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Monday, May 28, 2007

Sitting at the infosnack bar....

I don't know how I missed it for so long, but until I ran across the term "infosnacking" in a Frontline documentary several weeks ago I had never heard the word. But as it turns out, it was the Webster Dictionary's "Word of the Year" for 2005 -- a not uncontroversial choice in light of the emergence of "podcasting" that same year. As the story goes, infosnacking did make it into the dictionary right away, but the editor's like it. Perhaps its time is coming....

Curiously, while the word has gained some traction, it has yet to earn a Wikipedia entry (do search here; btw, podcast has one). This is surprising for two reasons -- first, it seems like the perfect word to describe what many younger Wikipedia users do at the site and, second, it is a more pervasive practice among net-geners than we might think.

On the first point, one need only visit the "main page" of Wikipedia to get an example of the ideal "info snack bar" -- I believe several times more useful than the Google News page which is often cited as an example.

My anecdotal evidence for the second point was student responses to a discussion forum I posted last semester on "infosnacking" after viewing the Frontline segment that mentioned it as a driving factor behind the redesign of mainstream news delivery at CBS (in conjunction with Yahoo). There were lots of entries among these 45 or so net-geners, and without exception they all noted that infosnacking was not merely something they did, but was part of their daily routine! Just as some of us older folks grab for the newspaper and scan the headlines over coffee each morning, these younger types situate their coffee next to the computer and do the same on the web. In that sense it is no different from the behavior of their elders. But where there is a significant difference is in their exposure to a range of story or viewing options that is based on their choice of "snack bar". Maybe it is Google News or Wikipedia's front page -- or perhaps YouTube's featured posts or some collection of feeds they created themselves.

This is just the phenomena that Weinberger's Everything is Miscellaneous gets to (see post below) -- and why I believe it is a subject to be pursued on several different levels....

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