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The value of information

February 24, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve probably said something like this before, but it’s worth saying again.

This was part of a post by Amelia Kassel of MarketingBase – on the AIIP member mailing list.

I recall someone in a workshop I gave about using the Internet for CI about 10 years ago. I introduced the concept of fee-based databases and a young fellow from a business analyst firm raised his hand in front of group of more than 30 participants to stop me from proceeding. He didn’t want to hear or learn about fee-based databases. He had tried them once and they were too hard to use. I asked what he did when couldn’t find information he was looking for on the Internet and he didn’t have an answer but said it didn’t really matter.

I’ve also come across attitudes such as this – why pay for information when you can find it for free. That would be true and valid if the time required to find the information, and the work required to put it into a usable format, was the same. In reality this is rarely the case. The advantage of paying for information from services such as Factiva, Dialog and several other similar services is that you can save a lot of time. The information purchased will be formatted consistently – so it becomes much easier to edit for a report.

Further, relevant information is collected together so there is no need to check hundreds of potential sources. These services index thousands of sources in a way that users of the free services, including Google, can only dream about. As an example, on Factiva, you can specify that search terms appear in the first 50 (or 100 or whatever) words of an article, or within so many words of another term. They support full Boolean searching and wildcard searching far beyond what even the advanced search in Exalead offers.

If that was all such services offered then there could be an argument that with today’s budgetary constraints, good researchers would first focus on the free sources. However many sources held won’t even be available on the free web, as their publishers only make them available on a pay-to-use basis or don’t keep full online archives. This means that unless the researcher has accounts with a multitude of publishers they won’t get the material they need for decision making.

I think part of the secret of being a good researcher is knowing when to use free sources and when to use fee sources. I’m sure that a proportion of the information that is available on pay-to-use sources could be found for free – IF you looked long and hard enough. However employers pay you for your time – and just because something is free doesn’t make it really free if you have had to spend a day finding it when you could have got it within 15 minutes by paying. Then there’s the risk factors of NOT finding something at all!

People who feel it doesn’t matter – that you can justify not paying for information – are actually high-risk employees. They may provide information that allows correct decision making to be made 80% of the time. Unfortunately the Pareto effect comes into play – and that 20% of the time they get it wrong represents 80% of the risk. Decisions made on inadequate data are likely to lead to serious consequences when they are wrong. Saying that you only did a Google search because Factiva cost too much won’t save you or your company in such situations – as it will be too late.

Cuil – not going to cull Google!

July 29, 2008 Leave a comment
For a change I thought I’d give my opinions on a new search engine that’s being touted around.

Cuil is a new search engine that claims to have the biggest search index and give better results than Google owing to a methodology that looks at word context rather than page links.

There are already lots of comments on Cuil – for example, Webware’s “New Search Engine Cuil takes aim at Google” or Karen Blakemen’s “Cuil – not so cool

I too played with Cuil – for around 5 minutes before I realised that this is very much a “what you see is what you get” effort – and I didn’t see very much.

One of the first things I do when I use a search engine is change my preferences – to get 100 hits per page. I find a much more efficient way of looking through pages of results – and the time to look at 10 versus 100 on a single page isn’t that much more. So I headed to Cuil’s preferences page – and found that there was almost nothing to change. So you’re stuck with a page of descriptions – and if they aren’t right, you’re forced to try the next page or a new search. Not clever! Then what about modifying my search – for specific types of content – title search, filetype search. Nada!

My top test keywords (generally “competitive intelligence” and various permutations of this) came up with the expected sites – but nothing new and not even all I’d expect – plus irritating logos attached to each entry that seemed to be stolen from images that seemed relevant.

My main complaint supports a comment on the Webware blogDidn’t we stop the pissing contest over number of pages searched about 10 years ago?“. I concur totally. So what if Cuil has 120 billion pages. It’s not size that counts – it’s what you do with what you’ve got that counts. (I’m sure I’ve heard that somewhere before in a different context 😉 That’s why Exalead is so useful – as it’s so easy to customise, and refine searches. That’s why Google is top-dog – as its interface is so simple and the results tend to be accurate. That’s why Ask works – as it gives good results, with options to refine and it highlights news, images, encyclopaedia entries all together making search seem simple.

Finally their purported killer feature – relating search to the words on the page and their context. Isn’t that similar or the same as the method Ask (or it’s predecessor Teoma) uses, or have I missed something? (Or perhaps it only refers to the actual page rather than related pages which is what Ask does – if so, it’s also 10 years out-of-date as just relating content to the actual page rather than linked pages was killed off by Google’s linkage innovation).

So – not impressed. I still think that there’s scope for a Google Killer out there, but Cuil ain’t that Killer!

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