INFO TECHNOLOGY

The case for fresh information

Most information available in papers, on TV, radio or the web is extremely dynamic and can rapidly become obsolete. Information has its own life span. It is therefore crucial to understand when the monitored information needs refreshing. A metaphor for this is, for example, a food store in which a stale, tasteless sandwich must be replaced by a fresh one. But while eating an old sandwich might cause just a stomach ache, using obsolete information to guide a crucial business move could ruin your entire business.
How can you refresh the information at your disposal so that it attains a satisfying level of currency? Since information is a commodity that depreciates, its value may decline even before we use it. Its initial value is subjective and domain specific, while its "lifetime" is determined by the time of its usefulness. A web surfer, seeking specific information, needs to get the most up-to-date data, meaning that as soon as the information becomes outdated, it is necessary to go through the search process again. The surfer must decide clearly what to observe and when. Many information sources change on a daily basis, while others are modified monthly.


Peter Borak

Most information available in papers, on TV, radio or the web is extremely dynamic and can rapidly become obsolete. Information has its own life span. It is therefore crucial to understand when the monitored information needs refreshing. A metaphor for this is, for example, a food store in which a stale, tasteless sandwich must be replaced by a fresh one. But while eating an old sandwich might cause just a stomach ache, using obsolete information to guide a crucial business move could ruin your entire business.

How can you refresh the information at your disposal so that it attains a satisfying level of currency? Since information is a commodity that depreciates, its value may decline even before we use it. Its initial value is subjective and domain specific, while its "lifetime" is determined by the time of its usefulness. A web surfer, seeking specific information, needs to get the most up-to-date data, meaning that as soon as the information becomes outdated, it is necessary to go through the search process again. The surfer must decide clearly what to observe and when. Many information sources change on a daily basis, while others are modified monthly. Whenever you are collecting sources of data, you should look hard for the freshest source and, at the same time, assess the source's value. For instance, compared with a newspaper, the web offers the possibility to stay current by simply clicking on an application area to study it.

The role of search engines (a class of web monitoring system) is to monitor the continuously changing web by finding, indexing and re-indexing pages. It would be naive to expect that search engines are completely current - time and certainty requirements must be somewhat relaxed. The web has nothing like instantaneous knowledge. Web pages change at various times - some are altered frequently and should be checked often, others change rarely and therefore they may be checked less frequently.

Its unreasonable, however, to conduct individual searches extremely frequently. Thankfully, new web devices are arriving to enable better web data orientation - they keep track of the above-mentioned enormous change rates by monitoring specific URLs for changes while running standing user queries against one of a number of search engines. In this manner, the user gets feedback on monitored URL changes and search results concerning his standing queries.

Nevertheless, it is the web observer who has the power to find the information wanted. With dramatically changing information values and constant time pressure, observers have to consider the importance of individual search engines (the role of which will soon include, apart from re-indexing page changes, indication of their significance). Information may be a depreciating commodity - but when 'fresh', it has an essential value in many important spheres.


Peter Borak is Information Risk Manager at KPMG Slovensko. His column appears monthly. Send comments or questions to pborak@kpmg.sk.

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