Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The difference between data and information - Art Wittman on Twitter

How do we convert data to information? And how easy is it to convert data to information? If it's relatively hard to extract information from a particular source, we'll go elsewhere.

In that spirit, let's consider what InformationWeek's Art Wittmann said about the results of a recent survey:

In a series of questions, we asked where you get your information and what you think of those sources, including vendor Web sites, IT trade magazines, business magazines and newspapers, E-mail newsletters, broad business tech sites (such as Information, focused tech sites (such as, analyst sites, virtual trade shows and Webinars, social networks (such as LinkedIn and Facebook), tech bloggers, and Twitter....

Top responses varied a bit from question to question, but typically your top sources of information include broad IT Web sites, IT trade magazines, business news sites, and analyst sites. The bottom three responses were much more consistent: tech bloggers, social networks, and Twitter, with Twitter ranking by far the lowest in a number of categories.

Now when one looks at the results, one could question the motives of the survey:

IT Web sites like and business sites like got a 3.8 [out of 5.0] on our scale for reliability...

Hey! InformationWeek surveyed InformationWeek readers and concluded that InformationWeek is a reliable source of information! But I'm willing to accept the results at face value - after all, respondents wouldn't have any reason to promote the surveying service over others. So it's interesting to see what Wittmann says about Twitter:

[T]he fundamental nature of Twitter is the opposite of what I want from an information service. Professionally, I want information relevant to my work that's authoritative, accurate, and easy to find, and I want it when I need it.

The Twits I follow talk about the things you'd expect: Arlen Specter, Oracle and Sun, and what they had for lunch. Seldom does any of it relate to my job. If you're also an Ashton Kutcher or Oprah fan, Twitter's just another social tool. It's the opposite of what I want because it delivers mostly irrelevant information just when I don't need it.

Now you could probably apply a front end to Twitter that could yield valuable information. I don't really know much about any of the existing third-party Twitter clients (other than Slandr, which isn't targeted as a filtering tool), but even without a specific client, you could do some stupid human tricks such as feeding your tweets into Google Reader or Gmail or something and routing them however you wish.

But that takes work.

Again, I'm writing from ignorance. Do any of you know any services that can convert Twitter data to usable information?
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