Data Glutton, Data Pauper

I was in NYC today at the Rethink meetings held by the Advertising Research Foundation. 

I fell into conversation with Chris Damsen, VP, Business Development for  And, boy, is this an interesting topic of conversation.  Now that we really can “create our own newspapers,” we have our work cut out for us.

I suddenly realized my problem with aggregators.  When I configure my feeds, I want just about everything.   This image above shows just half of the featured widgets at Netvibes.  Financial Times?  Check!  Slate?  You bet!  Yes, please!  Wired Magzine?  Wrap them up, I’ll take them all.  And then there are all the blogs.  My Google Reader has tons of them.

This informational excess is not inflicted on me by the market place, the kind of thing that worries Barry Schwartz.  No, this profusion of possibilility is created and sustained by me alone.  Hi, my name is Grant McCracken and I’m a data glutton. 

Data gluttony is a terrible condition.  Everytime I turn on my aggregator, I feel like I am at an all-you-eat event at Denny’s.  Really, it can’t end well.    And eventually, I just stop turning the aggregator on.   To cope with being a data glutton I make myself a data pauper.

What I need is advice on knowlege architecture.  Or maybe it’s a matter of data economics.  Maybe I should be treating information as if it were a scarce resource.  Maybe the aggregator should be giving me 100 points to “spend” on data feeds and force me to make choices.  All this “free” information is actually guite costly.

It sounds like a job for IDEO or someone, doesn’t it?  Give us the perfect architecture (for someones like us) and let us fill it in.  But for god’s sake don’t leave us to our own resources.  Hi, my name is Grant McCracken and I’m a data pauper. 

The upshot of this conversation for me was that a market in the information space is emerging.  I won’t pay anything for access to the New York Times.  This is an interesting aggregator, but it’s way too chunky for me to be exquisitely useful.  I want a combination of machine and human editing that gives me all but only the things I need, and for this I am prepared to pay handsomely. 

It’s not that we won’t pay for editing.  It’s becoming clear, I think, that we are now eager to pay for editing, even to pay a premium for editing.  (After all, our careers now depend upon early warning, good information, timely intelligence.  Not to know what we need to know in a dynamic economy, what could this cost us?) 

We just don’t want to pay for the editing now made available to us by the market place.  Again, the New York Times is a grand institution, but it doesn’t capture or treat the things I need to know about in the ways I need to know about them.  I need something both more extensive and more intensive.  I will pay for the Economist, and I do so because it selected out at a ferocious rate and it adds value of an extraordinary kind. 

This much is clear, there is a market emerging.  It doesn’t appear to have any entries.  I wish they’d hurry up.  Because otherwise I’m hopeless.

8 thoughts on “Data Glutton, Data Pauper

  1. Terry Rock

    SciFi (or is it SyFy?) author David Brin has some really intriguing thoughts along these lines in some of his books. “Earth” and “Kiln People” are two that come to mind. Here is a “predictions registry” related to Earth (published in 1990):

    Based on all I’ve read by Brin, I’d say that your post is pointing out an unstable situation that is going to painfully resolve itself based on the dynamics you’ve identified.

    Maybe the word you’re looking for, though, is “curator” as opposed to editor?

  2. Marc

    What a great post Grant. And a topic oh-so-dear to my heart. Information, God I love it, God I can’t get enough of it, hang on, where did my life go?

    One of my favourite sites, (my favourite thing about them is how they’re not shy to just make up words if none fit) has long been saying that Digital Curators will be a hot new job.

    Great to have one, I’m not sure I’d want to be one.

    =) best wishes

  3. Alan

    Sorry, Grant, I don’t see your problem. Maybe you’re just worn out after finishing your latest manuscript? When you walked into Heifer’s Bookstore in Cambridge or The Coop in the other Cambridge, or into the Strand or into any bookstore, did you not come out with more books than you really needed? Some are still unread. What thinking person would give over the sheer pleasure of discovering new books to read, new sites to visit, news to digest, commentary to gnaw on (RIP L.E. Sissman, The Innocent Bystander of the old Atlantic Magazine and occasional not-bad poet). Relax. Take down a favorite book. Thumb through the pages. Read your own marginalia. Think a moment about Samuel Johnson, Thomas Jefferson, A.J. Leibling, Freya Stark, Carl Sagan … you have you own favorite, mindful, generous companions. No one reads all the books in their bookshelves. But they are a comfort to have at hand. You don’t need a relationship with an RSS curator. You just need to re-tune relationship with your aggregators. The question is not about information; the question is whether our data is changing our knowledge. And, of course, it is! That is the point. SO take a couple of days off then ease yourself back into the stream.

  4. Scott Ellington

    Three cheers for Alan’s retort, firstly,
    adding only that a daily Google Alert for “WGA”, “Michael Winship” and “network neutrality” keeps me abreast of current documents in which those terms appear. I may find I’m not entirely riveted by Western Growers Association, and Women’s Golf Association, and Windows’ Genuine Advantage news, but shortcomings in Google’s discriminator are less important to me that its aggregator-function.
    Nothing will replace the specialized, evolved integrity of an heroic city editor, but until someone/something better is invented, there are transitional work-arounds.

  5. Robbie

    Thanks for this post Grant. Last year, we (Context-Based Research Group) did a project on the future of news with The Associated Press. The report is available for free at

    The report is based on an ethnographic study. We show the existing model for news consumption and then suggest a new model for news. The report then includes ways that the AP has begun to approach using this new model for news.


  6. Steve Gentile

    Like Grant and others here, I LOVE a good collection of data as much as anyone with an unending desire to binge on information. I agree with Alan on the bookshelf syndrome and looking up at mine now, see everything from Walker Evans and Avedon, to Stafford and Mary Oliver poetry collections, to Jack London and Pearl Buck, countless consumer research volumes. And just to my left, recently re-discovered photo prints from the first roll of film I ever shot 100% by myself – the family farm in Berwick PA!
    I don’t know that I could trade this potpouri of resource for all the RSS and aggregate feeds that pour into my mind via electronic sources at all. And those electronic feeds are just as vital, just as informative, just as memorable. All valuable.
    And let’s not get into the music collection that spans from my grandfather’s opera rehearsal recordings and great uncle’s compositions for silent films to Gershwin and Diana Krall!

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