Mar 19, 2012

Our Place in the Modern World of Information

Among oil, precious metals, land, freedom, and many other commodities, information is gaining a more dominant role in human society as it is steadily moving into the 21st century. Resultly is an information technology company, and it is important to us to understand our place and role in the evolution of information from the historical perspective. 

As our civilization rose from its cradle, we, humans, experienced the necessity of passing knowledge from generation to generation. This necessity first realized itself in the form of ancient petroglyphs that keep puzzling contemporary scholars to this day. Rock art was the earliest form of written communication and as a first iteration of any system, it had its significant limitations. Firstly, it took a long time to compose a message, and the message was accessible only by those who were able to be within the immediate vicinity of it. The information stored this way was difficult to spread. This form of communication was immobile and information retrieval was impractical if possible at all.  

With the invention of smaller writing media and writing implements, the mobility problem was partially solved. Ancient papyrus scrolls, wax and clay tablets, and later paper and hand written books were passed from person to person, from generation to generation. Although the information stored this way became easier to share and retrieve, it was still difficult to spread among a large population primarily due to the difficulties related to transportation of media and replication of the content. Papyrus, vellum, and paper were expensive, and it took a long time to make a copy. The media was mainly concentrated in a few repositories such as tombs, temples, and libraries. An important achievement of this step of the evolution, however, is the formation of first formal writing systems. 

Centuries passed by and the first printing press was invented, and the first incunabula were produced. These events marked the beginning of a new era of the evolution of the information. Book production was no longer a manual labor, and it eventually allowed printing in large scale, making the information accessible to the population at large. Besides books, printing gave rise to such media as newspapers, magazines, and almanacs. Although recording and sharing of information increased, it was still limited by the speed of physical printing and distribution of the printed material. 

With the scientific boom of the industrial age, the amount of information human kind produced skyrocketed requiring tools to systematically collect, catalog, and reference our knowledge. The first such tool was an encyclopedia. Scientific progress, however, does not remain still.  New hypotheses are put forward, tested, falsified, generalized, and new discoveries are made. We realized that our knowledge is dynamic, and it changes faster than we can print it. Textbooks become outdated and printed encyclopedias become irrelevant. We felt the need for a more flexible medium to store knowledge. A medium that would be dynamic, would be easy to access, update and easy to share. 

The invention of the first semiconductor and, a few decades later, the adoption of digital technology by general masses gave start to the Digital Age. World Wide Web and the Internet became the collective medium to store knowledge. For the past decade, the number of Internet users grew by 500% and as of 2012, one-third of the world’s population have access to the Internet. Everyone can generate, retrieve and store information. The term Encyclopedia gained a new meaning. Online knowledge repositories such as Wikipedia are designed to handle the dynamic nature of the information contained in them.

The amount of data produced and stored during the Millennia preceding the Digital Age is negligible compared to the past couple of decades. Because of the vastness of the information stored online, locating it had become a challenge. In 2004, Google formulated its mission to organize the information online, and the company built the first comprehensive search engine. Many companies followed suit and offered their own solutions for organizing the information.  Discovering and locating data became a matter of a few clicks. 

All search engines today achieve remarkable coverage of all online resources by the process known as web crawling. The best search engines cover the entire web in matter of a few days. At Resultly, we realize in the rapidly changing ocean of information, where deals change by the day, where news breaks by the minute, where prices change by the second, stock markets plunge in a blink of an eye, one day old data becomes worthless. There is a need for a new kind of a search engine, one that can capture our rapidly changing information world as the changes occur.  Here at Resultly, we call it Real Time Search, and we believe it will be the next big chapter in the information age.