Archive for December, 2005

Know your information sources

December 8, 2005 Leave a comment

I’m not sure what the weather is like outside London. Summer here could have been better – but also a lot worse. I know that there are heatwaves in Southern Europe, and I’m sure that even though hurricanes hardly hever happen in Spain (where there currently is not much rain on the plain), this is not the case everywhere. And as Discovery found out, you can’t predict when bad weather can cause you to change your landing slot!

It is important to know information sources. When I do competitive intelligence training, one workshop exercise I take people through is to show how many different information sources there actually are. I do this by compiling an A to Z of information sources – with one rule, that they must all be different types. (So you can’t have Search Engine and then Yahoo! as options for S and Y as Yahoo! is a Search Engine and so is included in this category). Try it – it is not that difficult. I have 4 items for K and 2 for Q, X and Z. Most other letters get spoilt for choice.

However it is not just good enough to know your information sources. You should also know how accurate they are – and ideally how the source gathers the information. Only then can you guard against disinformation – or perhaps from using secondary information that you think is actually a primary source.

There is a story:

A film crew was on location deep in the desert. One day an
elderly native American went up to the director and said, “Tomorrow rain.”
The next day it rained. A week later, the native American went up to
the director and said, “Tomorrow storm.”

The next day there was a hailstorm. “This Indian is
incredible,” said the director. He told his secretary to
hire the man to predict the weather for the remaining of
the shoot. However, after several successful predictions,
the old native American didn’t show up for two weeks.

Finally the director sent for him. “I have to shoot a big
scene tomorrow,” said the director, “and I’m depending on
you. What will the weather be like?”

The native American shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t know,” he said.
“My radio is broken.”

So before using a source, make sure you fully understand it – and any drawbacks or weaknesses associated with it.

The above story illustrates the need to know your source’s source. There is a variation on the story illustrating the same lesson, but also showing how important it is to be objective. Some sources are not totally objective, and so the information provided can actually be false or disinformation.

The Native Americans asked their Chief in autumn, if the winter was going to be cold or not. Not really knowing an answer, the chief replies that the winter was going to be cold and that the members of the village were to collect wood to be prepared.

Being a good leader, he then went to the next phone booth and called the National Weather Service and asked, “Is this winter to be cold?”

The man on the phone responded, “This winter was going to be quite cold indeed.”

So the Chief went back to speed up his people to collect even more wood to be prepared. A week later he called the National Weather Service again, “Is it going to be a very cold winter?”

“Yes,” the man replied, “it’s going to be a very cold winter.”

So the Chief goes back to his people and orders them to go and find every scrap of wood they can find. Two weeks later he calls the National Weather Service again: “Are you absolutely sure, that the winter is going to be very cold?”

“Absolutely,” the man replies, “the Native Americans are collecting wood like crazy!”

As real examples of disinformation, there is the well known Di-hydrogen Monoxide Research Division web-site.

Another interesting example is the satellite maps shown for 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, CA 95014 on Google Maps compared to that on Microsoft’s Virtual Earth.

Of course it could be that Microsoft is using a satellite image from around 30 or so years ago (despite the 2004 copyright notice from NAVTEQ at the bottom). More likely is that Microsoft just wants to air-brush a major competitor – Apple Computers – out of history.

As somebody who has just received delivery of my brand new Apple iBook, I can fully understand why Microsoft would like to do this. However just renaming your future operating system from a breed of cow (Longhorn) to a long-term view (Vista) does not make it a Tiger! :-).

From a competitive intelligence information source point of view the above two maps show how easy it is to

a) misinform
b) blind yourself to the real picture
c) use a respected information source such as Microsoft’s mapping software that may not be totally accurate.

Online Again!

December 2, 2005 Leave a comment

Yesterday was the first day of the International Online Information Conference and Exhibition – the premier (well I think so anyway) trade show for those interested in anything to do with online information.

