Information is not a commodity

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The modern day technical writer, in fact I think we’ll go with technical communicator for this on, has a myriad of tools at their disposal. Be they authoring tools, publishing formats, or ways to collaborate, we are spoiled for choice. I can write content and make it available to the world in mere minutes if I so choose (and I do, frequently, you are reading it).

Of course, there is more to our job than the tools of our trade, so much more that at times I think we can forget that our value lies elsewhere and if we are forgetting that, can we really blame others for losing sight of it too? We are more than our knowledge of Microsoft Word, but I fear that’s not always apparent.

Working in a software company, I hear talk of the ‘quality of the code’ frequently, thankfully I hear similar comments about the product documentation, so where does the disconnect occur, how do our fellow professionals move from “those are the people who produce good quality product information” to “anyone can write product information” and, more importantly, how do we change that notion?

Part of the problem is that anyone can easily create and share information, better than that, they can collaborate with the author on that content. The people using the information can ask questions of the author directly, add their comments and even edit the content if it’s not correct. This is not new, Wikis have offered similar functionality for many years, yet somewhere along the line the value placed on information shifted from the quality of the content, to the functionality surrounding it.

  • Can I access it easily?
  • Can I leave a comment?
  • Can I send it to someone else?
  • Can I port it to another platform?

Some argue that information as a commodity raises the bar for us all, that by placing a value on information it allows us to be part of discussions we’ve struggled to gain access to in the past. Whilst that may be partly true, somewhere along the line we missed a grand opportunity.

Treating information as a commodity hides the real value and, worse, it places the high quality information we create into the same jumbled marketplace of content that we are all all too familiar with. As a commodity we have become just another coffee maker. Some people will seek out the best of such things, but the majority will not, they will seek the lowest cost and presume that, as it comes in a box that says ‘coffee maker’, it will meet their needs.

How do we change this?

The short answer is, we can’t. The horse has flown the cowshed (?!), the battle is lost.

However, that’s not to say the war is lost.

Good quality information will bubble to the top of the pile eventually. If your information is in a small pool, this will happen sooner rather than later. If you are concerned only with an internal audience you can help this happen by reaching out to other parts of your organisation to make them aware of what you are doing. If your information is in a larger pool, and you have to contend with other ‘google-able’ sources then you will need to do some leg work, some P.R.

This is not a new scenario and the very things that give us flexibility and power are also the things waiting to plot our downfall.

Information is a commodity. There is no escaping that fact.

But we are craftswomen, craftsmen of the highest order, and our knowledge and approach to information gives us an advantage that we shouldn’t be afraid to push home. Yes, all that other information is good, yes I’m sure it comes in handy now and then, but our information is something you can rely on, something that you can trust. It is honed, refined and delivered by experts.

Our information is not a commodity. It is a differentiator.

The sooner we all understand, and believe that, the better for us all.