Why They Call it *Inform*ation

The Economist‘s "Buttonwood" column for 12 July opened with a pointed example of too much information:

AT 13.16 British Summer Time on July 11th, traders watching the “All News” page on their Reuters screen would have seen 21 headlines flash up. That would have given them less than three seconds to absorb each item—always assuming, of course, that they had finished reading the 16 stories that appeared at 13.15.

Next-generation applications are largely defined by their connections with real-time data feeds: applications like Dow Jones Wealth Manager create subscriber value by refining raw streams of news into client-focused communications.

Any developer with plans to explore this genre should be thinking about intelligent selection, rather than mere speed and volume of delivery, as the source of competitive advantage.

Perhaps the most overlooked opportunity is the need for "What happened next?" information. As Buttonwood observed,

The markets now resemble those nesting chicks that chirrup constantly
for their parents to feed them. They gorge on a daily diet of
supposedly important economic data. Most of the statistics are revised
in subsequent weeks but the revisions rarely have as much market impact
as the original figures.

The column then further cites "a study that gave horse-racing handicappers varying amounts of
information when ranking horses. The more information they received,
the more confident they became about their answers. But the success of
their predictions was actually worse when given 40 pieces of
information, than when given five."

This has important implications for dashboard design: judicious choice of the variables to present, not only which ones but with what degree of "aging," are among the emerging skill sets for developers.

July 20, 2007