iFutures 2013, Sheffield University

The enterprising doctoral students at Sheffield University organised a one-day symposium on the future of the information world.  The iSchool at Sheffield, formerly the Department of Information Science celebrates 50 years this year and as part of these celebration the symposium looked forward to the next 50 years.

To some extent all research looks forward.  Investigation of natural phenomena, society or human endeavours helps us to construct hypotheses that help to predict the future, or perhaps to make sense of events as they unfold. With this in mind, I looked at how my own research on regulation could point to the future – and in that respect I am in a similar position to many other researchers.

The day was framed by two excellent keynote speakers and included short papers, posters and pecha kucha sessions.  The last of these were the greatest fun where speakers had the challenge of presenting their ideas in 20 slides each lasting 20 seconds.  The visual inventiveness and the compressed timescale kept it interesting and lively. Outstanding presentations came from Simon Wakeling (first prize by popular acclaim) and Dan Grace (second prize). They both succeeded by offering quirky choices of images that were relevant, but not too obvious and both provided an almost flawless delivery.

Dan spoke about the way in which social media mediate social relationships and are a manifestation of social relationships and looked at ways in which this can be (is being) harnessed by public library services.  Simon’s presentation investigated web personalisation and the filter bubble, inspired by Eli Pariser’s book.  As sites try and tailor services to suit their users, they often filter out content that contradicts the reader’s views.  It’s like buying a daily newspaper that corresponds to your political outlook and therefore does not challenge your views.  This can be a real problem for researchers who need to understand and analyse a range of views and perspectives.

Diane Sonnenwald of University College Dublin provided a wide ranging and visionary perspective on the role of information professionals in the future.  We have to sit at the top table when policy is being made.  This is reflected in her promotion of advocacy when she was president of ASIS.

I enjoyed the clarity of Edmund Duesbury’s paper on chemicoinformatics – made me feel as though I could grasp the significance of his work to quantify the similarity of molecules as a way of selecting potentially therapeutic compounds – although in truth it is way beyond my understanding.

There were also two outstanding papers in the final session by Kathleen Menzies on academic attitudes to new media and by Deborah Lee on Transfiguring the ‘humble’ classification scheme.  Kathleen won the well-deserved first prize for her paper and Deborah got us all caught up in her enthusiasm for evaluation of classification schemes.

Of the posters – all produced to a very high standard – I particularly liked the winning poster by Jean Chitanda-Bright on information systems projects in health services.  Also notable were posters by Paula Goodalle on User-centred design to support exploration and path creation in cultural heritage collections and Munirah Saleh Abdulhadi’s research: Towards a better understanding of social tagging practices in academic libraries.

The closing paper by Vanessa Murdock of Microsoft was thought-provoking in its consideration of hyperlocalisation in Internet searches.  She posed the problem that many search providers have in identifying what is a reference to a place and narrowing down physical location using mobile phone signals, which often have a resolution of no more than 200m. I was particularly interested in the reference to search query metadata.  The talk was illustrated by some fantastic data visualisation.

This is just a taster of a very full day and to top it all I was awarded second prize for my paper on ‘Regulating the Future’ and a book token to spend.

Papers and presentations are available at: http://ifutures.group.shef.ac.uk/

About the author

David Haynes

David Haynes

David is a Director of Aspire². His interests lie in metadata, information taxonomies and information governance. He is an experienced PRINCE2 practitioner. David leads courses on his specialist areas and is author of ‘Metadata for Information Management and Retrieval’. Currently he is researching on the regulation of information at City University, London.