08 April 2013

24/7; infoglut

The recent demise of CSI's NewsBrief was not a surprise. In fact, I had decided only days before that I was going to unsubscribe. The reason? It didn't offer anything unique.
As a CSI member, I am already aware of its Practice Groups, certification program, and other activities. More to the point, as a subscriber to other SmartBriefs, from AGC, ASCE, and NRCA, and the SmartBriefs on Sustainability and Leadership, I found too much redundancy. Many of the same links appeared in many of the briefs, as well as in other information sources. It's possible that the CSI NewsBrief was intended more for non-members, but its termination suggests it wasn't of much value to CSI.

Infoglut is nothing new...
it continues to grow, and it appears there is no end in sight. It's odd, though, to think of too much information as a problem. Design professionals in general, and specifiers in particular, need to know all there is to know about what they do, so it would seem more information would be better.

I recall being frustrated by the lack of easy access to information when I first became a specifier. Trade magazines were a major source, and the old version of the Construction Specifier, often two or three times as thick as today's magazine, was a favorite. Other magazines often had regular articles with useful information; product evaluations, installation, design considerations, and writing specifications were frequent topics.

Reference standards, always a necessity for the specifier, were hard to come by. The cost of standards published by ASTM, ACI, and other organizations was high enough that few offices would buy them. Instead, they relied on information from manufacturer's representatives, who sometimes provided copies of relevant standards. (There's a copyright issue here, but that's another subject.)

Manufacturers' literature was a primary source of information. Unfortunately, much of it was incomplete and poorly organized, making it difficult to write a specification section. Understandably, it also tended to focus on design, with lots of pretty pictures and bold claims. The intent was to sell the product, not to specify it. Some manufacturers offered guide specifications, but they suffered from the same problems as the general literature.

In an amazing turnabout, brought on by the Internet, we now have numerous sources of information. So what's the problem?

With all the information now available, the biggest problem is knowing what to trust. I'm sure it's always been true that everyone had an opinion, but when those opinions were published through trade magazines, they had a greater probability of being accurate and reliable. Today, the essentially free publishing capabilities of web sites, e-mail, and other messaging, makes it possible for anyone to look like an expert.

Here are some of my sources for information:

Paper magazines. Coming mostly from established organizations, I believe these to be reliable: Construction Specifier, Structural Engineer, Life Safety Digest, Architecture MN, Applicator.

As the magazines pile up in my inbox, I know that each issue has at least one thing I need to know. The problem is trying to find the gold nuggets, buried in the mud of articles and advertising. Online versions are more useful, as it is easy to search for specific words. Many online magazines allow you to search not only the current issue, but all issues that have been published online.

Organization e-mails. Again, coming from established organizations, I consider them to be reilable: CSI Leader, CSI Weekly, IIDA, MPI, IFMA, International Code Council, Building Design & Construction, Masonry Technology, Glass Magazine, Hanley Wood, Lath & Plaster Bureau, Architect Magazine, Consulting Specifying Engineer Magazine, For Construction Pros, National Space Society, Academia, WDMA.

These can be quite useful, as the editorial staff tries to figure out what's most important, and either explains it or provides a link. Of course, they're just guessing, and what I need to know may seem unimportant to them.

Social media. These sources are characterized by their random nature and the lack of vetting.

Twitter, Storify, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, BoltIt, iGoogle, Google+, Vsiual.ly, Flickr, Nibbo, Shutterfly, Webshots, Houzz, Architizer, Fast Company, Architect Newswire, Building Product Marketing.

With the exception of LinkedIn discussions, I find these of little value. I'm amazed that some people apparently have nothing else to do than watch their feeds. If you don't follow them, you will miss many so-important tweets and messages - most of which are trivial.

Finally, there is the the CSI Internet presence. A couple of years ago, in "Convince me", I commented on the fractured, incoherent image presented by the multitude of CSI websites, Facebook pages, and LinkedIn groups. Nothing has changed since then; most of them talk about past events in the future tense, many contain obsolete information, and there is little traffic. In other words, there is no reason a visitor would return. Most members don't use the sites; many are unaware of them. Nevertheless, chapters and regions apparently believe their members frequent the sites, and assume that posting something there is an effective way to communicate.

Perhaps the social media bubble will burst and eliminate much of the babble, leaving us with a few reliable sources of information. I hope it happens soon.


  1. ...says the guy with a blog. I hope your blog is considered "a reliable source of information" when the bubble bursts, Sheldon. I like reading it.

    1. Conspectus definitely is on the reliable list! Thanks, Cliff.