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30 August, 2004

Depth vs. breadth

To overstate the obvious, an advantage of the internet is that information provision is typically user-led.
If one wants to know the latest national news, visit Guardian Unlimited, scan through the headlines and read the stories of interest.  No need to hunt through pages of less interesting topics, no need for irrelevant sports or finance sections (unless one is interested, in which case they're there).
If one wishes to know the correct spelling or definition of a word, visit Dictionary.com (mentally adjusting for it being American).  No need to buy a bulky paper dictionary.
If one wishes to plan a road trip, visit Multimap.com for directions and maps.  No need to buy a road atlas which will be out of date almost as soon as it's printed (and certainly not a CD-ROM version - now that is dead tech).
In fact, if one wants to know pretty much anything, just try Google.

Yet this is the biggest disadvantage, too. One can find anything one wishes to know, but what if one doesn't know what one wishes to know? Access to specific information is wonderful, but one needs a wider perspective too, from context and ancillary information.
For example, one might do research online with a view to purchasing a digital camera, and find as much information as one could ever need on, say, lens properties, without realising that on-board image processing and file compression are also important. Reading a print magazine might give much the same information about lenses as the magazine's web site, but in finding the print article, one gets to browse through several other, only tangentially relevant articles and advertisements which give a more rounded perspective on digital cameras and photography as a whole.

Likewise, one might read a Peter Gabriel interview online, but miss the article on The Mars Volta over the page, as in the May 2004 issue of Record Collector magazine. One might read online reviews of the Autumn 2003 Porcupine Tree tour, but never consider it from the point of view of the band's drum technician - unless one happens to read the April 2004 issue of Carbon Nation. In the former situation, an unexpected magazine article might introduce one's newest favourite band (not that it did - TMV do little for me), whereas the latter adds a new angle to an old favourite.

There's plainly a place for user-led searches for specific information, but there's also a continuing need for externally-provided information, or 'provider-led' provision. I make a point of reading web/graphic design magazines, as much to learn, say, specific Photoshop techniques, as to read what others think is significant.

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