Touching hands
Chapter 6 - Concluding Remarks
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As the Internet - or more generally: the online market place - keeps on growing and growing, it is becoming clear that "things must change". Web surfing, querying search engines, and similar tools and solutions worked fine on the Internet up till a year ago. Right now we have to face the conclusion: it is time for new concepts, new ways of getting our work done, as the old ones do not seem to be up to par anymore.

Push Technology has been one of the most recent attempts to solve the problems. As useful as it may be for specific types of users, it has not brought much relieve for most of us.
What Push probably did show, is that many people would gladly delegate the process of finding content that fits their personal information need to others, i.e. that most of us are not very keen on doing the ‘dirty work’ themselves (e.g. querying search engines, browsing directories, etc.). Which is why Information Brokering - possibly combined with the employment of agency and agent-like applications - looks very promising, and has much potential to help us get our online work done.

It is the author's prediction that in the future, we will not only use new ways of working on the online market place, but that we will also use complete new ways of using computers in general. Instead of thinking of a computer as something you have to walk up to and sit in front of, you do not have to think that much of it at all. Computers and smart devices will be where you need them, in a form most suitable for the task at hand. And what’s more: they will be operable for even the most novice user.
And for those that are not so novice, and do not mind to be more actively engaged in using the online market place, software agents (and later on: software assistants) will be the new way of working.

Right now, many of those new ways of using, interfacing and working with computers and software may sound and seem very strange and unusual. Most likely, this is because we are looking at these new ways from our current mind set. By doing research in these areas, and experimenting a lot with the new possibilities, we should be able to integrate the new with the old (the things we know and are familiar with already). This is what should have become clear after reading the previous chapters: information brokering, software agents, calm technology, and so on, are all applications and techniques that will not force us once again to learn something completely new, but rather will do the opposite: they will make computers and applications learn something from us. What's more, they should also enable people to regain a sense of control and help them cope with information overload and "techno-stress".
Steve Talbott, editor in chief of the Netfuture news letter ([NETF]), has worded this whole idea very clearly;

"Technical innovation -- the devising of new tools -- is surely a desirable activity. But unless there is a balance between our fascination with tools and our concern for the ends they may help us achieve, the tool becomes tyrannical. What stares us in the face today is the startling fact that, not only has the balance been upset, but one of its terms has virtually disappeared.
Technological innovation now proceeds for its own sake, driven by its own logic, without reference to human need. We are a society obsessed with new tools, but incapable of asking in any serious way, "what are we developing these tools for?"

It's rather as if a musician became so enamored of new instruments capable of generating novel sounds that he lost all interest in seeking the kind of disciplined musical inspiration that makes his art finally worthwhile.

[...] Our pressing need is not for more information, or faster access to information, or more connectivity. Our decisive problems arise -- as many others have noted -- from the lack of meaningful, value-centered contexts to which new information can be assimilated, and from those connections to other people we already have, but do not know how to deepen and make healthy. Adding new information and additional connections where these fundamental problems have not been solved only carries us further from ourselves and each other."


Future Research
To accomplish an online market place as described in the previous paragraph, (further) research will have to be done into a number of areas. These areas include:
Research into means/tools which can help the supplying parties of the online market place to deal with high numbers of Broker queries.
In order to satisfy a query, Brokers will send it to a number of sources/suppliers which seem most fit to answer it. Suppliers in turn will have to be able to provide an answer that is both concise as well as timely (Brokers probably will only wait for a certain amount of time for sources to provide an answer). Human personnel alone will most likely not be able to do this (alone), and will need software - possibly software agents - to assist them with this activity or to relieve them of doing this task altogether.
Research into people's/user expectations with regards to software agents, search engines, and the like.
The technical aspects of such applications as search engines and software agents are given a lot of time and thought. Only recently has another important aspect - people's/user expectations - been given more attention; the technical soundness of an application, and the process of using it, are two matters that are no longer seen as separate and unrelated in this field of research.1



1= Interesting findings in this area can be found in the proceedings of the workshop "Query Input and User Expectations", which was held in conjunction with the 21st Annual International ACM SIGIR Conference on Research and Development in Information Retrieval, d.d. 28-08-1998.
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Chapter 6 - Concluding Remarks "Desperately Seeking: Helping Hands and Human Touch" -
by Björn Hermans