Whether you are interested in competitive intelligence, or scientific information or history or knowledge management – or even just chilling out with some really great people, you’d find something to keep you interested, amused or just full up with chocolate. (Yes – lots of stands were giving out free chocolates – which means that this is one show that you should skip if you subscribe to Chocoholics Anonymous).

My day started with the annual AIIP breakfast – sponsored by the Thomson Organisation (Yes – even corporates can be altruistic sometimes!) – and speaking to old (and new) friends within the AIIP community. (You don’t know what AIIP is – and you call yourself an information professional? Go this minute to their web-site and sign up – or if you are not independent, find out how you can improve your research efforts by using some of the world’s best searchers (

And then to the day’s key-note speaker: David Weinberger (for more on David – visit his site at or his blog at Unfortunately I spent too much time chatting at the breakfast and so missed the start of David’s talk. However what I heard was enough to make me realise how much further things will go in the information-using industries (and isn’t that all industries?). He highlighted how blogs and wikis are changing the way people perceive information. He contrasted corporate web-sites with the newer collaborative models such as wikis and blogs. He suggested that corporate sites tend to be narcissistic in that they are self-referencing with links that only refer to other parts of their web-site, or sometimes to paid advertisements. Compare this to blogs which invite the reader to explore outside and visit other sites. Rather than focus on sticky eyeballs and making sites sticky (whatever that means – I’ve yet to see anybody attach their eyes to a sticky screen showing some cool web-site!) they have enough confidence in their content to know that readers will return for more – after they’ve visited the links of interest.

The impact of such collaborative approaches is sure to grow – just consider the number of entries on Wikipedia compared to something more traditional – the Encyclopedia Britannica for example. Wikipedia has more entries – many of which are highly eclectic showing the range of information that people view interesting or important. The Britannica is, more staid, serious, and tied to older ways of sharing knowledge. As a result it can’t keep up with the dynamism of Wikipedia. (Could you imagine an entry such as the Wikipedia one for Deep Fried Mars Bars in the Britannica. This was one example of several given by Weinberger).

Apparently Weinberger has given a similar talk before – which was turned into a Podcast. So if you missed the talk at online, it is available for downloading at the Everything is Miscellaneous link on (Thanks to Marydee Odjala for this – Marydee, apart from producing a great blog at InfotodayBlog, is the editor of Online Magazine).

And then to my session. I spoke for 30 minutes on using Online tools for finding competitive intelligence that can help identify opportunities and threats. Obviously you can’t do more than an overview of such a vast topic in 30 minutes – but I tried, by giving a brief overview on competitor, customer and similar monitoring using selected online tools before moving on to mention RSS feeds as a way of keeping up to date and then selected futurist sites for anticipating the future (e.g. the Global Business Network (led by Peter Schwartz, author of the excellent The Art of the Long View) or Shaping Tomorrow as two examples. (The Art of the Long View is my favourite scenario planning/futures studies books – I list several more on my web pages at OK – I know that is a plug for my site, but this is my blog, so tough – live with it! )

In the afternoon, I found time for two sessions on searching, featuring luminaries from both the UK and across the pond in the US including Chris Sherman (of Search Engine Watch; Karen Blakeman of RBA Information services – one of the top UK based information search services; Amelia Kassel of MarketingBase who had joined me a short-while earlier as a co-leader for a round-table session on competitive intelligence where we were joined by an international audience with people from the UK, US, Europe, Egypt…; Mary-Ellen Bates of Bates Information Services; the UK’s own Phil Bradley and the aforementioned Marydee Odjala. Could you ask for more?

If all that wasn’t enough for one day – I finished off joining Will Hann of Freepint (the information professional community site – if you don’t know Freepint then this is another one to visit and bookmark now) and friends for after show drinks and snacks. A great day – to start a great show. Today – Wednesday – will finish with the International Online Awards dinner, but before then will be some more great sessions.

And the show goes on (until Thursday – 1st December 2005, that is!)

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