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Research Commentary on the Spire Project

Information Values Falling.
By David Novak

As we enter the information revolution, abuzz with the excitement of more and more information, would it be irreverent to point out that the value of information is falling?

Example One: the classics. Thanks to the Online Book Initiative and Project Gutenberg, a large collection of the classics are currently available as text - free. The most immediate effect of which appears to be the proliferation of $2 paperback classics sold through airport bookstores everywhere.

Please note free classics online results in cheap paperback classics.

Example Two: International newswire news. News is reported by journalists, collected by newswires, then delivered to newspapers and the evening news around the world. Organizations like Associated Press (AP), UPI, Reuters and Agence France Presse (AFP) dominate the international newswire business.

The text to all these newswires and more are freely available online. We can read, search, browse headlines, receive alerts, and generally drown in online text news for free. This online text news is now valued at little more than the advertising revenue possible for distracting us from reading the news.

Newspapers have responded by focussing on their core competencies of regional news, pictures and presentation, quietly surrendering aspirations in international news. International news has devalued, become cheaper, more useful, more user-friendly and generally less valuable.

Remember, should you wish to read Shakespeare or the latest news on Afghanistan, they need never speak to us. The classics on our bookshelf and foreign newspapers in our local library are as useful as the window dressing on a cool social setting.

Let us look next at a more serious example: Country Profiles. A great deal of factual information helps us to learn about other countries in the world. Factual statistics, economic descriptions, humanitarian reports and a host of other country specific information can be critical to all kinds of decisions.

Unknown to much of the world, many of the best country profiles, from the most respected organizations, are freely available online. To mention just a few:

- Demographic information from the CIA, Library of Congress, UNICEF, US Census Dept, UN Statistical Division and the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs.
- Travel advisory reports from US, UK, Canada and Australia.
- Humanitarian profiles and reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, US Dept of State, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), The Red Cross and more.
- Economic profiles from Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs, New Zealand's Trade Development Board, The World Bank, US Dept of State, the OECD, and more.

All these organizations publish detailed country profiles online at no cost. The OECD Economic Surveys and US Country Commercial Guides run over 100 pages. This is current, reliable information from some of the most credible organizations around.

Now, should a client wish to follow the developments in Afghanistan, we can quite correctly direct them to the Internet, where they can read the most recent news from the international newswires, then gather background data from Amnesty International, The Red Cross and the UN. Our client merely needs the web addresses to the appropriate publications.

The Industrial Revolution led to a precipitous drop in the value of commodities. Mass-produced inexpensive textiles overran the existing cottage weaving industries in England and India.

The Information Revolution leads to a drop in the value of information. Mass-produced bulk-delivered information will easily overrun the archives, bookshelves and libraries The value of information is falling.
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David Novak manages The Spire Project, an Internet research resource and thinktank.

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