With posts like this driving the debate over the value of real time ‘news’ we should stop and think a little about the nature of time, information, the networks through which information is propagated and the values we associate with various aspects of this complex. I tend to think of the temporal aspect of data with the following timestamps:
Ideation: the time at which the event occurred (or at which the author had the idea to write something to be published through their network)
Authoring: the time at which the document was created
Publication: the time at which the document was transmitted
Consumption: the time at which the document was read
One can debate real time in terms of the difference between these time stamps. Often, the time between publication and consumption is really what is being discussed (and here the world has decided to leave blogs behind for the new shiny world of microblogs even though one can get pretty close to real time via pings and RSS). There is an assumption that this time difference is identical to that between ideation and consumption, but this is where it is important to pause and consider another key aspect of time and information:
Content value increases wrt the time between ideation and consumption in inverse proportion to the probability that the information is accurate. For example, if experiencing an earthquake and reporting it has a low chance of being inaccurate and thus increased value. On the other hand, if I make a snap judgment about the stock market and report it as fact the content value decreases. Or, perhaps a better example, if I am sent a document reporting the behaviour of the president during his youth at an airforce base, then immediately broadcasting that may not be the best move.
Understanding the value of the content doesn’t stop there. There are two other factors:
Relevance to the consumer
Ability to take action
Information about Tiger Wood’s inability to control an oversized motor vehicle is of no interest to me, so I couldn’t care less if the information took an infinite amount of time to reach me. When it does reach me, what action can I take? Absolutely nothing. If there is an earthquake in Edinburgh, however, there is very direct action that I would take.
When I worked at Intelliseek/BuzzMetrics, many customers wanted what they called real time alerting. In working with these customers it became apparent that this meant daily updates. The reason being that their ability to take any action was moderated by at least 24 hours lag time anyway.
As is typical in the blogosphere, and especially when it comes to reading the tea leaves of the technologies of the future, I can’t see any real thoughtful debate on issues like those I’ve outlined about. I’m not saying that my framework is correct, but it does attempt to pull apart the issues. Having said that, analysing the space with this perspective may not actually help us predict where the money will be made, or what behaviours will ultimately prevail. Attentions spans are contracting at alarming rates and it is not Adam Smith’s job to look out for our shriveling minds.
It is becoming the norm now for content on the web to have come from a source other than the page you are looking at. A recent search pulled up this interesting collection of maps in an old blog post. The image that first caught my eye was this one:
but no source is mentioned. Google’s ‘similar’ image search pretty much failed with this example (see results here) getting distracted by the bold green colours.
The image is linked to http://marion.sanap.org.za/MapPrinceEdward3d.jpg. Browsing around the website for Marion Island we can find the page which the image was taken from. However, even then it is not clear what the source of the image is. Searching on both Bing and Google provides no extra hints.
One of the more interesting tools out there for web forensics is TinEye. With this example, no results showed up, however with another example from the original blog post, 6 other locations were discovered for the image. TinEye finds images online which are related in a more direct manner (e.g. identical images, cropped images, etc.)
Yesterday, I saw the Chris Jordan exhibit at the Pacific Science Centre. Jordan uses his artwork to speak about the problems of over consumption and pollution. His pictures are essentially photoshopped aggregates of every day things.
Perhaps his most famous piece is the re-rendering of Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Seurat using multiples of aluminium cans:
In some sense Jordan is the anti-Tufte; using huge amounts of ink to render a single number. And perhaps this suggests an extension to Tufte’s views on the efficiency of a data graphic in terms of the additional information (opinion, social commentary, etc.) that is carried by this inefficiency.
At the end of the day, while fascinating at first, Jordan expresses a single point using a single technique.
Cartogrammar has an interesting post describing using photographs tied to locations to interpolate average colours in a map. By positioning the pictures in space and analyzing them for colour distribution, then taking a function of the colours of pictures in the same area, some quality of the location as a function of photographs, emerges.
Picking up Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, you might be forgiven for thinking ‘another book about goldfish jumping from one bowl to another?’ I’m currently through the first chapter, and while the authors don’t go far enough in terms of setting the scene for their work in terms of basic social network theory and where it comes from (Barabasi is not mentioned until page 265), they do offer some interesting anecdotes about the type of information that passes between the socially connected.
With a clear focus on avoiding the obvious and well trodden paths of those that have gone before them, the authors pull their stories from their own work and other accounts of things like cascades of emotion (someone 3 degrees away from you can cause you to be happier or sadder) and epidemics of laughter (mass psychogenic illness).
I’m enjoying this book (provided by the publisher) more than the previous book that I attempted to review. This may be entirely due to my frame of mind, or being a better fit for the audience. Or – perhaps someone three degrees away from me read it and liked it.