Great post, Dave. Your comments and observations about the "crucial role of connectors" are, as they say, 'spot on'.
One comment, for what it might be worth. You note that "The paper reports that 31 percent of policy reports have never been downloaded and 87 percent have never been cited." Let's leave aside for a moment the issue of citations as a proxy for value and influence (and I'll assume that the 87% of reports that have never been cited include the 31% that have never been downloaded while I'm at it :-) ).
One way to look at the figure that 31% of reports have never been downloaded is to conclude (as many commenters seem to have done) that this suggests that they aren't of value. When I first saw this figure, however, I immediately asked myself: How is this even possible? If these reports were downloaded only a few times -- *that* I can certainly believe (for many of the reasons discussed in the paper). Even if they were only downloaded one time. But ... never? Never? This makes me wonder how find-able these reports are. Don't people vanity-Google themselves and make sure their papers appear and/or send links to their papers so that others can download them? Don't people run bots to download lots of these things so that they can be mirrored/hosted elsewhere? (For a few years there was a WB paper that I would reference but I would direct people to a link on another web site, as I could never find the paper on the Bank's own site, although I was assured that it was indeed there.)
While it is perhaps a small and rather trivial thing, and for what it's worth, I actively encourage other groups to mirror my blog posts, to re-post them in other fora, on listservs, etc. in full. One year I apparently had the most downloaded article on one of these third party sites. When I went and checked the official World Bank stats, very few people had downloaded the article from the Bank itself. It might just be that this third party site played the role of connector better than the Bank's site ...or better than the Bank's search engine ... or better than other search engines could when attempting to index the Bank's site. I used to regularly direct some people to a few World Bank reports that someone had for some reason re-posted on Scribd.
'Connectors', as you rightly suggest, can play important roles in helping people find information that might be of interest or relevance. So, obviously, can things like search engines and social media. I long ago stopped using the World Bank's search engine because it rarely helped me find what I was looking for. Instead, I would use things like Google to find things on the World Bank's own web site, and would ask colleagues for help in trying to locate documents on the World Bank's Intranet.
One implication that many folks seem to have drawn is that, because a report wasn't downloaded (or, seen from another perspective, hadn't yet been downloaded). This figure of 31% might well represent an indictment of the relevance and/or quality of the relevant papers. Might it might also reflect a failure of IT?
(Another possibility is that, in an era of increased openness, lots of more stuff if being made available. Lots of stuff that used to be hidden behind corporate firewalls at the World Bank are now being made available as part of the Bank's Access to Information policy. Maybe a lot of this stuff is of low quality, or questionable relevance. But if the cost of making it available digitally is near zero, why not liberate this stuff and make it publicly available for (potential) download? Maybe no one else is interested in it. Maybe it is isn't helpful or useful to anyone today. But if we can lengthen the long tail with very little effort, why not do so? We should be careful that our metrics are not informed by past notions and practices of scarcity that may no longer always apply like they used to.)