The foundation of the Scottish Enlightenment during the 18th century was universal literacy. Out of that foundation came intellectual curiosity, discovery and discourse, Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations,” James Hutton’s Theory of the Earth, and Watt’s engine. I’ve always been fascinated by the history of the Scottish Enlightenment and from my reading of that time I draw parallels between that explosion of discovery with today’s digital world. Where universal literacy helped foster Scottish scientific and economic development in the 18th and 19th centuries, I sometimes think access to Web content creation and participation, while not yet universal, will have a similar impact on economic, intellectual and societal development.

Some of these digital developments — Conversation, SEO, Twitter, social media, crowdsourcing, community management, Web 3.0, semantic technologies, social networks — will be discussed at the PRSA’s upcoming Digital Impact Conference: Learn to Profit From New Media, where many of the speakers will be exploring how to use the world of digital for the next great discoveries.

I’m personally curious about semantic technology or Web 3.0, where people use technology to pull content together from disparate sources across the Web to provide actionable information. I will be talking about building sustainable communities at the conference. I’ve come to realize that the scope of the Web means that today organizations need technological help to find conversations about their industry, and processes for triaging and managing a response to opportunities and threats that exist on the Web. I’ll be exploring how companies are starting to use social media research with customer relationship management, and that in the final analysis technology is merely a tool for helping companies to get to the point where they can interact with people in their industry’s community.

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