How flat can you go?

Friday 30 October 2009, 17:37

Kevin Marsh Kevin Marsh is director of OffspinMedia and a former Today editor

Tagged with:

'Flat knowledge' - which is nothing to do, incidentally, with Nick Davies' book Flat Earth News - has had a couple of outings now; one in BBC Cardiff and one in Belfast, a minor part of an excellent travelling skills festival called 'New Tools, New Ways of Working' (you can explore it here on the BBC intranet).

You'll have to wait for the book if you want to know exactly what 'flat knowledge' is and why it's utterly transforming journalism ... though Angelique Halliburton has a good summary here - with video.

The idea of 'flat knowledge' first occurred to me five years ago at the World Economic Forum in Davos when the CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, predicted that "in ten years time (i.e. by 2014) we will all be able to carry around with us in a device no bigger than an iPod all the knowledge in the world".

Pretty exciting idea ... though Mr Schmidt was too conservative; you can buy exactly that device now, less than five years after his prediction. The current range of 3G 'phones' (who on earth would want to use them for mere phone calls ????) effectively connects you to "all the knowledge in the world", if by that you mean all the stuff that's been written down or recorded in some way.

But it's an idea that gets really, really exciting if you can imagine accessing stored knowledge in the same way you access the knowledge in your own head. Think of the difference between looking up a phone number in a phonebook (how much longer will we doing that?), which is vertical knowledge, and the way you get straight to the number in your head if you happen to know it.

That's flat knowledge - and the way the web's developing all that vertical knowledge that you and me used to have to look up in a book or find in a newspaper is being flattened simply because you, me, anyone can go more or less straight to the thing we want to know, courtesy of increasingly sophisticated searches and increasingly precise metadata..

Once the 'more or less' drops out of that sentence, the world changes. And once Google, Yahoo et al figure how to take you to something that's only just become part of 'what we know' - the so-called 'real-time' web - then the whole meaning of 'knowledge' ... how we acquire it, use it, value it, judge it, add to and finesse it is transformed.

Re-enter Eric Schmidt, with a number of predictions about the next five years on the web - you can watch an interview with him here, recorded at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo Orlando 2009.


Or you can read a summary here.

And when someone like the CEO of Google says 'we need to figure out' something - like ranking real-time content and therefore being able to take you and me straight to the bit of it we want, instantly - then figure it out is exactly what they will do.


Tagged with:


Be the first to comment

This entry is now closed for comments

Share this page

More Posts


Friday 30 October 2009, 10:15

What's your excuse?

Monday 2 November 2009, 14:49

About this Blog

A blog for the College of Journalism at the BBC Academy, discussing current technical, ethical, production and craft issues in journalism.

Blog Updates

Stay updated with the latest posts from the blog.

Subscribe using:

What are feeds?

Follow us on Twitter

New twitter image News and comment about journalism and interaction with the College:


Also from the College


Expert tips for finding people online by Paul Myers

Searching for people online








How to shoot video on a smartphone by Marc Settle

Marc Settle








Finding original stories locally by Hayley Brewer

Hayley Brewer








Work in a multimedia newsroom at BBC London

Multimedia newsroom


Other great places to follow debates about journalism and media:

George Brock: thoughts on journalism past, present and future from City University's head of journalism

The Media Blog: lively and often funny topical detail about UK media output

British Journalism Review: selected pieces from the authoritative quarterly journal

MediaShift: PBS monitoring of the changing media world from a US perspective

Arts & Letters Daily: more interesting ideas and good writing than you will ever have time to read

Alltop Journalism: links to the most recent posts on many journalism blogs

About the BBC: varied BBC blog about all things BBC-ish

Columbia Journalism Review: US academic perspectives

Facebook + Journalists: Facebook's own guide to its use by journalists

Jon Slattery: UK media news from the former deputy editor of Press Gazette

Meeja Law: Judith Townend's guide to media and legal issues 

Roy Greenslade: Guardian blog by the former Mirror editor now journalism prof

Wannabee Hacks: information and experiences from aspiring journalists.