Magazine article Information Today

And I-Don't-Know's on Third

Magazine article Information Today

And I-Don't-Know's on Third

Article excerpt

The commoditization of confusion reigns in the online information industry.

Like any decent woman, I hate the Three Stooges. In the long history of my devotion to cinema, no memory stands more clear in all its horror than having to sit through three be-Stooge-d shorts just to see the beginning of a film starring my favorite actor and directed by my favorite director. (I never forgave the relative who dropped me off at the double feature too early to avoid the horror. Years later I went to his funeral, but I didn't send flowers.) The film I went to see was a Civil War epic. Suffice it to say, by the time I left the theater, I felt like stopping off at the VA hospital for some quick combat-fatigue therapy.

Nonetheless, I'm no cinematic bigot. Though not my favorite form of entertainment, I can watch slapstick comedy with enjoyment--when it's very, very good. For example, I take a backseat to no one when it comes to devotion to "the Boys"--Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Bud Abbott and Lou Costello often had a little too much Stooge-mess in their skits--particularly the physical ones--to suit me. But when it came to wordplay skits, like their classic baseball number--"Who's on First?"--A they shone bright and fine. Poor Lou, hanging on to his disintegrating patience with both hands. Industrious Bud, busily instructing the class, completely oblivious to the listener's utter confusion. By the time they got to the catcher--I-Don't-Give-a-Damn--even the censors were laughing too hard to stop the momentum.

So what has ancient comedy got to do with the online information industry? Well, there are a lot of customers out there who feel like the Three Stooges when they try to track exactly what they are getting for their money and/or their time. If the industry doesn't watch Out, those customers may soon start acting like that trio--throwing fits, slapping people around, poking people's eyes, and behaving toward vendors with all the maturity of Larry, Moe, and Curly. Clarifying the situation for customers will not be easy. Vendors attempting the task may end up feeling like Abbott, while their interested but bewildered audience might feel like Costello. But better a failed attempt at clarification than none at all.

A Real Mess

For once--sigh!--the problem doesn't have an obvious solution. Layers and layers of complex negotiations between different players with different goals and different marketing strategies--and all players facing the challenge of revolutionary changes in the global information environment--make the confusion almost inevitable. Nonetheless, the confusion has special impact on the information professional market, and this market often provides the key leverage that can open access to business-professional searchers--everyone's target market.

Basically, information professionals feel very uncomfortable, even threatened, when they can't identify exactly what they do and do not get when they buy into a vendor collection. Aggregations of full-text sources represent the greatest confusion, but vertical search engines, portal sites, and search engines that merge Web searching with full-text offerings increase the difficulties.

Why does clarification of sources matter so much to librarians and information professionals? For several reasons. In particular, when searchers perform a search, they like to know what they have and have not done, in order to assess what still needs doing. When searchers setup collections of sources for their end-user client communities, they have the same concern, but it's augmented by the worry that end-users will have less awareness of when something's missing. End-users won't hear that buzz in the ears, won't feel the hairs start to rise on the backs of their necks, won't smell the first faint aroma of fish in the air. "Hmm. Funny, there's nothing here from ...? Wonder why none of the references are older than ...? How come all this stuff is in format . …

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