Saturday, May 21, 2005

World Wide Web of Junk

The WWW is the greatest junk yard of low grade information!

The value of the Internet as a repository of useful information is very low. Carl Shapiro in “Information Rules” suggests that the amount of actually useful information on the Internet would fit within roughly 15,000 books, which is about half the size of an average mall bookstore. To put this in perspective: there are over 5 billion unique, static & publicly accessible web pages on the www. Apparently Only 6% of web sites have educational content (Maureen Henninger, “Don’t just surf the net: Effective research strategies”. UNSW Press). Even of the educational content only a fraction is of significant informational value.

So why is it that the Internet is so popular as an information resource for the masses? I submit for 2 reasons:
  1. Convenience:
    Since everybody is using the same thing – the WWW – there’s no compelling or competitive pressure to seek out quality information.
  2. No alternative. All feed on the same junk.

For those who are skilled in finding the nuggets of valuable information an online library of 15,000 quality books is an attractive proposition.

Oh yeah one more thing; entertainment content has little quality information value, however, for as long as it tickles the consumer’s senses the Internet will unfailingly seduce all of us.

Did you know that there were days when the most popular search word on the internet wasn’t sex; it was hotels; sex ranked only 6th. Wow how useful this information is, and it wasn't hard to find.


Alan2012 said...

Shapiro is off. Way off.

The internet is chock-full of
trash, but also has very rich
veins of quality content, and lots
of them.

Example from my area of speciality:
the Pubmed (Medline) database --
over 15 million records, wonderfully
useful, even indispensable.
15 million records (abstracts)
would be 15,000 books with 1,000
records/pages each. There's
15,000 books right there -- just
one database in one area (albeit
an especially large and high-quality
database). And that's not to
mention the links to the full text
of articles that is sometimes
available for free.

Sifting through the trash to get
to the quality stuff IS a problem,
but over time you develop your
techniques for this. A favorite of
mine is quite simple: identify an
unusual name of a prominent researcher
who has written articles in the
area in which you have an interest.
It has to be unusual; "Smith" does
not work, but "Dalyrymple" does.
Then combine that name with several
of your subject keywords or
phrases. What you get, often, is
links to articles by other
knowledgeable, scholarly people
who refer to or cite Dalyrymple --
as would be expected of scholars
writing in the given area. Spam
pages never cite Dalyrmple.

Just one little idea.


Alan Lewis

Igor Palmer said...

Alan point taken. Indeed there is much quality on the www. Whether Shapiro & Varian were right or not regarding the actual numbers 8 years - when they wrote the book -, today would be hard to assess.

The issue at hand is not so much how much quality content is on the www but rather that there's far more junk on the www than quality, thus quality gets buried under the mountain of junk. What's junk? What's quality? One man's garbage, another man's treasure. In the world of physical or tangible this is often the case, however, in the case of information this alternation is far less sentient. What's more a useful piece of information - in the original form and from original source - can quickly turn into pollution by virtue of its rampant promulgation by many - both learnered and fools; adding no value neither to information nor to the content. Remember that the Internet is a Global Village with too many village fools. However, it would be a mistake to devalue the www because of the overall quality of content on the WWW. After all there’s no criterion or standard for the online content quality. Furthermore, by virtue of accessibility of information, the richest source of quality content and valuable information is indeed www. Even with all the trash and pollution, it is worth having it - just like digging for diamonds.