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
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.