Commoditisation of Information

(Published in The Express Tribune, August 2, 2010)

KARACHI: Information being commoditised means that anyone can obtain it, share it, update it and even build a business around it. News has traditionally been the realm of newspapers but the collective power of online bloggers and ubiquity of information has shifted the balance. Aggregators such as Google News are able to provide the latest news from various sources across the web and are emerging as the biggest benefactors of this commoditisation.

A commodity typically entails uniform prices and availability. Oil is a prime commodity priced uniformly across the globe and is available at nearly the same price and quality everywhere. Further, any fluctuations in the price of oil in one location are reflected almost immediately across the globe. Commoditisation of information implies that the same news is available to everyone and inconsistencies can be identified immediately. It also implies that the continuous process of collaboration and correction of information leads to its refinement and helping it attain equilibrium.

Information dissemination

Twitter is often the quickest place to find first-hand news directly from the field, as it happens. News agencies by contrast are much slower because they must first obtain, then corroborate, compile and review the news before putting it out through a chain of command.

Similarly, bloggers commonly collaborate on news and ideas through their own individual blogs. Within the Blogosphere it is easiest to witness the commoditisation of information. The blogosphere is a marketplace of information where any misrepresentation in information is immediately identified by people’s comments or other bloggers–sort of like peer reviews in the scientific community.

Additionally, mailing lists provide fertile ground for esoteric ideas and organising communities of scientists, philosophers and everything in between. In fact, the evolution of the Internet itself has been made possible through the collaborative work done over some of these mailing lists by the principle inventors and architects of the Internet.

Traditional information

Traditional news agencies have been quick to embrace these trends while often criticising them at the same time. Nearly all newspapers now have a strong online presence, even though the same news agencies often blame the Internet for declining revenues. The problem however, is not with the Internet or free news but rather, it has to do with how information is now structured. For example, reports of the Flotilla attacks first emerged on Twitter by passengers on board the ship using their phones to SMS updates directly to their Twitter accounts. News agencies were completely circumvented in the process as information flowed freely and instantly to readers worldwide.

Information is not only easier to share and obtain but it is also far more organised and searchable now than ever before.