March 9, 2005

Niche Markets for Knowledge

A visitor to the Elon/Pew Predictions Database recently shared this vision of the future:

“The popularity of file sharing and P2P networking were the first signs of an impending change in the way we are re-organizing fields of knowledge. New technologies driven by such profound cultural changes will enable end users to redesign existing knowledge resources. Consumers, already accustomed to downloading information when they want it and how they want it, will restructure information and recombine disciplines, categories and fields of knowledge into new classifications, or knowledge clusters.

This ‘recombinant knowledge’ across peer-to-peer networks will allow users to not only draw data and customize it, but also to create new fields of knowledge that can be adapted to our cultural and commercial needs.

Recombinant knowledge in networked communities could lead to innovations in arts, commerce, technology, medicine and other fields. Our cognitive processes will evolve; people will literally learn to think differently.”

This reminded me of the October 2004 Wired article, “The Long Tail,” which explains why the future of entertainment is in niche markets — documentary films, obscure genres of music, re-runs of classic TV shows. It also reminded me of the millions of people who use the internet to track down the right therapies, medicines, and caregiving tips to supplement their doctor’s orders. Some of those stories are told in our “Internet Health Resources” report. The question for me is this: Are we learning to think differently? Or are our expectations just changing?