Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Making the Web Safe for Research

“Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.” -- Charles McKay

Wired Magazine says the web is dead. They say that two decades were spent: (a) planting the mass media seeds of e-commerce; and (b) dispelling all doubt that any non-Google property downstream of this snake oil spill was going to prosper from it.

Whether all sites and pages can now be reduced to apps and devices remains to be seen. But I fervently hope that the marketers reading these signs run for the exits. Wired would have us believe each storefront is littered with abandoned shopping carts. Bargain-crazed shopaholics can only keep so many uncertainties in their stomachs and details in their heads. Big box retailers are dismantling their web domains and firewalling their fortunes to their own Internet turf safe -- a gated community of high margin members. That information superhighway is turning into a private driveway patrolled by in-house security.

This sounds like we're taking that narrow speculative turn towards the narrative that casts down the little girls and guys. It's the lost cause pamphleteering for net neutrality. It's the New York Times ceasing to publish all the news that's fit to print (in a print edition). Hell, the fall semester is upon us and Amherst Mass is down to a single record store -- that's on or off-web.

I'm rooting for all that doom-perbole to come to pass. But it's not because a darker web will be a dead one. I will hold open any rear entry that the big advertisers and the catalog herders wish to exit. Then us researchers, scientists, and writers can thank them all for this gorgeous infrastructure they left us.

My first pre-HTTP shopping trip was taken on a 300 baud modem through a passage way called Tymnet. My fellow info-brokers in the Quick Information Center at FIND/SVP would brag how we could stack our line commands ahead of our logins so that our per article charges were actually higher than our connect fees -- up to $150/hour for Investext -- the forerunner of Thomson Financial. And what glistening product commanded those early nineties recession-based fees? It was a stack of unadorned print-outs. The most visually appealing part of the whole package was the enhancement of bracketing keywords with asterisks:

[set KWIC *]

That way the readout would display as...

"*Forecasts* and *projections* for canned peaches are not so keen and that's not the only ominous sign for *corrugated packaging* executives in the coming year."

That was how the magic happened.

Nowadays we marvel at our distraction-prone and paperless world, having let go any notion that a planet turning this fast could ever pause long enough to get its documentation in order. But as the hyperstimulated flea the web for the ways of fee-based information, us analog online natives will have the web to ourselves.

Better still we will embrace the unclaimed property that answers to mouse clicks once or more removed from the dollar sign radar. The surfing days of non-searchers are waning. For those of us who prize learning as the ultimate getaway, our best investigations lie ahead. For every scattered and boredom-deprived gamer at home in his electronic playground, I guarantee this: There will be an unflappable researcher with an unbreakable concentration leveled at attentions worthy of payment.

So we can mine our browsers for all the facts, opinions, and cash neutral transactions otherwise lost in this hasty retreat. We may even go "off" line to gather distance -- both physically and mentally an increasingly scarce commodity. Will there be a place for that in tomorrow's Internet? Meet me on the World Wide Web and we'll talk.

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About attentionSpin

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attentionSpin is a consulting practice formed in 1990 to create, automate and apply a universal scoring system (“The Biggest Picture”) to brands, celebrities, events and policy issues in the public eye. In the Biggest Picture, attentionSpin applies the principles of market research to the process of media analytics to score the volume and nature of media coverage. The explanatory power of this research model: 1. Allows practitioners to understand the requirements for managing the quality of attention they receive 2. Shows influencers the level of authority they hold in forums where companies, office-seekers, celebrities and experts sell their visions, opinions and skills 3. Creates meaningful standards for measuring the success and failure of campaigns and their connection to marketable assets.