The Long Tail of the Information Glut

February 11, 2009



Long Tail (via Mike Fruchter)

Long Tail (via Mike Fruchter)

Fifteen years ago, I coded my very first web site.  It was a Valentine’s day card to my wife and my kids.  The worldwide web was extraordinarily new.  Indeed, it was less that a few years old.  And I was running a web server on an OS/2 system running IBM’s GoHTTP (a combination gopher and WWW server).  I “composed” the site using a text editor (not notepad).  Yes, you really could make usable sites without fancy tools like Dreamweaver.  But the fancy tools are a huge time saver!  🙂


You may be asking yourself why I’m dragging you down memory lane.  Well, that’s a good question.  And I may not have a satisfactory answer.  But I was thinking about all the data I collect and process on a daily basis.  I use all sorts of tools to distill this data into some kind of information from which I draw practical conclusions for my employer.  

  • I use Google Reader as a means of aggregating lots of feed data.  Years ago, I used a tool called Pointcast.  And I moved from Pointcast to using a tool called Agent.  Since then, the volume of data has increased and the complexity of that data has also increased.  But it is extremely important to have a tool to aggregate all the miscellaneous source material.  Right now, I consume several hundred data feeds on a daily basis.  And Google Reader allows me to consolidate all of this information into a digestible form.
  • I use Yahoo! Pipes as a means of processing all of this data.  Right now, my use of Pipes is limited.  I mostly use it to aggregate and assemble related feeds together.  Like most geeks, I have many and diverse interests.  I must follow technology.  And my technology needs are broken down into a dozen different categories.  For example, I read social media feeds.  But I also read data center management feeds.  I am also keenly interested in politics.  In addtion, I am extremely interested in evangelical Christianity and the commissioning that all Christians share (i.e., like Peter, we are called to “feed” Jesus’ sheep).  With so many interests, it is imperative to consolidate all of my source feeds into clusters of related subjects.  I do this by joining sources that are related.  And I do this by parsing posts for key terms that can usually designate the subject matter.Why do I go through all this trouble?  Because I am interested in far too many things.  And I look at far too much data on a regular basis.  So I use Pipes as a means of filtering out what MAY be important.  In time, everyone will begin to tag their data.  When that happens, I will use a more canonical approach to assessing content.  But in the meantime, I use brute force dictionary and source data analysis.
  • I use other “trusted” sources as aggregators and filters for content.  Like most folks, I have a number of friends across the country.  And one set of friends are keenly interested in politics while another set of friends are keenly interested in IT technology.  A third set of friends are immersed in spirtual discovery, enlightenment and fulfilling the Great Commission.  In a way, I use these people as my editorial board.  I collect their feeds (including their Twitter streams and their Friendfeed streams) as a means of focusing my attention on the important things.  I can’t monitor everything.  And it is getting harder to do so with the passing of each day.  So when I identify a trusted source, I load their key feeds into Google Reader.  And I will sometimes put some pipes together as well.

So I use tools to process lots of data.  But it is important to note where we are in the evolution of these approaches and tools.  When I started processing data from the Internet, the tools were stone axe heads and flint.  Today, the tools are scalpels and lasers by comparison.  Indeed, the use of “intelligent agents” (promised in the late nineties) is finally coming to fruition.  We are finally in the long tail of these technologies.  The things that I did a decade ago are passé.  And the things I did two years ago are now mainstream.  More and more people will start using RSS as a source of data.  And they will use aggregators (like Google Reader) as a way of assembling and processing these massive feeds of data.  

So what’s next? If you were to put me on the spot, I would say that tagging is the next thing to really go mainstream.  Indeed, I am seeing political groups using Twitter hashtags as a means of subjectively categorizing their thoughts.  And while Blogger and WordPress have used tags and categories for a few years, I expect to see players like Facebook, MySpace and a host of other platforms start to really focus on tagging.  Is tagging new?  Nope.  Will it become mainstream?   Yes, just like blogging and micro-blogging are now mainstream.  

So what will I do on the fiteenth anniversary of my first web site?  I think I’ll just send flowers.  Poetry and photos on a website are just too “last decade” for me.



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