Making the Internet More Efficient for Business Users
Brian Gongol

The Internet Makes Business More Efficient
The Internet naturally provides a range of efficiency advantages for business users: On this last point, the exponential growth in weblogs, online journals, and other sites updated either daily or near-daily has delivered mixed results.

So Many Sources of Business Information, So Little Time
On one hand, as has been very well-documented by Technorati founder David Sifry, some of these sites now compete directly with traditional media in terms of attention and relevance.

On the other hand, the quality of any source ("mainstream" or not) may vary. It is especially difficult, though, for so-called bloggers to consistently deliver a sufficient volume of information at a quality high enough to develop regular traffic. There may simply be a market bubble in online writing, making it hard to truly find or produce original, high-quality material.

Balancing Demand with the Time Available
Thus, a conundrum: Smart businesspeople quite reasonably want quick, relevant information on subjects that can help them compete better in the marketplace. The Internet certainly does that better than any other medium. But there simply isn't enough time for most individuals to sample all of the available resources with enough regularity to identify the best, most relevant information in a timely fashion.

How, then, can the Internet be best-used to deliver that information to business users in a timely fashion?

Efficiency Tool #1: Weekly Carnivals
The leading example in this category is the Carnival of the Capitalists. By compiling a huge menu from a wide range of business-related sources and summarizing it in short form, the weekly carnival helps self-select the most relevant information and deliver it swiftly.

Efficiency Tool #2: Website Syndication
Website syndication can be used to compress the best information available from an individual site into a summary form that the reader can sample quickly and efficiently (and often portably, if the reader uses the right tools) to scan the latest subjects like the headlines in a newspaper, and then drill down to more detailed information on demand. Properly used, syndication feeds from business-related websites can make those sites impressively efficient for the user. It's important, though, for the syndication feed to be a summary of what's available, rather than just a copy (a rule that is widely forgotten).

Efficiency Tool #3: Self-Imposed Limits
Possibly the largest problem with blogs is that they are usually unedited and thus are often much too verbose. For reference, it's easy to produce a single entry of 200 words -- at a typing rate of just 50 wpm, that's four minutes' worth of writing. Suppose a weblog writer produces one 200-word entry per day each business day of an average 250-day work year:
Words per entry 200
Entries per year 250
Words per year 50,000
On the surface alone, that's an impressive number. But in context, realize that most non-fiction books average 20,000 to 200,000 words in length. At 50,000 words per year, the online writer has completed a book-length manuscript in a single year.

The question both reader and writer must ask themselves is, "Was it more valuable to (read/write) this than to (read/write) an equivalent volume of edited, polished material on the same subject?"

That's a tough question. On one hand, a few minutes spent reading what Warren Meyer has to say about running a mid-size business probably is more informative than wasting the equivalent amount of time on the latest yammering from Peter Senge, and one will probably learn more about economics from a few minutes with David Tufte than being battered by the latest from Paul Krugman. But on the other hand, are most online writers generating anything more valuable than a book like Salesmanship Applied by Paul Ivey, which was apparently quite popular in 1937 (when re-released from its original 1925 printing), and teaches more about sales as a concept than any motivational speaker today?

Timeliness vs. Time Spent
Essentially, the battle today is between timeliness and time spent. Paul Ivey couldn't have known that just a half-century or so after his book was published, suppliers and customers could integrate their supply chains using online logistics and shipping services, or that someone could search for a copy of his book, long out of print, using online auction sites. But it's hard to believe that the rules of sales have drifted so much in the same time that it wouldn't be worth a few minutes a day to review how (as the title of one of Ivey's chapter sections read) "You can talk too much but not know too much about your goods."

That advice, with a little adaptation, is poignant today: As producers and consumers of online information, we can talk too much without knowing too much about what's really new.