Sunday, May 13, 2007

The 10 Forces

Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat is a must-read for information professionals. Although the word "Web 2.0" is not found anywhere in the book because it was written before 2005, the concepts are there. The ideas presented in this book are exceptionally juicy and thought-provoking for those interested in understanding not only how we got to where we are in the information world, but also where we are going. Friedman points out Ten Flatteners defines our 21st century world:

#1: Collapse of Berlin Wall: The fall of the Berlin Wall is the starting point for leveling the global playing field. Because the event became the ultimate symbol for the end of the Cold war, it allowed people from other side of the wall to join the global economy.

#2: Netscape: With Netscape, the World Wide Web broadened the audience for the Internet from its roots as a communications medium used primarily by scientists, to everyone who has internet connection.

#3: Workflow software: Technically, what makes this possible is the development of a new data description language, called XML, and its related transport protocol, called SOAP. Such programming allows a vast network of underground plumbing which enables Web and software applications to communicate with each seamlessly.

#4: Open sourcing: New open source software such as blogs and wikis has allowed communities to upload and collaborate on online projects. Free software has leveled the playing field for all, preventing big businesses to monopolize as they could in the past.

#5: Outsourcing: Outsourcing has allowed companies to split service and manufacturing activities into components, with each component performed in most efficient, cost-effective way. At the same time, poorer countries such as India benefits because not only can workers can achieve a better lifestyle and higher pay without leaving their homes, India as a whole becomes a global economic power by preventing a braindrain because of these new technologies.

#6: Offshoring: Similar to outsourcing, countries that could not produce certain products in the past suddenly can do so and become global players. Offshoring allows countries such as China to manufacture the very same product in the very same way, only with cheaper labor, lower taxes, subsidized energy, and lower health-care costs . How? With the internet, anyone from anywhere can have fast, free information blueprints to build just about anything and anywhere.

#7: Supply chaining: Using Wal-Mart as its primary example, supply chaining allows horizontal collaboration among suppliers, retailers, and customers to create value at a more efficient pace and at a lower price, thus resulting in the adoption of common standards between companies and more efficient global collaboration.

#8: Insourcing: Using UPS as a prime example, insourcing is about one company performing services on behalf of another company. For example, UPS itself repairs Toshiba computers on behalf of Toshiba. The work is done at the UPS hub, by UPS employees. Instead of being competitors, businesses are actually collaborating with each other in order to maximize profits and efficiency through the use of greater communication technologies.

#9: In-forming: With the advent of Google, Yahoo!, and MSN Search, everyone who can type has the same basic access to overall research information. Search engines has become a total equalizer. In-forming is the ability to not only build an deploy one's own personal supply chain - a supply chain of information, knowledge, and entertainment, but also for self-collaboration - that is, becoming your own self-direct and self-empowered researcher, editor, and selector of entertainment, without having to leave the house or office.

#10: "The Steroids": "Wirelessness" is the ultimate "flattener" because it amplifies and turbocharges all the other flatterners, making it possible to do each and every one of them in a way that is "digital, mobile, virtual and personal." Some of these new technologies are already a big part of our lives, including cell phones, iPods, personal digital assistants, instant messaging, and voice over IP, or VOIP. These are but the early technologies: the best is yet to come.


Dean Giustini said...


I've read Friedman's The World is flat and, curiously, it has come up as a piece of populist scholarship during my sabbatical. What is the impact of these flatteners, do you think, for libraries?


Allan said...


I think these flatteners will inevitably affect libraries. There's no doubt about that. Going to save it for a future article, though ;-)

What piqued my interest in particular is the 10th flattener, "wirelessness." That is certainly going to be the most powerful tool for information professionals. Can you imagine, information retrieval 24/7? We're already seeing some of that with IM, but I think the best is still to come.

Dean Giustini said...

A number of writers in wireless technologies refer to this as ubi-comp - or, ubiquitous computing. I prefer Morville's phrase "ambient findability".