There really isn't an excuse for placing this masterful portratit of Bessie Smith by Carl Van Vechten in this blog. I was going through the links I'd collected about African culture and for some reason had saved this link. When searching for all things African, African American links are sure to appear. The photo is part of a fantastic online resource of the Library of Congress called American Memory. Van Vechten's portraits are part of that collection along with supporting documents. The site is well worth linking to.
Of course it has little to do with Africa, but has something to do with how we access information in this "Digital Age." The Future of the Book is a site that addresses some of the many issues involved about digital information. Books are very good at providing context for understanding subjects, so bibliophiles have smart things to say about the subject. Providing context for information available online is challenging.
The set of links I collected recently began with a link recomended by Brian at Black Star Journal. Radio Netherlands produced a program Keepers of African Culture. It's a very good report about African writers. Radio Netherlands provides links to two related articles and also provides a topic for readers to offer feedback. I was impressed that the site understands how much the Internet is an interactive medium.
The BBC understands this well too. Africa Lives is a great portal to BBC coverage of Africa. In addition the BBC along with The Open University maintains a Web site to provide context for subjects in BBC programs. The Web pages for the program African School provide a great example of the power of linking resources.
I admire many of the PBS Web pages. This portal about Africa aimed at school kids, for example, is great. PBS provides many links to resources for teachers. Nonetherless, in my experience PBS doesn't build solid connections between their multiple online resources nearly as well as the BBC. Particular programs provide boundaries to their Web pages. Certainly it's a matter of resources.
The problem of placing information in context is something quite challenging about making online information accessible. Newspapers seem particularly slow to address this and it feels as if they are missing a great opportunity. I agree with the opinion often expressed by bloggers about online newspaper stories that newspapers need to learn to link. It's not just the matter of links in individual stories, but a habit of thought that could imporve newspapers and make their online resources more valuable.
With so much information we need not just aggregators of information, but ways to contextualize information. Last spring Ethan Zuckerman asked in a blog post: Is the Christian Science Monitor the World's Bloggiest Newspaper? His short answer is "yes." The Monitor does a good job in providing context for understanding their coverage. Their excellentAfrica coverage is easy to search. And their reporters provide "off-deadline insights" as blog posts. Notebook Africa is a solid resource linked to The Monitor's ongoing coverage. I still wish their reporters would embed links!
I think blogs are great. I learn so much about so many subjects through blogs. But I keep looking for online information to be as good as books are. I'm of the opinion the world needs more books. The world also needs for the traditonal media to to invent ways of contextualizing information. There are many bright spots on the horizon, but much more needs to be done.