Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Information alone is not valuable - targeted information is

Don't you love how patterns form from random things? A sample of four or so blogs and articles I read over the last week lead to this epiphany for me.

Item 1:
Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 blogged on "The declining value of redundant news content on the web". He takes an example of a news story about Google that currently has 2000 separate articles tracked on Google News - and how for most of those 2000 journalists the cost of commenting and reproducing the news will not be matched by return readership, simply because there are so many other versions to read.

Item 1.5:
Sean from House of Butter observes in the context of the legal industry that while excessively duplicated news has little value, "Human editors specialising in a segment(s) of the legal industry will we think still find favour with time poor readers".

Item 2:
Hal Varian of Google was recently interviewed by the McKinsey Quarterly. There are heaps of interesting insights in the interview, but here are two that stood out for me:

We have to look at today’s economy and say, “What is it that’s really
scarce in the Internet economy?” And the answer is attention. [Psychologist]
Herb Simon recognized this many years ago. He said, “A wealth of information
creates a poverty of attention.” So being able to capture someone’s attention at
the right time is a very valuable asset.....

I keep saying the sexy job in the next ten years will be
statisticians. People think I’m joking, but who would’ve guessed that computer
engineers would’ve
been the sexy job of the 1990s? The ability to take data—to be able to
understand it, to process it, to extract value from it, to visualize it, to
communicate it—that’s going to be a hugely important skill in the next

Sensing a theme here? Information hasn't got much value when it's just floating around out there. In fact it can have negative value -the cost of "publishing" it may outweigh the return (even on the internet!). But information that reaches the right person at the exact time they need it, thus capturing their attention - that's where the money is.

Dave Weinberger recognised this in Item 3, "Everything is Miscellaneous" (p223-4):

Miscellanized information is informaiton without borders. That means we've
been misleading CEOs for the past fifteen years by drumming into their heads
that every business is an information business. Of course information is central
to businesses, but business's reflex action has been to wall off what they know
as if it were gold. Now that information is being commoditized, it has more
value if it's set free into the miscellaneous. For example, airlines do better
when their prorietary scheduling and pricing information is made available to
travel sites...It gains even more value when innovators can combine it with
other data..."

Statisticians, innovators, librarians, publishers - whatever title you want to use, these are the people who can collect and present information in a meaningful way, at the right time, to the right people. And it is that skill that will be valuable, and valued, in the information economy of the future.