Navigating the ‘exaflood’

Student Perspectives is our series of guest posts written by current CityLIS students.

This post is written by current CityLIS student Jennifer Samura, who discusses how the internet may evolve in the age of the zetabyte. Sarah reflects on key terms such as ‘exaflood’ and ‘mundaneum’ in her discussion of the semantic web. The original post can be found here.


In 2010 Luciano Floridi remarked that we are coming into the ‘age of the zettabyte’ (Floridi, 2010) as we would have created 1,000 exabytes of digital data. It’s difficult to imagine the scale of this digital information so like most visual learners I turned to pictures to help me out. Cisco created this mammoth infographic to present what the internet would look like in 2015 and it’s astonishing however, it is 2018 and according to Cisco’s information traffic projection we are well into the zettabyte era.

So, with all this information being created what does it mean for LIS?

Well, in week 4 of the Library & Information Science Foundation module we again discussed what a document is (I find myself coming back to this question more than I ever imagined) and the concept of documents vs documentation. As we attempt to define what documents are and our approach to classifying and cataloguing them we turn to document literacy. We must understand how to deal with different types of documents as document forms evolve. How on earth do we deal with tweets; Facebook notifications; ebooks; blog posts; pictures; videos; immersive documents? Since Instagram’s conception there have been an estimated 40 billion photos and videos shared on the social media application (Lister 2018), are all these documents? If they are how could we possibly index and link them on the web?

In this day and age information seeking starts with our 4-6-inch phones, our tablets, computers and laptops. Like Paul Otlet’s Mundaneum there is a central knowledge repository in the web, but like Otlet madly trying to index the world’s documents, we as Information professionals must consider how this ‘exaflood’ of information will be linked together in a meaningful way.

Just over 10 years ago Tim Berners-Less published the Semantic Road Map, a living document that explains the need for a linked web of data that is both machine readable and for human consumption. The concept is simple but highly effective the Wikipedia-like linked pages as a concept is intriguing and the hope is it would lead us to more meaningful results. However, with exabytes of data already on the web how does one go about linking this data?

Tim Berners-Lee describes the ‘expectations of behaviour’ whilst linking data on the web, using URI’s to name things, using HTTP URIs so said things can be looked up, provide useful information using RDF and SPARQL standards and providing links so other information can be discovered (Berners-Lee, 2009). These expectations or ‘rules’ are integral to developing the semantic web and these links are the basis for the web of data. With data on the semantic web providing meaningful links to other related data, navigation for the end users will take on a form already well known with the hypertext web with the added relational data that provides meaningful links. Tim Berners-Lee’s semantic web is one proposed solution for the exaflood of information on the web and how we can deal with it.

33 Mind-Boggling Instagram Stats & Facts for 2018 (no date). Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2018).

Burkeman, O. (2009) ‘Forty years of the internet: how the world changed for ever’, The Guardian, 23 October. Available at: (Accessed: 10 October 2018).

Floridi, L. (2010) Information: a very short introduction. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press (Very short introductions, 225).

ibelong2 (no date) What is the Exaflood? Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2018).

Linked Data – Design Issues (no date). Available at: (Accessed: 22 October 2018).

Luini, A. (1556) Rising in Noah’s ark. Available at: (Accessed: 8 November 2018).

Semantic Web roadmap (no date). Available at: (Accessed: 20 October 2018).

Swanson, B. (2007) ‘The Coming Exaflood’, Wall Street Journal, 20 January. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2018).

What Is a Document? | Document Academy (no date). Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2018).

Whatever Happened to the Semantic Web? (no date). Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2018).

About Joseph Dunne-Howrie

I am artist in residence in the MA/MSc Library and Information Science department at City, University of London and module year coordinator for MA/MFA Performative Writing/Vade Mecum at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance.My research interests include intermediality, live performance in digital culture, participatory and immersive theatre, performance documentation, archives, and performative writing.
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