In an always-connected world, the idea of printed listings is dead. The current generation growing up will probably never use an atlas, a dictionary or the White/Yellow Pages in their entire lifetime.
What’s an atlas but Google Earth printed on paper. What is the White/Yellow Pages but everyone's Outlook address books collated onto a pile of paper. OMG how do you keep it up to date?!! How much paper would you need? What if you notice a mistake after going to print?
Printed lists have minimal value beyond their actual, snap-shot in time, informational content. Instantly updatable lists offer instant currency that not possible with the old process. Sophisticated and fast search tools makes thumbing through alphabetical indices (or stroke-count tables in the case of Chinese) abhorrently and prehistorically clumsy. Instant sorting and resorting, plus any filter parameters you like – absolutely unthinkable when the first phone directory went to press.
Now that the basics are there, what’s next?
I think the next goal is knowledge synthesis. Human or software that create context, distil patterns, and imbue meaning to the data; to create intelligent interpretations of all this liberated, “enlivened” data. Google is already doing this with Google Earth (Moon, Mars, Sky…) Specialist vertical market search providers are doing this with business registration and compliance data, with legal documentation, and medical records. This trend is likely to spread more horizontally.
We are moving from databases and document libraries, to search agents, knowledgebases and expert systems. Most excitingly, on-the-fly expert systems could be just around the corner, if advancements like IBM’s Watson is anything to go by.
How about a Recipe Master system that, given a list of what's in your fridge, or what's on sale at your local supermarket, would suggest what you could make for dinner?
(Of course at the smaller end of business, many are still coming to terms with Excel as a “database.” There are loads of opportunities here to to help smaller businesses to leverage the untapped power of Access and Sharepoint services.)