the network).

Sometimes, however, you do get more notice that a technology on which you depend is going away. In this case, I’m talking about Google Reader. Just a few weeks ago Google announced the end of Google Reader from 1st July. While the advance notice is certainly welcome, it raised the question of how I would continue to enjoy this class (even though the class would be over by the time Reader would shut down). I started to scramble around for a replacement reader which would meet my needs. I follow about 500 RSS feeds through Google Reader, so I wanted a replacement that could deal with the volume of information i wanted to keep an eye on …

For the moment I’ve settled on Netvibes but I have no illusions that this is my last RSS reader: new services will come up when Google Reader leaves the stage and some of those may have a better feature set that will support all my usage scenarios.

It’s easy to see which scenario we would each personally prefer when a service we’ve come to rely on goes away. When implementing services in our libraries it is as important to think about winding down a new service (for any reason) as it is to think about implementing it. I think this relates directly to transparency (the understanding that these new services have dependencies on others, and those others don’t always work out the way we would like).

8 thoughts on “the annoying side of disruptive technology

  1. caitlin says:

    I’m with you on the Google Reader thing! Although the warning was nice, I felt pretty annoyed that I’ll need to find a new service. At this point I’ve exported all my subscriptions, but I need to start looking into what I’ll use instead. I’ll have to check out Netvibes. :)

  2. Charlotte Goodwin says:

    I’m with you on this one. But sometimes I have to remind myself that I can’t complain too much about a totally free service (such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader) changing/going away/not functioning at an optimal level.

    • Henry Mensch says:

      But, you see, that’s the thing: these services aren’t “free” … and neither are the services provided by your library. You’re not paying with cash, but with content and time and ad views.

      • Charlotte Goodwin says:

        I completely agree that libraries are not free. My tax Euros (somehow this doesn’t have the same ring as “tax dollars,” but ah well) are contributing towards funding the library. But I’m not paying a dime when I sign up for a Google service. Obviously, their mission is not a charitable one and they are making an immense profit from having millions of users and monitoring our every move online, but their services are still not costing me actual cash.

  3. Lewis Chen says:

    This reminds me about the importance of keeping an eye out for the next big thing and be ready to hop on the wagon and ditch the old mediums. Myspace was popular, then Facebook took over. Google tried to 1-up Facebook, but who’s to say there won’t be another competitor in the horizon. I guess that’s why most libraries just add an icon and a link to their current social-media-technology-of-the-month.

  4. michael says:

    You tap into one of most disruptive things about the virtual landscape – a provider can close, a site can shut down, things change… I wonder if libraries can play a role in helping people in some way?

    • Henry Mensch says:

      Well, when it comes to other technologies their savvy can perhaps be turned into options for patrons. I am, however, equally concerned about libraries that create programs which are things the library is trying out … when these aren’t publicized appropriately then members who were using those services can be left with the same bad taste in their mouth.

  5. Elaine Tanzman says:

    I agree that these sites aren’t free. They monitor users and give their contact information to companies which then solicit their business.

    The services in libraries are supported by taxes which benefit the community. They are supposed to have different priorities than companies like Google. But I don’t see what libraries can do if services on their web sites go kaput.

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