Continuous disruption

Trains were once seen as icons of freedom. They freed riders from the dust and bumps of horse or stagecoach travel, and dramatically shortened travel times. But that view of trains as agents of freedom changed with the development of the automobile—and the way it shifted control of routes and schedules from the railroad to the driver.

This isn’t about transportation policy1, it’s about how previously novel solutions become subject to disruption once they become the baseline against which alternatives are compared. Railroads didn’t realize they were competing against automobiles until it was too late.

Who are you competing against?

This is a revision of something I originally posted ten years ago.

Photo CC NC-ND by Schnitzel_bank.

  1. If you do want to explore the policy side of this, consider this comparison of transit volume, part of the broader question of whether cars take up too much space, and this inquiry into why public transport works better outside the US↩︎

LCSH News: “Mountain Biking” Replaces “All Terrain Cycling”

Even though mountain bike sales and participation are down (as a percentage of market share, biking has been declining for ten years), the Library of Congress has just issued a directive to change the subject heading from “All Terrain Cycling” to “Mountain Biking.” The term was apparently first coined by Charlie Kelly and Gary Fisher in 1979.

First They Ignore You, Then They Ridicule You, Then They Fight You

It’s an aside to Kathryn Greenhill’s larger point, that all this 2.0 stuff is about a shifting power to the user, but she places L2 somewhere on Ghandi’s continuum of change between ridicule and fight. The photo above (original by Monster) is in support of Greenhill’s larger point: control is shifting. Trains were once seen […] » about 200 words

Instant Messenger Or Virtual Reference?

I noted Aaron Schmidt‘s points on IM in libraries previously, but what I didn’t say then was how certain I was that popular instant messaging clients like AOL Instant Messenger or Yahoo!’s or Google’s are far superior to the so-called virtual reference products. Why? They’re free, our patrons are comfortable with them, and they work […] » about 400 words

AIM And Changing Modes Of Communication

There’s a bit of discussion of AIM‘s role in personal communications over at Remaining Relevant. I mention it here because I’ve been thinking about this lately.

We’re seeing some great shifts in our modes of communication. Take a look at how “webinar” technologies have changed sales forces. The promise is lower costs and faster response time, but it also challenges our expectations and the skills of the salesperson. Now imagine the generation of kids who are growing up with AIM entering the workforce. Imagine how much more effectively and naturally they’ll be able to communicate remotely (and also imagine how they’ll probably not tolerate today’s mostly one-way “webinars”).

IM will significantly rearrange the communications landscape, even if it may not completely replace any previous mode. My worry is my doubt about my ability to communicate effectively and naturally in the communication mode that is so common to a generation just younger than mine.

Goodbye x.0

In recognition of the divisive and increasingly meaningless nature of x.0 monikers — think library 2.0 and the web 2.0 that inspired it — I’m doing away with them.

When Jeffrey Zeldman speaks with disdain about the AJAX happy nouveaux web application designers and the second internet bubble (and he’s not entirely off-base) and starts claiming he’s moving to Web 3.0, then it’s a pretty clear sign that we should give up on trying to version all this.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s something big going on, but it doesn’t respect version numbers and it isn’t about AJAX or social software. And as much as designers and developers want to take credit, we cant. I’m not the first to say it, but let me repeat it without the baggage of these x.0 monikers: people are making the internet a part of their daily lives and in doing so it is changing us. With or without a label, that’s what we need to talk about.


Think now of the US interstate highway system. Like the internet that followed, the highway system was the subject of much hype and conjecture. Most notably, Norman Bel Geddes’ -designed General Motors Futurama exhibit at the 1939 New York Word’s Fair. In it we saw magical highways connecting our cities, and whisking motorists from New […] » about 300 words


Worth looking at: ChangeThis, started by Seth Godin and “a sharp team of change agents.” The quote comes from Ben McConnell at Church of the Customer, who also reminds us of the ways that conservatives in every field favor traditional views and values and oppose change:

  • Stay the course
  • Don’t fix what isn’t broken
  • Ignore all critics
  • We don’t have time
  • Keep out anything foreign to us (actual or metaphorical)
  • Destroy anyone who opposes us or our way of thinking

Who cares that Godin and McConnell are marketers. Valuable change comes in seemingly small and insignificant ways, then all at once.

The Coming Information Age

That headline might seem a little late among the folks reading this. But we’re all geeks, and if not geeks, then at least regular computer users. Regular computer users, however, are a minority. Worldwide, only around 500 million people have internet access, and fewer than 100 million people in the US have internet access at […] » about 500 words