21 November 2010

Do We Really Need More Information?

I am sure like many people - I am suffering from WAY too much data. In fact I think I am drowning in the stuff.

Regular Readers know I have this sense of the greater progression...

Data--> Information--> Knowledge --> Power

In my mind you need intellectual horsepower to get from the 3rd stage to the fourth. However the mind can no longer accommodate easily the synthesis of the first two stages of the progression.

The firehose drinking used to be so easy. I learned how to use a library as a teenager and had a great knack of being able to dig out the right information to make good decisions. In my early career that helped me enormously. Information acquisition was driven in large part by being able to find quality sources of data.

That skill is largely useless these days as we have so much access to data and easier ways to get at it so thanks Google for making that part of me useless... (just a note in case anyone thinks that is a driver of my crusade to make Google a better corporate citizen - it isn't). The first generation of the web in my view was all about access to data. Particularly as far as the Travel vertical was concerned.

But what now is required are better tools for qualitative assessment of the data we are presented. We suffer from the lack of these. Web 2.0 was supposed to bring nuance and qualitative measures to the flow of data. It hasn't in my view. Rather it has further complicated matters. Making the task of assessing data to extract the nuggets of information in fact harder not easier. And those of us who are waiting for better tools are going to have to wait a long time.

The primary editor of data these days is Google. And with that comes an incredible responsibility. One that in my view Google is failing to maintain in a balanced and responsible manner.

Gerry McGovern's weekly piece has an interesting spin on it. But the questions he asks are really appropriate:

"The other problem with the better filter approach is poor quality information. If the information is out of date or plain wrong, then how do you filter it? If the information is badly written and confusing, then how do you filter that? If the information is badly organized and has no metadata then how do you filter that? Filters are not magical."

His solution however is naive in its sincerity. We already lost this battle. he continues:

"There is a greater need today than ever for professional editors and librarians. People who can maintain quality standards when it comes to content. People who know how to organize a website from the point of view of the customer. When it comes to information, we really need to shift back to a focus on quality, not quantity."

In my view we all have to be honest and clear whenever possible. That means that as Bloggers - which I guess I can now claim credentials - we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard than just writing opinions on Facebook.

I hope that you dear reader will see that I try and do that. You can only be the measure of my success. One of the best quotes about writing I ever heard was this one. It took me a while to find it but did in the end. (I thought it was attributed to HG Wells!!!)

There are two kinds of writer: those that make you think, and those that make you wonder.
- Brian Aldiss

In the third generation of the web - I hope that we can bring back some of the harnessing of the human collective intellect (as opposed to simple mass behaviour) to the machine available horsepower. Am I hopeful? Yes... but also skeptical. I hope that I can make you both think and wonder. Because wonder is that childlike quality that I hope we can all strive for.


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