about 8 years on 2009-03-06


once again...  an overstimulating week, with not enough time to process.  i want to at least quickly note one minor points and then clarify one more major question as brought up by aaron sittig.

minor point 1:  follow-up from massively interesting talk at nyse on wednesday night.  

i had the privilege of attending a fascinating small dinner talk on wednesday at the new york stock exchange.  the point of discussion was largely about the financial mess we are currently in, how we got here, and where to go.  

some of the more interesting points were about the implications of accounting rules and the concept of 'off balance sheet' liabilities/assets, and the detachment of financial transactions (mortgages specifically) from their sources, including the difference between defaulting on your neighborhood friend and banker, and defaulting on a product that has been packaged and repackaged to oblivion.  

none of this is new, but what was fascinating to me was the number of times the people at the center of the crisis used terms like language, dialogue, communication, etc. to discuss the situation.  the markets are facing linguistic transaction problems

this makes perfect sense, but it is heartening to hear how smart and on-point these leaders are.  as hayek would say, markets are just tools for information... and the breakdown of the markets (sadly a leading indicator of wider problems) is a breakdown of communication and information.  the ability to widely and efficiently transact, repackage, and move content is destroying knowledge.

major point:  follow-up to post on how to think about the value of information 

i finally got around to posting on the way i look at information, specifically -  the value of information/news = the improbability of information = f (speed * trust).
aaron sittig, whom i very much respect, responded by saying: "there's an additional kink that could be folded into this. i like to explain that...  information = personal meaning(data)

since you can throw bits of data at me all day, but if they're bits i don't care about, it's wrong to consider them information. information only makes sense then relative to a personal subjective context. 

so facebook takes a huge pile of data, runs it through a process to filter by personal meaning, using our social graph among other things as our best guess, and finds the real information buried in the data.

so perfectly fast, perfectly trustworthy data is worthless if it's not personally significant to me. take, for instance, the excellent local news coverage of the la times. to me it's not information though i'm sure it's timely and i have plenty of reasons to trust the la times.

the point of all this is to stress that there are factors beyond trust and speed that need to be maximized when thinking about improving the value of news flows."

while i get his drift and agree fully agree that facebook provides a ton of value in the form of filtering information, i actually disagree with the more structural point.  unlike beauty, 'information' is not in the eye of the beholder, it is objective.
i don't care who won the kentucky derby one bit, but that doesn't mean it isn't information as a function of improbability, speed and trustworthiness.  quite frankly, to a comment by joe jackson, i don't care where yahoo's stock closed yesterday, but it's closing price is a point of information.  
the interesting point that aaron is speaking to is not about the definition of 'information' out is about the changing nature of the informationscape.  for almost all of human history the problem was not enough information, we could process and digest far more information and value that we were presented with on a daily basis.
as the cost of publishing has fallen to zero, the problem is inverted.  there is for the first time way too much information being publicly thrown at us and the bottleneck is consumption.  i simply can't process anything when everyone is shouting in the public forum....
so, facebook's role has always been, and is continuing to push forward as, a bit of selective hearing in the public forum.  i might choose to set filters to listen only to the most valuable information, or tune my listening to only receive content i find entertaining... that is quite a cool function and highly valuable*.  in many ways this isthe role that most newspaper used to play - straddling information and entertainment, but this role sits on top of information and content**, it doesn't change the fundamental definition of information.
* i also love that it is biologically derived - human beings have a highly developed selective hearing funciton, i think there was a great new yorker article on it recently

**the fb filers are not only about 'information' but also about 'content' - the difference is that the value of information by definition declines as it is shared (value is based on scarcity) where content does not decline, and sometimes even gains value when it is shared (the fact that i have seen watchmen makes the content no less valuable to you, and probably makes it more valuable).... since this post is really content not information, i am going to share it widely - on fb.

original swl blogposts and letters 2007-2010