On content as infrastructure

Kananaskis - June 17 - 12David suggested in his opening comments yesterday that “content is infrastructure.” He was (I think) meaning to imply that content is an enabling platform, and that if a robust library of open content is available, that individuals and groups will be able to build new things from that library. Things that can’t be predicted by the librarians and publishers. Things that are evolutionary and revolutionary. I completely agree that having freely available and reusable content is an extremely important factor in promoting education and community programs, especially in regions without the resources to build all content from scratch.

But, the “content as infrastructure” analogy doesn’t sit well with me. Infrastructure is stuff like electricity, plumbing, roads and communication networks. Infrastructure’s value is that you don’t have to think about it – it’s Just There™, and is “always on”. You flick a switch, and don’t need or want to think about the electrical infrastructure that heats up the filament in the bulb. You flush the john, and don’t need or want to think about the water supply and sewage infrastructure. Hopefully, you won’t have to.

But – content is one thing that you need to think about. It can’t be pushed so far down the stack that it becomes a mindless and invisible component, akin to electricity. Content needs to be mindful, contextual, active, and interactive. It’s not just a series of bits to be transported via TCP/IP (which could be considered infrastructure) – it’s the context for a conversation.

2 thoughts on “On content as infrastructure”

  1. I would agree. A lot of value to content is in the context, and without an understanding of how & why it was created, the author who created it, and why it was originally important… the next user is stuck starting from scratch.

    I wouldn’t describe content as infrastructure either, but like you D’Arcy, can see the value in open access. Content when available & open to humans can lead to many different perspectives of this context, and that while a librarian may apply a controlled vocabulary offering control of finding similar items, ‘a crowd’ may apply a tagging system that delivers creativity & a deeper understanding of which classifying terms are more natural or innate to the audience in question.

  2. I too agree, I am wondering if David was thinking of infrastructure generically as a framework that supports structures. In our current context we are not supporting a physical structure using physical infrastructure. Neither the structure nor infrastructure has to be fixed like physical infrastructure. Content instead could be the digital assets that support knowledge structures, tools, and activities enabling creativity, use, generation, and regeneration of the structure and infrastructure.

    Perhaps the use of the term “infrastructure” as it applies to “content” unnecessarily and too easily points to physical infrastructure like wires, pipes, and girders. Just a thought.

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