Information Confusion: Search Gone South

January 26, 2013

I read “We Are Supposed to Be Truth Tellers.” I think the publication is owned by a large media firm. The point of the write up is that “real news” has a higher aspiration and may deal with facts with a smidgen of opinion.

I am not a journalist. I am a semi retired guy who lives in rural Kentucky. I am not a big fan of downloading and watching television programs. The idea that I would want to record multiple shows, skip commercials, and then feel smarter and more informed as a direct result of those activities baffles me.

Here’s what I understand:

A large company clamped down on a subsidiary’s giving a recording oriented outfit a prize for coming up with a product that allows the couch potato to skip commercials. The fallout from this corporate decision caused a journalist to quit and triggered some internal grousing.

The article addresses these issues, which I admit, are foreign to me. Here’s one of the passages which caught my attention:

CNET reporters need to either be resigning or be reporting this story, or both. On CNET. If someone higher up removes their content then they should republish it on their personal blogs. If they are then fired for that they should sue the company. And either way, other tech sites, including this one, would be more than happy to make them job offers.

I agree I suppose. But what baffles me are these questions:

  1. In today’s uncertain financial climate, does anyone expect senior management to do more than take steps to minimize risk, reduce costs, and try to keep their jobs? I don’t. The notion that senior management of a media company embraces the feel good methods of Whole Earth or the Dali Lama is out of whack with reality in my opinion.
  2. In the era of “weaponized information,” pay to play search traffic, and sponsored content from organizations like good old ArnoldIT—what is accurate. What is the reality? What is given spin? I find that when I run a query for “gourmet craft spirit” I get some darned interesting results. Try it. Who are these “gourmet craft spirit” people? Interesting stuff, but what’s news, what’s fact, and what’s marketing? If I cannot tell, how about the average Web surfer who lets online systems predict what the user needs before the user enters a query?
  3. At a time when those using online to find pizza and paradise, can users discern when a system is sending false content? More importantly, can today’s Fancy Dan intelligence systems from Palantir-likeand i2 Group-like discern “fake” information from “real” information? My experience is that with sufficient resources, these advanced systems can output results which are shaped by crafty humans. Not exactly what the licensees want or know about.

Net net: I am confused about the “facts” of any content object available today and skeptical of smart systems’ outputs. These can be, gentle reader, manipulated. I see articles in the Wall Street Journal which report on wire tapping. Interesting but did not the owner of the newspaper find itself tangled in a wire tapping legal matter? I read about industry trends from consulting firms who highlight the companies who pay to be given the high intensity beam and the rah rah assessments. Is this Big Data baloney sponsored content, a marketing trend, or just the next big thing to generate cash in a time of desperation. I see conference programs which feature firms who pay for platinum sponsorships and then get the keynote, a couple of panels, and a product talk. Heck, after one talk, I get the message about sentiment analysis. Do I need to hear from this sponsor four or five more times. Ah, “real” information? So what’s real?

In today’s digital world, there are many opportunities for humans to exercise self interest. The dust up over the CBS intervention is not surprising to me. The high profile resignation of a real journalist is a heck of a way to get visibility for “ethical” behavior. The subsequent buzz on the Internet, including this blog post, are part of the information game today.

Thank goodness I am sold and in a geographic location without running water, but I have an Internet connection. Such is progress. The ethics stuff, the assumptions of “real” journalists, and the notion of objective, fair information don’t cause much of stir around the wood burning stove at the local grocery.

“Weaponized information” has arrived in some observers’ consciousness. That is a step forward. That insight is coming after the train left the station. Blog posts may not be effective in getting the train to stop, back up, and let the late arrivals board.

Stephen E Arnold, January 26, 2013

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