Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Information Overload—Information Diets

In this week’s reading, “Clouds, big data, and smart assets: Ten tech-enabled business trends to watch,” Bughin, Chui, and Manyika highlight the pervasive nature of new technologies (ie. virtualization and cloud computing) and their role in shaping business strategies. Number one on their list is the use of web communities to develop and market new products and services, and reduce costs for companies. A 2010 McKinsey survey reported that 70% of company executives utilized information from web communities (forums, blogs, social networks) in their operations. The ability to collect information from internet users and experts across worldwide networks is referred to as “tapping into a world of talent”.

While the authors urge executives to analyze these trends and think strategically about their implications on industry and organizational management they don’t highlight the complexity of filtering these data sources and the burden of information overload for organizations. Encouraging leaders and workers across an organization to utilize web communities and big data assumes that they know how to be good consumers of this information. One of the problems of relying on web community sources is that companies play an active role in manipulating this data by paying people to write glowing reviews of certain products or strategically locating icons on their websites. While this challenge will probably not slow down efforts to collect and analyze online data, how do companies measure the reliability of this data and how can they teach employees to be better information consumers?

At the individual level, movements such as “sustainable news” are encouraging the public to take responsibility for the type of information they consume. Clay Johnson, author of “Information Diet” reminds us that the news, products, and services we see on the web represent patterns of manipulated/auto-pilot “clicks” and they are not necessarily a representation of truth. As internet users, Johnson challenges us to think before we “click” and to question how and why companies are monitoring our internet usage. This movement raises serious concerns about using new technologies and real-time data analytics in a way that fuels a misinformed society. It’s appropriate to ask what methods companies use to interpret this information and what if any checks they have in place to use this information responsibly.

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