Searching and Sorting Information

Atanu Dey writes in his ongoing series on the age of superfluous information:

There is already so much information out there that even if no additional information were generated, each one of us could be occupied a little longer than forever to finish it. Information, as we well know, is a non-rival good. That is, my consuming a particular piece of information will not diminish the amount available to you. Compare this to a rival good such as food. Stock of food is enough to last the six billion humans for about 3 months. In other words, if we produce no additional food, all together humans would finish the stock in three months. Or, a single human can therefore finish this in 1.5 billion years. But it is not so in the case of information. Each of us would take the estimated 18 billion years to finish the information we already have before we ask for more.

Clearly, for an average human, about 0.00000000001 percent of the total information stock is more than enough. About 99.9999999999 percent of the available information is worthless. So how does one go about searching out the teaspoonful of useful information from the oceans of available information. That is the challenge and therein lie the opportunities. That is why firms like Google will make the big bucks. The opportunity is not so much in making information available but making the right information available.

Which brings me to the point which I started off with. Searching is only part of the story when it comes to information. The other part is sorting. If one can sort the information along some relevant dimension, then you have meaningful information. What is meaningful can only be defined in the context of the entity processing the information.

From the vantage point of an individual, this is an age of superfluous information; only a tiny fraction is relevant and meaningful; searching through the information can be automated but efficiently sorting for relevance is a private skill; imparting that skill is a primary function of education.

Payment for Peer Production

Michael Parekh writes:

The broader question for me is how users are eventually compensated for their “peer production” today and over time.

Payment for our peer participation and production to date on services like Wikipedia, Flickr, blogs and the like are primarily in non-cash terms.

Specifically they can be classified in the following categories:

1. Convenient functionality for all (e.g., Flickr, Del.icio.us, Wikipedia and of course, Google).
2. Reputation as in the case of bloggers, reviewers and commentators on the web (aka vanity).
3. Generosity, as highlighted by Tom Evslin in the discussion at the USV session. Good example here are the mostly anonymous contributions by countless folks to entries in Wikipedia.
4. Monetary compensation direct and indirect, as in the case of eBay sellers who get direct cash from sales and Google advertisers, who presumably get transactions from the leads they pay for through Adsense and Adwords on the service and affiliates.