Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Packing Your Own Lunch @ the Web Search Cafeteria

How do we know it's time to suck in the bulge around our brains?

[caption id="attachment_636" align="alignleft" width="240" caption="The marketplace for ideas need not be a storefront"][/caption]

That swelling is not transmitted by airborne virus or insect. Most likely it's the encrypted WIFI signal ready to auction off our attention based on:

    • Who wants it,

    • Where they will be for the next 45 minutes, and

    • a coupon for perishable inventories echoed in the placeholders of past browser sessions.

Like any internet marketer Google's efforts are focused on converting web surfers to online shoppers, translating our calls for help into online ads it sells to the market. This arrangement connects some sellers to buyers but does little to resolve our need for quality information from credible sources. We must fend for ourselves when it comes to online investigations. And that isolation compromises our effectiveness as learners:

  • The web by remote control: Google IS the internet. If it doesn't rank, it doesn't exist.

  • The priority switcheroo: What landed last is what deserves to be acted on first.

  • The sourcing dilemma: The motives behind information providers and how that squares with evidence used to substantiate their claims.

The simple truth is that Google has a great deal of value for the researcher -- little of it that's monetizable. Ironically Google's unrecovered assets are where web researchers should be investing big time:

  1. How to assess: frameworks and models: Aligning knowledge-seeking requirements with an informed sense of where to go and for acting on what we'll expect to find there

  2. How to ask: semantics, syntax, and operators -- The building blocks of query formation; the act of interrogating databases and training them to do our bidding

  3. How to act: context and meaning: Applying source fluency in order to scope the credibility, authenticity, and ultimately our understanding of where our findings are leading us

Internet sources and the search results they spawn are dynamic, conflicting, and open-ended. Your time commitments, however, are not. We have set objectives and hard stops for reaching them. Too often our need for closure and certainty suppress our hunger for learning. Connecting poor search results to preferable outcomes is like trying to shape up on a diet of lard and donuts. No matter how many searches and site results we retreat from the computer with more uncertainties and less time to settle them.

There are two reliable reasons most of us go online to research:

  • Learn enough to act on what we’ll learn

  • Reduce the uncertainty around what those actions may bring

These are the themes and objectives we'll be exploring each Thursday evening this summer at the Montague Bookmill. We hope you can join us for our weekly meetups from 7-9 pm. The series begins next Thursday, June 2nd. We look forward to your input and addressing the pending research projects that fire your desire to learn in the first place. A laptop is optional but do pack your own homegrown research problems.

And be prepared to share.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Society for Useful Information Opens Doors

... For the business of knowing

... For the pleasure of learning

... For the purpose of taking offline action from what we learn online

The Society for Useful Information opens its doors (and perhaps yours) this Thursday evening from 7 to 9 pm at the Montague Bookmill in the home of the newly formed Sawmill River Arts -- a partnership of Pioneer Valley painters and crafters.

The program each weekly meeting will form around the project and information-seeking requirements of the participants. Each research project presented will act as a use case for Internet research tools and methods. Like the scenarios we draw from no two classes will be the same. However the frameworks and models that underpin them form a solid foundation for launching new investigations and plugging long festering gaps.

What kind of gap exactly?

The one formed between the black hole of an information surplus and the golden opportunity for using it to close our knowledge deficits. That's why skillful researchers and independent thinkers go hand-in-hand. A healthy dose of curiosity, skepticism, and diligence channels the necessary focus to source information, determine the motives of its providers, and best apply it to our own evidence-gathering and decision-making.

I've done this for many years in corporate, regulatory, and academic worlds and am now coming full circle to my adopted community of Western Massachusetts -- a region that attracts D-I-Y community-building and community-based problem-solving. "The Valley" is the nickname bestowed by its citizenry and the valley is a magnet for marketers, business owners, advocates, and educators who share this strong independent streak.

Several years back I asked my celebrated food historian and agribusiness cousin his take on the seminal nature of his works; mainly which tender nerve stems he had struck both in America's heartland (and head). He said that the American human mouth was basically the last respite of autonomy from the manipulations that line our cultural landscapes. Deciding what we eat has in effect become the ultimate expression of our personal will and individual expression.

I would like to think that this contest of will can be extended up from the mouth to our ears and eyes. We can't determine what we're witness to. That's not what I'm arguing. But that through attentive sourcing and analysis we can determine what filters out of our brains in the priorities we set and the actions we take. In Pioneer Valley we insist on the ultimate demonstration of growing local – thinking for ourselves

The bookmill affords all the missing ingredients from past workshops I've led: beautiful surroundings, eye contact, and strong WIFI -- without the distractive constraints that belie our smart phone fetishes. To those of you within drivable range I look forward to the Thursday evening research communion in our future.
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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.