Posts Tagged "Meaning"
I recently read a report by the Global Information Industry Center at the University of California on a research study conducted to create a census of the world’s data and information in 2008. What a task! The goal of the study was to answer: How much data and information did people consume, what types, and where did it go?
How Much Information? 2009 Report on American Consumers (PDF)
Date of Publication: December 2009
Last Update: January 2010
The report focuses on the flow of information consumed by Americans, which is defined as flows of data delivered for use by a person. The measures of information include all data delivered directly to people at home, whether for personal consumption (such as entertainment), for communication (e.g. email) or for any other reason. The report breaks down information consumption in the United States in measurements of hours, words, and bytes in 2008. These measurements show different pictures about the volume of information in any given medium.
The report has one major caveat: hours, words, and bytes measure the VOLUME of information, but not it’s VALUE. In this review I will provide some of the key points and statistics from the report and provide additional input on how exactly information value can be measured.
While the report covers many different media sources, it lacks any detailed information on mobile consumption. The report does not include information consumed while at the workplace. It can be assumed that information consumed at work will be dominated by computer related activities. Additionally, although the report breaks down averages for all American consumers, it does not break down information consumption based on sub-categories such as age, gender, etc. which may offer more significant understanding of information consumption. When designing valuable information, value will be judged by a specific audience and their value judgments. Keep in mind when designing information that you have a specific audience member, not an average.
Measuring Information Consumption: Hours, Words, Bytes
The How Much Information? report measures information consumption based on three metrics: hours, words, and bytes. Hours are the amount of time Americans spend with different sources of information and is the basis for calculating the other two metrics. According to the report the average American on an average day receives 11.8 hours of information.
The measurement of information based on words is provided as a way to compare the reports findings to early efforts to measure the information economy before digital sources of information became widespread. Words consumed is calculated by multiplying the amount of words for a source of information by the hourly information consumption.
The focus of the study looks at bytes of information, since it is the most relevant measurement for information flow in the Digital Age. The number of bytes consumed is measured by multiplying the bandwidth (rate at which information is delivered in bits per second) by the number of estimated hours. This type of measurement privileges visual media and particularly moving images because of the higher rate of bits per second associated with graphics. Again bytes of information does not equate to value of information. For example, we have learned that word-of-mouth may be the most valuable form of information today. This information would be measured insignificant in terms of bytes of information.
Traditional Media Still Reigns
Based on the report, traditional media still dominates information consumption based on hours of information received. Traditional media refers primarily to Television and Radio, and the two collectively take up 60% of the hours we spend consuming information on an average day. This finding is contrary to the popular belief that the computer is dominating modern life. However, the report does not include information consumed in the workplace, and making assumptions I would say that information consumed by computers at the workplace would offset the reports findings.
Gaming Leads Bytes of Information Consumption
Based on bytes of information received, computer gaming is the dominant form of the percentage of information consumed. Computer and video games account for 55% of all information BYTES consumed in the home, because modern game consoles and PCs create huge streams of graphics. This is a surprising find, but unsurprising since the measurement for bytes privileges intensive graphics. Gaming should be given some focus based on these findings, but hours of consumption are probably more indicative of the types of information flow that correspond to value. Based on hours of consumption, computer games make up less then 8% of the time spent consuming information in one day for the average American.
Online Video is an Area of Opportunity
A major area of importance in the report is the volume of information reported for ‘Internet Video’. Internet video was reported at less then .02 percent of information consumed by hours and less than 1 exabyte for information consumbed by bytes. Although these findings are unsubstantial, the report does show a growing audience of online video viewers on sites such as YouTube and Hulu. One of the reasons for the low statistics for bytes of information is that the resolution of online video is low therefore the bits per second are less. Despite these findings, Internet video is a growing area for information consumption. It is shown in the study as having low importance in byte consumption of information, although exponentially increasing as online video quality increases and video sites grow in number of unique visitors and number of videos uploaded and viewed daily.
In my perspective, the quality of the videos does not equate to the value of information that is provided. I think that bytes of information are a poor indicator of the value of video and that online video is much more valuable then determined by the report. First some of the most successful online videos have been low quality viral videos. In terms of value, viral videos indicate trending and the more a video rises in trending ranks, the more the information is considered valid or important. Additionally low quality mobile videos have been extremely valuable in providing and distributing information around the world about natural disasters, human rights, etc.
According to Nielsen.com the number of unique viewers of online video increased 5.2% year-over-year from 137.4 million unique viewers in January 2009 to 142.7 million in January 2010. In January 2010 alone, Youtube had 6,622,374,000 total streams! Additionally, according to Forrester Research, 3G will become the dominant technology for mobile phones by the end of 2010. A major investment in these types of phones is in video capture and playback features. What then can we expect? I’d assume increased user generated videos and viewing of online video through mobile devices. Coupling user-generated video with the value of word-of-mouth information and mobile accessibility of information, I’d say online video is an already and growing powerful source of information.
What Makes Information Valuable?
The report points out that interactive information, such as information received by the computer, changes the reception of the information. I believe this suggests that interactive information may be considered more valuable information since it is not passive (such as Television is considered). Speaking now to the reports caveat, what does make information valuable?
Unlike hours of consumption, the number of compressed bytes, or number of words, information value is a whole other ball game of metrics than information volume. The premise of information value is that the delivered information can exert change. This is different from the definition of information by the study which is simply flows of data delivered. Tom Davenport and Larry Prusak developed six qualities that make information valuable. These metrics are:
Accuracy – How accurate or correct is the information?
Timeliness – How current or up to date is the information?
Accessibility – Can we get the information we it is needed?
Engagement – Is the information capable of affecting a decision?
Application – Is the information relevant in the current context?
Rarity – Is the information previously unknown or confidential?
There are other metrics for value we can think of that may map to these six qualities or be associated. For example, how manageable is the information is not exactly the same thing as accessibility, but certainly is related. Also social acceptance is related to accuracy, but could live as a metric of its own. Personal relevance of the information could be another indicator of value. Smarter applications can provide more personal information that can have a stronger affect on decision making and change.
As a designer we should couple an understanding of information flow with value. Large streams of information flow are unsubstantial if the information is not valuable. Likewise, valuable information is.. well not valuable… if it isn’t flowing in the right directions. Information flow and value are specific to an audience, needs, and contexts. I hope that was enough information for you (cheeky ending included)!
One of the best print ads I’ve seen so far this year. This full page ad for the Avatar DVD release ran on the back of ESPN magazine. I had to flip through the whole thing to be sure it was really an ad and not a special feature. Aside from the inevitable “double-take” the mirrored image induces, it makes wonderful use of context and relates to the audience on so many levels. And there’s this weird subliminal thing going on — the guy on a sports cover is always aspirational for sports fans. You only wish you had the talents of the star athlete and could experience the things that he does. And the Avatar cover plays on this basic human motivator — because in their world at least — you really could have those abilities and experiences.
This is a short documentary on climate change shot with the Canon 5dmkII.
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