Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Information overflow?

Between Frederic Fillioux, with his Monday Note proclaiming the demise
of traditional news organizations and the advent of Churnalism with its
low standard of journalistic rigor, and Jeff Jarvis, who embraces the
use of Twitter as a tool to break and verify stories, there's a war
raging over whether Twitter will be the savior or executioner of the
news industry. As always, when positions are polarized this way, there
is truth on both sides of the argument.

MG Siegler, frustrated by Facebook's PR machine, pointed me to some very
interesting statistics from John Sullivan at Propublica (PR industry
fills vacuum left by shrinking newsrooms ) that may
highlight what the problem is and what the outcome could be. In the
1980s, there were 0.36 journalists and 0.45 person working in the PR
industry per 100,000 people. In 2008, the rates shifted to 0.25
journalists and 0.90 PR persons per 100,000 people. Thus the ratio of
PR/journalist has nearly tripled in less than 30 years. I will leave the
rest of this article to you, the reader, because it is an interesting
point of view on how PR is taking over the conversation.

My point is a little bit different. In March 2011, Business Insiders ( ) observed that 15 million users were following 50 or more people on Twitter, and were, therefore, very active. If 1/3 of them are in the USA, then 1,630 users per 100,000 are now broadcasting information on Twitter, 2,000 times
more than PR persons and 8,000 times more than journalists. These numbers are probably far higher on Facebook.

As if it weren't already challenge enough for the news industry to keep
up with the PR industry, the emergence of Twitter and Facebook poses a
far more overwhelming challenge for journalists, both in terms of
opportunities as well as the possibility of getting lost. I daresay that
the challenge is even bigger for the PR industry, as they now have to
control far more conversations than they had to in the past, and they
are probably understaffed for the task at hand. If journalists and PR
persons face a big problem, what about you and me? We rely on those
experts to provide us with news that is highly relevant, yet we, as well
as they, are now confronted with an enormous information fire hose right
on the computer. As Laurent Haug points out, “from a world where the
problem was to add information, we now enter into a world where the
problem is to find which one can be ignored, hidden or deleted.” If the
early days of Web 2.0 were all about blogging and creating new and
interesting content, we are moving now in a world of curation.

The problem is the same in the data industry.
If you consider how you would gather information on a company or a
people today, you have three options:
1. websites or social networks managed by PR persons whose goals is to
manage the conversation for a specific outcome, such as recruiting,
increasing sales, and managing perceptions, rather than providing
2. commercial information providers, who may be hard to find or very
3. search engines and social networks to find an ocean of information,
but you don’t really know which information can be ignored, hidden or
And the problem is getting worse by the day as we are creating as much information in two days than we did up to 2003 according to Eric Schmidt.

There have been several attempts to create databases for specific
vertical industries. Some have been very successful, but none has
attempted to specifically address the problem of searching for
information about companies and people over the internet. Spoke wants to
be the one stop shop to find 90% of the information you need. We are
hoping to leverage this huge community of participants the same way
journalists are using them to validate information they receive. We will
be relying on you to provide us with information as you are searching
for your own information. It is going to be a give and take, and some of
you will be creating profiles that others will be able to use.

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