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Rushes Sequences - David Nicholas interview - London (Video)

Professor David Nicholas is Director of the Department of Information Studies at University College London. He is working with the Digital Revolution team on our experiment to test the web's effects on our brains and joined the team to discuss the changing nature of knowledge seeking, acquisition and retention in the web-connected environment, and the personal information we share when online.

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(Please note that this transcript is the 'raw data' text we receive from a transcription company. It is a tool commonly used in production to facilitate editing and review the content. We publish it for users in that same spirit, rather than it standing as a 'perfect' representation of the content.)

Intvr      If I can kind of take you back a few years, can you tell me what first inspired you to launch Netflix?

Alex        So what do you mean by information seeking behaviour what, what was information seeking behaviour in 1970s or what is it now why is it so important?

Dave     OK we all have information needs those needs might arise from health it might rise from err from wanting to find  a good school it might even arise from wanting to find the cheapest product somewhere. Everything triggers off a sort of information need and to meet your need you've got to seek information hence information seeking. Now I the old days it wasn't so easy to do that you could talk to your mother you could maybe go to the local library and if you were lucky enough to live next door to the British library you were really lucky because they had lots and lots of information and lots of opportunities for information seeking. Now in today's universe everybody has British library on their door stop in their mobile phone, on their laptop in their office and suddenly we have  unbelievable resources close to hand and we can seek information in any particular way we like with so many possibilities in fact information seeking is there's a sort of,  it it's  a siren behaviour, we, we're attracted by seeking information finding things, and all of those things so that's today information seeking is central to everything in our lives and unless we can information seek well we're in real trouble. 


Alex    What happens when you go on line?

Dave        The moment you go on line, you are recorded as having going on line you leave a, a print a people know roughly where you're coming from and they know you've entered a site and once you've entered that site it can say where you're going in that site.  Where you don't go in that site, what you look at, what you don't look at what search terms that you use. What documents you decide to display and how long you are there and where you go next and err, and by putting all those things together characteristic of information seeking behaviour and use in cyber space. It's very, very simple and it's done automatically which is the beauty and anybody could do it essentially but don't. 

Alex    Tell me how extraordinary it is accessing these deep logs of information what, what does this represent in terms of social assumptions?

Dave    It represents.

Alex        By accessing the search things. ............


Dave    Paradigm shift comes to mind but it is absolutely awesome and it's quite frightening because the scale of the activity the depth of the activity is just mind blowing really I mean it's just for a researcher like myself it, it's like finding a massive massive gold mine. And it's just wonderful, wonderful data that hopefully will change society that, that will make sure that in the information rich world we are in that people will fully benefit from this fantastic resource so it's just an wonderful wonderful sort of harvest and that is that's a good way of describing it. and it's happening as I'm sitting here now more and more people are leaving their footprints their fingerprints for, for is to analyse because things change and that's the other beauty, we can watch change happen almost in real time and we all told our society they it's changing fast well look we don't have to guess we can just look and see and say it is here it isn't there so we can put a lot of things to rest that we, we couldn't before. There was lots and lots of room for people to have you know to put anecdote out there as, as truth as so on. now as I say to many, many people this. Unless you've got a bigger data set than me and most people haven't then you know don't bother, believe what I've got here, and carry on.

Alex        Tell me what your background is was there a moment that you've thought I've just spent this amount of time and my impression is this. Was there a moment when this happened?

Dave    I think I first realised that we were onto something erm, when we started looking at the Times on line. And they gave us their logs because they were very interested in what was actually happening as a result of the digital transition. People moving from the physical world into the virtual world and they were particularly worried about young people.  not reading newspapers but in the virtual world they might view or read. So there were lots and lots of interesting things and when we got hold of the data, interestingly the most interesting thing wasn't the thing that they were worried about the most interesting thing was the biggest group of users for the times site were robots.  Now 40, 50 years ago there were no robot information seekers. No robots were using anything, there were no robots.  Now we have a world in which robots go looking for information. Obviously on par for other people.  The second thing we noticed is that the majority of v, viewers who weren't robots didn't come from the UK. Now we know that in hard copy world the majority of readers of the Times are in the UK. So the newspaper is written from that prospective.  But in the virtual space the majority of readers are ex-pats and they don't have the same sort of understanding they're not living in the UK therefore the paper needs to change what it presents in the virtual space. So little small things but major things and you could see it all from the logs. And while people might have suspected that before, it's they didn't have any proof, they didn't know and we could say well actually 30% of the Americans, 20% of the Australians. The Australians are looking at the sport, the Americans are looking at this and people begin to understand what a global audience was.  What actually happens when you move a thing to a virtual space and it changes in ways that you don't quite suspect.  


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