The Beginnings of Infonomics

The Beginnings of Infonomics

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4454-0.ch001


This chapter addresses the development of the information industry from the invention of the printing press to the present, using the publication and use of scientific journals as an illustrative case. For centuries after the first scientific journal was published in 1665, publication followed a relatively simple information supply chain model. In the late twentieth century, the information supply chain model changed rapidly and became far more complex. The growth of data and databases, university infrastructure spending, database directory production, and researchers’ information search patterns are identified as primary reasons for large-scale changes to the information supply chain. Examination of these four factors reveals current user needs that will drive innovation in the information industry.
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Long before the information age, there was the publishing industry. Publishers were the content farms of yesteryear, and they approached their farming as a craft and art form. They grew the “real” cinnamon from the C. zeylanicum tree, not the C. cassia cinnamon of Web pages, digital libraries, repositories, blogs, tweets, and other information tools. Moreover, this “real” content was delivered in highly specialized formats, primarily books and journals. Publishers developed and honed these forms of publication over centuries.

Although the information age was initially associated with the publishing industry, the distribution of information, like the distribution of cinnamon, changed significantly over time. Driven by two key elements, changes in the form of content and changes in the cost of content, the process of publishing transformed into an information-centered enterprise. This chapter will trace this transformation over time, since it provides an ideal window into the origins of infonomics.

In 1440, Johannes Gutenberg invented a printing press using movable and reusable type. Though distribution of information had long since shifted from exclusively oral to using the written word, the printing press exponentially increased the power to disseminate information around the world. What made the printing press groundbreaking is that this technology, which, although improvements were made to its initial design, basically served the world for over 500 years, was highly efficient in reproducing vast amounts of information. It opened the way for numerous publication formats, including newspapers, books, magazines, and scientific journals. Of these formats, the scientific journal represents a content and business model that has been the most crucial part of the transition to infonomics.

In 1665, Henry Oldenburg established the first scientific journal, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. The journal arose out of Oldenburg’s role as one of the organization’s two secretaries; he’d joined the new Royal Society in 1661 and was appointed the following year. As secretary, Oldenburg was responsible for keeping records of the society’s meetings and for maintaining its correspondence with scholars and scientists throughout Europe, including such figures as Johannes Hevel, Christiaan Huygens, Marcello Malpighi, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, and Nicolaus Steno. Oldenburg therefore played an important role as publicist, promoter, and information gatherer. The successful development of the modern scientific method owed much to him personally: to his wide command of languages, his broad range of contacts, and his personal interest in the new science. He was a consummate information professional well before the notion of an “information professional” existed. Under his leadership, the Philosophical Transactions became an important vehicle for scientific interchange that helped to shape the Baconian and experimentalist character of Royal Society science.

His reasons for starting the Philosophical Transactions were unambiguous. Oldenburg wrote, “[We must be] very careful of registering . . . the person and time of any new matter . . . whereby the honor of the invention will be inviolably preserved to all posterity” (Hall & Hall, 1966). Oldenburg saw the purpose of the journal, and by extension all information systems, as recording not only what happened but also who did it and when. He understood that registering and disclosing these details would make individuals more inclined to submit their thoughts and findings because those materials would take on lasting value and the owners would be acknowledged for their contributions.

Underlying Oldenburg’s earliest work are four principles that lie at the heart of the publishing model: 1) registration—a record of who is providing the information; 2) dissemination—how this information is distributed and at what cost; 3) archiving—making information accessible in perpetuity in the form in which it was registered; and 4) certification—peer-conferred testimony of the validity of the information. These principles of information formed the basis of good content for centuries, but the new infonomics are creating new definitions, forms, and values for content. Of course, printed information still exists today, but commercially available online databases in the 1970s marked the rise of a new information paradigm that rivaled and is replacing the printing press as the primary mode of disseminating information.

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