Friday, September 12, 2008

Information without Meaning

Neil Postman might have written about the Post-Information world but this week’s fall of United’s share price shows something different. What happened? United’s share price fell by over 70% due to an incorrectly picked up story from 2002 about United’s bankruptcy filing. Yesterday Michael Oneal from the Chicago Tribune sheds some light of what happened and how old information resurfaced as new and highly viewed news.

“Tribune Co. said the story had received a "single visit" about 1 a.m. Eastern time Sunday but because traffic was so light to the site's business section at that hour, one click constituted "most viewed" status. Consequently, a new link was placed in the list of "most viewed" stories on the business page and the Google search crawler picked it up.

Google, in its own version of events published Wednesday on a company blog, said the problem began with the Sun Sentinel site. The site had given the United story no date stamp, the blog explained, so the search crawler looked for the only date available — the one that appears on every page of the site next to the Sun Sentinel masthead.

"The article failed to include a standard newspaper article dateline," the Google blog said. "but the Sun-Sentinel page had a fresh date above the article on the top of the page of 'September 7, 2008' [Eastern]."

What happened next is not in dispute. Traffic started to flow to the story from Google and eventually a Florida-based financial information company picked it up and posted it to the Bloomberg news service. United's stock plunged in response.”

We definitely don’t live in a Post-Information world but in a world that is dominated by meaningless information. And sometimes the lack of meaning and context leads to the strangest behavior.


Anonymous Paul M. Banas said...


Good to find another familiar face from my day job interactions with a voice in the digital world.

On your points about the United incident, I think this is yet another example of a "Google Shadow" coming back to wreck havoc.

For individuals, it could be ill chosen photos or comments in social media coming to the attention of a potential job interviewer. Or, in this case, an outdated article wrecking the market capitalization of a major public company.

Living with all the digital detritus of our online lives will be an interesting issue for people and organizations to come to terms with going forward.


10:41 AM  
Blogger Michael Fassnacht said...


I really like the notion of a "Google Shadow" that accompanies any information that Google finds, aggregates, and spits out back to the public.


2:52 PM  
Blogger Bhupendra said...

Good information.

This actually calls for more serious thought on Information Broadcast. Technology and people's aggression is just crossing over business logic and human judgment. Situation needs to reverse a bit and it will.


2:20 AM  
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