Last week Anne Helmond visited a talk by Lev Manovich and I almost forgot how he argues – for a long time – that the database is media as well. He’s completely right, and you can see this slowly emerging to a more prominent place in our digital culture.
If the database as a medium sounds vague to you think about it. You store your personal things in databases all over the web. You don’t see those databases but you know them as Flickr, Twitter, Google, Amazon, This website. The database is an object like an infinite cabinet with information.
The database itself is boring, it labels and stores content. Exciting are the connections you make when querying the database for information.
The interface performs queries on the database to retrieve information. If you type www.flickr.com/photos/wilbertbaan it will show you the last 18 photos I have uploaded to Flickr and set to ‘public’.
This is how we have used the database for years. The owner makes a service and decides what queries a particular interface can do on the database. With the introduction of API’s (programmable interfaces) this changed. With an API the database becomes a semi-public object. With an API everyone can build the connections within the information that he or she wants to make.
The API opens the closed circuit between an interface and the database. With an API the same database with the same information can have unlimited different interfaces with unlimited different functionalities performing different queries.
The database itself has become the object. What you store in a database and the amount of valuable information you can retrieve decides the value of the database.
And since the medium shapes the message, the database as a medium will eventually shape the message and thus its content.
How do we store information?
If we make information ready for an unlimited amount of outlets (interfaces and templates) we have to think about how we build up this information. For example think about text. If you make a story ready to publish on different media without editing it over and over again. How would you set up this story? Does it need a headline, introduction, paragraphs? Do you need tags, relations, quotes? How many words, does it need a summary?
The database will be a serious medium to work with in the future. We can’t continuously adapt our content to every new media (outlet) available. It’s too labour intensive.
Will the database as a more prominent medium change the way we make content? What are your thoughts about this?