The death of information asymmetry

Alcoholism and opium

As I understand from my sparse reading of the history of the beginning of the last century – the history of the industrial revolution – many people were left at a loss what to do with their lives once the industrialisation took hold. This led to for example a high degree of alcohol and opium abuse. A large part of a generation was lost.

Change happens

I’ve seen similar scenes, albeit on a much smaller scale, when I was working in Eastern Europe in the middle of the 1990’s, as an auditor. A generation of Eastern Europeans, fresh from UK and US universities, came back to their fatherlands and made redundant an entire generation of traditionally schooled “managers”.

Change happens, and change impacts us all, some more than others.

Access to information meant power

The same is happening with the internet. And that change is impacting the layers of management whose sole purpose was to transfer and synthesize information. Their role was essential in the past. Their role was extremely powerful. Some people had and hoarded information. Hoarding information meant controlling access to that information. Fundamentally, information was power, and determined position. If I knew something you did not, and if you were willing to pay for that information, I had a business model. Taken one step further, if I had information you needed, I had power over you.

The role of information managers

Information hoarding, or information “management” – because hoarding is such a bad word – became a thing. We had knowledge managers, people whose sole purpose in professional life existed in identifying sources of information and providing them to us. Some of that information existed freely in the world. Some of that information was behind paywalls, in walled gardens. Some of that information did not exist at all.

Internet meant free availability of information

Enter the internet and the evolution of passive information gathering tools. As an information user, I no longer have to go look for a lot of information. If I take the time to adequately set up search queries and alerts in different services, the information will come to me as soon as it is available.

A generation unfamiliar with the tools

This poses, of course, a number of other challenges, and a number of potential linked business models. First, there is an entire generation that is not necessarily familiar with the available tools. These are the current 35+ somethings. They did not grow up with the internet. The whole thing is new and slightly alien. These people need to be trained in what information can be found where, and they need to learn how they can set up notifications.

Drinking from the fire hydrant

The second challenge is the most important one, and one that will likely stay and increase further. We are not capable of dealing with the information fire hydrant that has been switched on and that keeps pushing information in our faces. If we dare to put our face in the streaming water, we risk getting knocked out by the sheer force of the volume of information. How do we ever make a choice in what to read and what not?

g! Scott Hanselman talk webstock, in his excellent talk on personal productivity, has a great suggestion. He suggests to find appropriate information aggregators. These are people or organisations in your field that assist you in reviewing the information and synthetizing it to a point where the time you invest in reading it pays of. Of course, some will say, what is the difference with the former knowledge manager?

Information provider independence

That difference is very simple: he or she is no longer embedded in your own organisation. He has no direct value in shielding certain information, in hoarding it. Rather, the aggregator is in constant competition with other aggregators. To be a sustainable business, he needs to be the best quality aggregator around.

The information aggregator as a business model

So here is a prediction: the growth of the aggregator we see in certain industries, especially the tech industry, occurring, will start to occur in other industries as well. Content aggregators will start to appear in other industries as well, not motivated by the hold on information, but motivated by bringing you the best available information as soon and as complete as possible.

We did not eliminate the middle man. We converted his role and made his function a business model all by itself. Interesting.