"Is that on google or the internet?"

Thursday saw me leading a lunchtime session on social media for people who work at Advantage West Midlands.   I’d been invited by the Prospect Trade Union as part of the National Learning at Work Week.

It wasn’t my normal audience – that would be communicators, policy makers, senior officers, politicians perhaps data people. This group just had a lunchtime spare with a mind to learn something new. Curious and hungry and unaware they were about to receive the full bore of my enthusiasm for the web and civic engagement.

Questions questions

Loads of question followed – good simple straight forward ones about how things work, privacy, why you would bother.  The sort of questions we’re used to being asked at social media surgeries.   So a group refreshingly happy to ask the basics.

One really made me stop and think: “Is that on Google or the internet?”.

I was stumped for a moment.  It felt like a cartoon character has just looked up at me from a drawing and asked me to explain the world of 3 dimensions.

It’s a perfectly reasonable one mind (all questions are).  “You can find it through Google or you can go straight to the web page using the web address,”  I tried to explain, adding:  “they’re  all on the internet” to a rather puzzled frown.

It happened to be Silver Surfers this week.   I’m not keen on the idea myself but marketing minds often feel it is working and perhaps that question explains the need.

Remember the basics

If even the concept of the world wide web is still slippery for some (hence the question) how do we describe this fundamental shift in information and relationships for those who have yet to grasp it?   So I asked twitter this question:

I’m struggling for an analogy to explain the Internet to people who’ve only ever known libraries and radio etc.  any thoughts?

and these are your generous answers in the order they arrived:

parboo it’s like a library, all on… Nope, I can see why you’re struggling 😉 how’s you n yours?  (fine thanks)  ( click here for parboo’s blog)

citizensheep I’m struggling to have any thoughts at all at the moment. I’ll have a think though.  (Citizensheep is Michael Grimes and his blog shows that it’s always worth waiting for his thoughts)

josiefraser @podnosh Internet like a highway apparently http://u.nu/3dvfa if you say super highway it makes it a bit more ziggy stardust. So maybe don’t.  ( Josie’s blog)

steve_nicholls @podnosh i think @parboo was on to it there. A big reference book where instead of skimming the index, you type it in?

pauljonlevy @podnosh Like ceefax but better? You off timetravelng? LIke everybook or radio programme in the world on air at the same time?

bounder @podnosh CB Radio with librarians 😉 ?  (Jon’s blog)

redmamba @podnosh brain ?

cyberdoyle @podnosh tell them its libraries and radio on rocket fuel. similar but faster. and on tap. available on demand. if you can get a connection.

peteashton @podnosh probably no help but it’s both larger and smaller than a library. 😉 (Pete’s blog)

natashacarlish @podnosh it’s like all the books and all the radio and a whole lot more inside a tvscreen which you can access all the time

danslee @podnosh Internet? It’s like having a selection of really good books delivered to your desk. At the click of a button #librarywebanalogy (some of the stuff Dan blogs about)

red_annie @podnosh the Internet is what happened when the library, supermarket, post office, radio and tv got squished into a portable box.  (Annie’s blog)

katehughes @podnosh imagine a library so big it has all the books in the world, then imagine that instead of books, it is filled with knowledge, then imagine instead of aisles and the dewey decimal system, the information comes to you instantly and every piece of infinite information is attached to each other so you can find whatever you want from wherever you start. I love the internet. http://tl.gd/1e1lo5 (By the way Kate is cheating – she uses tweetlonger to share more than 140 characters with us!  She’s also blogs at http://socialhousingcomms.blogspot.com/.)

KazThomas @podnosh  Internet:  Encyclopedia of life filled with screens of knowledge!  I reckon that sums it up? (Karen’s blog)

BostinBloke @podnosh electronic library

parboo @steve_nicholls @podnosh yes… and it finds stuff quicker than a quick thing in a quick box and it talks too and you can put stuff in it.

