The Invisible World of Intermediaries: A Cautionary Tale
Many observers consider traditional intermediaries such as brokers, lenders and salespersons anachronisms in a world where consumers can communicate directly with providers of products and services over computer networks. Under the same rubric, information mediators such as journalists, editors, librarians and customer support representatives are being targeted for elimination. Drawing on our ethnographically-informed studies of customer support analysts and librarians, we demonstrate that the expertise and experience of intermediaries is often invisible – to the consumer, to the organization in which these intermediaries work, and even to the intermediaries' managers. The valuable services provided by intermediaries are not made unnecessary by end-user access. We argue for a richer understanding of intermediation, and a reallocation of functions and roles in which “new intermediaries” – people, software or a combination of the two – aggregate, personalize and assure the quality of information.