Examples of scale

This page was written by Steven J. DeRose around 1998, and was last updated on 2003-04-12.

A rapidly-scaling resource, such as information, can reach a point where tools cannot just get proportionately bigger anymore: the tools themselves must change. Digital libraries, while so far small enough that existing tools have been workable, are quickly approaching such a point. This should not be surprising; consider other everyday domains:

The accounting system a big corporation needs is not just "bigger" than one for personal taxes. It doesn't just need to be able to store bigger numbers, but is qualitatively different. Without a variety of added features that provide extra levels of abstaction and data analysis, accountants could not manage the enormous amount of raw financial data.

Organization of paper ("analog" doesn't seem quite apt) libraries is much the same: the system I use for my personal library work well enough for their purpose, but would fail utterly if my collection grew by a couple orders of magnitude, and fail again if it grew that much again (by which time we would be at about the level we need to reach for a research library, and which digital research libraries will also need to reach.

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