As I talk with many of you about the new mindset and business model for local information, you often say something like “There is just too much. How do I use my limited time on information that is truly meaningful to me?”
Blogs, tweets, links, flashes, facebook, myspace, linkedin – it all becomes a blur, a cacophony, sometimes disorientating, or even nauseating.
A reaction of many is to avoid the cacophony, and retreat to the one-way, broadcast it to me, world of traditional newspapers, websites, and television stations.
However, many people are trying to drive through the cacophony, and figure out a way to create a new model, whereby any individual can develop a relationship with a network of information, to get what they want, when they want it, and be shown what might interest them, with a high likelihood of success.
As Clay Shirky said:
By the time that the publishing industries spun up in Venice in the early- to mid-1500s, the ability to have access to more reading material than you could finish in a lifetime is now starting to become a general problem of the educated classes. And by the 1800s, it’s a general problem of the middle class. So there is no such thing as information overload, there’s only filter failure, right? Which is to say the normal case of modern life is information overload for all educated members of society.
If you took the contents of an average Barnes and Noble, and you dumped it into the streets and said to someone, “You know what’s in there? There’s some works of Auden in there, there’s some Plato in there. Wade on in and you’ll find what you like.” And if you wade on in, you know what you’d get? You’d get Chicken Soup for the Soul. Or, you’d get Love’s Tender Fear. You’d get all this junk. The reason we think that there’s not an information overload problem in a Barnes and Noble or a library is that we’re actually used to the cataloging system. On the Web, we’re just not used to the filters yet, and so it seems like “Oh, there’s so much more information.” But, in fact, from the 1500s on, that’s been the normal case.
So, the real question is, how do we design filters that let us find our way through this particular abundance of information? And, you know, my answer to that question has been: the only group that can catalog everything is everybody. One of the reasons you see this enormous move towards social filters, as with Digg, as with del.icio.us, as with Google Reader, in a way, is simply that the scale of the problem has exceeded what professional catalogers can do. But, you know, you never hear twenty-year-olds talking about information overload because they understand the filters they’re given. You only hear, you know, forty- and fifty-year-olds taking about it, sixty-year-olds talking about because we grew up in the world of card catalogs and TV Guide. And now, all the filters we’re used to are broken and we’d like to blame it on the environment instead of admitting that we’re just, you know, we just don’t understand what’s going on. (Emphasis in bold, underline and italics added by Chuck Peters on 12/21/08)
There are three essential qualities of the infomediary:
- Trust. As stated by Hagel and Singer, “Trust
is the infomediary’s lifeblood.” Without trust, consumers
will not share their personal information. Any doubt concerning
the integrity and credibility of the infomediary will entirely
undermine its ability to serve it that capacity.
- Existing relationships with consumers and
merchants. While today’s newspaper is the logical entity to
evolve into tomorrow’s infomediary, it is not the given entity.
The Internet opens the door to numerous other institutions to
usurp that role. The window of opportunity is not a large one,
and those posturing to serve as the dominant infomediary will
be disadvantaged if they must build these relationships from scratch.
- Channel integration. The ability to integrate
the distribution of marketing communications across multiple channels
is vital for two reasons. First, it allows for communication utilizing
the preferred medium of the consumer. Second, it contributes to
the optimization of merchant ROI by minimizing redundancy. (This
is the primary impediment to companies like Amazon.com and Yahoo!
in assuming the infomediary role.)
In order to engage and strengthen our communities, we need to engage and inform each individual. We, as the local media company, cannot know what each individual is truly interested in. The individual does not want to tell the whole world exactly what their interests are, for fear of loss of privacy, or being abused.
Yet, we are moving to a Relationship Economy, in which how we act will depend not only on the information we receive, but how those in trusted relationships with us inform and guide us.
The formula I have been testing lately is Relationship = Attention x Trust. I am sure that others, at other points in time, have come up with this, but I could not find a direct citation.
In order to have a long relationship with a local information organization, I want to know that I will find everything happening in the community relating to those people, places, events or topics in which I have expressed an interest, without wading through lots of articles and content in which I am not interested. I also want to be aware of other information which a trusted “conductor” thinks someone in my community should know, or someone with my particular interests should know.
Despite the running commentary on whether print newspapers or broadcast news can survive, I think Tom Ratkovich had it exactly right in his expression of complementarity in channel integration. I want those broadcast sources to act like they know that I have the option to be plugged into a relevant network of information. So, in those broadcasted, print media, provide overview, context and promotion of the network.
Those interested in the Semantic Web, including e-Me Ventures, recognize that machines reading code, tags and text can only do so much to serve relevant information. Each individual needs to declare interests, pretty specifically. They are not likely to do so without trust.
People working on the trust side of the equation include the Information Valet Project and Attention Trust. What I think we need for C3 is a plug-in, widget, or service that will allow individuals to clearly express their interests, in exchange for our promise to only use that information to serve information of value to that individual, in a long term relationship.
That information of value can be information created without an agenda ( what we ideally think “news” currently is) and information with an agenda (advertising and commercial content).
That relationship has to be built over time, with lots of conversation. If something is no longer of interest, we need to know, and react quickly.
Without replaying the rest of this blog, we cannot actually serve as the trusted infomediary without the right mindset, tasks, organization, technology and persistence. If we break trust, by failing to provide accurate, timely and relevant information, the game is over
With the daily bemoaning of the fate of local media, and the general economy, the time to act is now, with urgency, as this is our time of greatest opportunity to actually implement these old ideas.
What do you think?