When Does Communication Become Information?

9 Feb

Virtually immediately. But — this just in — not all interesting communication is valuable information.

I’ve been thinking about this question as I have gotten increasingly involved with Twitter (and its various plug-ins, cousins and competitors). Use is growing fast of the status message (Facebook) or its real-time Twitter-ish equivalent (Tweets, etc.). These messages are rapidly transitioning from quick update resource (“So-and-so just arrived @ ATL”) to headline alert (“USAir 1549 ditched in Hudson; photos here“).

What got me thinking about this issue of the value of these updates is the current debate over whether the rise of this communication is a ‘Brave New World’-ish event that puts at risk the very mission of a current leader of the Web world (Google) and its very mission: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Or whether something a little less earth-shattering is at work.

Here is the debate: Google and other search engines are great archival resources, finding all the information one could want; but they are not doing such a comprehensive job with the real-time, “crowd-sourced” web, and searchable Twitter, Yammer and FB status updates are the next new thing and the incumbents will fail to get a grip on the new ‘borg-sourced hivemind” of the distributed internet. Etc., etc. (Note: I just saw Kara posted on this at allthingsd.com).

Hmmm.

It is an interesting argument. But so far, the rise of the status update feels ‘more, better, faster’ to me. In the news business, the same challenge of tapping the value of real-time information has been around for generations: Baron Paul Reuter’s famed carrier pigeons bearing news of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo were an earlier form of ‘tweet.’ The information carried by those birds was actionable financial intelligence that made some folks wealthy, and in many respects created the Reuters news brand.

If the pigeons had simply been carrying word that ‘Wellington arrived Waterloo’ there would have been less value.

There is often a bit of a feeling of deja vu. Only a few years ago, there was some enthusiasm that blogsearch (Technorati. Sphere) would help with monitoring the real-time web. While no doubt helpful, they did not exactly set the Earth spinning on a new axis.

The value of real-time status will be a function of the value of the content of the update, I suppose. Until we come up with some new tools to better infer content, and context, from those updates by some other means, we are going to have to rely upon one another to make sure we are providing some real information in our communication.

As it has always been…..

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One Response to “When Does Communication Become Information?”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Keywords and Meaning - February 16, 2009

    […] need for speed is nothing new. Former Wall Street Journal newsman Craig Forman draws an arc that extends through the real-time newswires used in the financial world back to the pidgeons of […]

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