Yesterday, the 3 Geeks all got together for a Twitter-style interview hosted by MH Connected‘s Alin Wagner-Lahmy. Although it is hard to get a serious answer out of Toby, Lisa or me, there was something that Alin asked that made me think of how I monitor the enormous amount of information that comes in via “social media” sites. Alin wondered how we find the time to monitor all of the information coming at us via social media sites. My response was that I simply stand beside the river of information with the hopes of catching something good as it swims past. Although, I specifically called it the “river of Twitter” it could actually stand for anything that is Social Media related.

I’m actually pretty lucky in that as a law librarian, my job is to “fish” the river of information at my disposal and pluck the right piece out of that river and turn it over to the appropriate person at the right time. Sometimes, through the addition of analysis, I get to clean and fry the information I caught and serve it as a meal. This isn’t anything new for librarians or research analysts. We’ve been doing this for a long, long time now. The thing that is new is the format of the information, and the vast quantities of raw information that is available.
At one time, the information was limited to the stream in our back yard — books we owned in our library. We would stock this stream ourselves with a few select breeds based on what we absolutely needed to feed ourselves. Occasionally, we’d fish in our neighbors’ streams when we desired something that we hadn’t stocked in our own.
When the information went “electronic”, we decided that the stream in our back yard just wasn’t enough. We needed to fish in the big lake that was stocked by others and we’d buy the rights to pull certain types of information as much as we wanted. We’d also be able to fish for other types of information, but we’d pay a substantial price for it. While we were still stocking our local stream, over time we began reducing the diversity of the information, relying more and more on what we could pull from the big lakes we paid to fish in. It was expensive to fish for information this way, but it was stable, dependable, and we understood where we needed to fish in order to get certain breeds.
Lately, there is an ocean of social media information that we’ve started fishing in. That ocean is stocked for free by millions and millions of people, and very little of it is something we need to catch. However, there are isolated areas in that ocean that contain some of the information we truly desire. Tasty bits of exotic information that you’d pay a premium for in the lake, or even types of information that aren’t even available to stock in those lakes and streams you’ve been fishing for years. The problem is finding the tasty pieces of information in an ocean that is mostly stocked with the inedible type. This is where your experienced information fisherman are most valuable.
Just as you would hire a local guide when you travel to an unfamiliar river, pulling information out of the social media ocean takes experience, patience, and the ability to know what can and what cannot be pulled from that ocean. One of the key things to remember is that this ocean is not a replacement for your local stream or lake. Instead, it is just another place to fish for information. An experienced information fisherman will understand when to fish in the local stream versus going out to the ocean; when it is better to pay a fee at the lake to quickly find the right type of information versus gambling on catching fresh or exotic information that may be found for free in that ocean.
The information stocked in the ocean of social media is diverse and plentiful. But, that doesn’t mean that everything is edible… actually, far from it. So, be wary of those standing beside the ocean that say everything you want is found in the ocean, because it’s not. Also, beware the salesman beside the lake that say he can stock whatever you need in the lake, because he cannot. Nor should you attempt to live only on what you’ve stocked in your local stream. You’ll find that catching the same breed of information over and over again can become stagnating.
There is value in each of these fishing locations, none of which completely replaces the other. The key is in expanding your information resources without forgetting what is stocked in each.