Colin Clark's textbook-enshrined distinctions among economic sectors suggest that we should expect, first of all, to find a primary production level at the foundation of the bit business. And indeed, useful information is now continually harvested from the world by keyboards, microphones, video cameras, surveillance satellites, point-of-sale terminals, and desktop document scanners, and then stored in databases like wheat in silos. There are innumerable small operations, and there are a few massive bit extraction and refining enterprises, such as those converting large libraries and image collections into digital form and putting them online.
At the level corresponding to secondary industry in Clark's schema, raw bits are transformed into information products and distributed to consumers. Here, software takes command; its role in information economies is similar to that of industrial machinery and manufacturing plants in industrial ones. (Some day, perhaps, some enterprising urban historian will produce a history of industrial and commercial application software that parallels Sigfried Giedion's cataloguing and celebration of early machines in Mechanization Takes Command.) Sometimes production and distribution operations are related in something approximating the traditional, industrial way-as when a publisher uses databases and document-production software to create a newsletter, then e-mails copies to subscribers. Increasingly, though, the production capabilities are shifting to the consumer end-as when a wire service feed flows into a personal computer, where stories are automatically selected and laid out by personal newspaper-production software. Potentially, each node in a computer network is both a production and a consumption site for information products, and the channels carry a complex, multiway information trade.
In cyberspace, the tertiary Clarkian level becomes that of information retailers, brokers, agents, and middlemen. The editors and publishers of a scientific journal, for example, provide the essential services of evaluating the relevance and scientific merit of submitted papers and selecting the best for publication. Though production and distribution mechanisms for traditional print journals and emerging online journals are very different, this information-brokering function remains. Similarly, when gatherings shift from bars to bulletin boards, there is still a need for somebody to serve as "innkeeper" to keep the premises in order and the conversation moving along. And as retailing and banking go online, sales jobs move to cyberspace.
Networks and cyberspace communities connect players in the different sectors, much as transportation systems and cities on the ground have always done. Like farmers putting their wheat on the railroad to get it to markets and consumers, primary producers of information can put their bits on the Net. Manufacturers of information products can find suppliers and raw materials on the Net, then ship their finished work back out. Sales people and professional consultants can set up shop at network addresses instead of at locations on Main Street. If you surf around the World Wide Web for a while, or explore the offerings of any commercial online service, you will find booming activity at all of these levels.