One I left out of order was this:

mattbuck_hack @parboo @podnosh Is the ‘answer’ us? 😉  #copyright #gnomic #utterancesINC

I do wonder whether reading this would make the person who asked the question any the wiser but is amuses me that the tweet that most seemed to sum up my inadequate thought (which is nothing more complicated than “help”) should come from Matt Buck – a cartoonist, one who more than most might be able to explain the transition from 2 dimensions to 3.


  1. cyberdoyl says:

    aye, Matt got IT. Its us. of course IT is.
    With all our historical and local knowledge. All our artistry and wit. All our caring and sharing. Entertaining and Informative. The internet is the most powerful communication tool and the wonder of the digital age.
    Just like radio and libraries you can live perfectly well without it. But the potential if offers those lucky enough to access it are unmeasurable.

  2. Neil says:

    ‘us’ sounds like a pretty fair description to me. Although if I was explaining it to someone who doesn’t use the internet I’d probably explain that ‘us’ isn’t meant to sound exclusive. It’s not “we are the internet – who are you?”, it’s that it’s everyone – all of us who are on here in whatever way.

    I think the ‘library’ analogy has merit too, but again I’d want to qualify it. It’s a library full of people – people who can help you find what you’re looking for. And maybe you can help them too.

    In summary: it’s everyone, and we’re all librarians.

  3. Lesley says:

    I think those of us of are librarians 😉 might question the usefulness of the ‘internet is a library’ analogy. Web pages are nothing like book pages. The internet is not organised like a library. Anyone can publish – most aren’t concerned with metadata/classfication. There’s no quality control. Many websites cover more subjects than most books or journals. There is no requirement to submit websites to a central repository. And, most importantly, there no librarians to help you if you get stuck.

    I quite like Jane Neale’s analogy of the ‘kitchen junk drawer’: “My kitchen junk drawer has lots of good useful stuff, mixed in with lots of useless stuff that I have no need for but I have kept anyway, just in case! It is not well organized. Things in that drawer get out of date, redundant and obsolete… When I rummage around in there to look for something, I often find something entirely different that is of interest….. When I pull out one item, it sometimes drags other items with it, because they are intertwined….. and so on.”

  4. cyberdoyle says:

    perhaps we need more online librarians? Or perhaps as we all get better at it we may get more organised? Or perhaps it is a good thing to have an unstructured mix, ie total freedom? maybe it leads to more innovation? food for thought. I don’t think we need a body to help us if we get stuck, the more we search the more we learn how to help ourselves, and there are plenty of forums and places like twitter to ask for help, and we don’t have to whisper… or wait very long, or travel to a library if we live in remote places. (if we can get a connection that is).

  5. Julia Larden says:

    Dare I add my favourite Derrida quotation here:

    Everything begins “in” a library: in books, writing, references. Therefore nothing begins. Only a drifting or disorientation from which one does not emerge.

    (Jacques Derrida, “The Purveyor of Truth”, reprinted in The Purloined Poe: Lacan, Derrida and Psychoanalytic Readings trans. John p. Muller and William J. Richardson (Baltimore, London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1989), p. 198.)

    I think this could be a good description of surfing the net, as well!

  6. Mary H says:

    Interesting question. There’s a problem with most metaphors and analogies online – whatever you end up using as your main point of comparison is always incomplete and inaccurate from one end of the comparison or the other. As well as Lesley’s points, the library analogy defines what your audience sees as the core function of the internet – it doesn’t get into conversational and social nature of web, and privileges a conception of a static, read-only web.

    Problem is, of course, that every conceptual metaphor we have limits and distorts the way we think about the net, whether you call it a stream, a brain, a conversation, or even just a net. There’s a wider point somewhere about the way the document/paper/print metaphor limits the way we innovate online, too, but that gets you unfortunately no closer to a useful, applicable shorthand.

  7. AWM social media newby says:

    Hi Nick

    Well thanks to you, Podnosh and your brilliant social media taster session I have officially posted my first blog, tweeted and viewed the presentation on slide share. Attentive pupil AWM.

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