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Stanton: Data deluge – Slow search necessitates sift response

Finding just the right ingredients is recipe for cybersuccess

Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

That’s the lesson this week, with U.S. newspaper readership down but visits to free online newspaper Web sites up.

Print readership fell by 7 percent in the six months that ended March 31, the Audit Bureau of Circulation reported Monday. But unique visitors to the top 10 newspaper Web sites increased by 16 percent over the past year, says Nielsen Online.

Indeed, online visits of any kind must be on the rise.

Content is exploding faster than swine flu headlines, as addiction to instantaneous information feeds has infected all but the diehard computer illiterates.

With Twitterers’ Tweets, Facebook and MySpace tidbits, blogs, online mainstream newspapers, iPhones and Blackberries for portability, the Huffington Post, Politico and other established Web sites, you can get everything you want – and there’s even a site named Alice’s Restaurant.

The question, of course, is how to find what you need, want and even what you’d want if you knew it were there.

We’re drowning in data, distracted by drivel. And despite lightning-speed high-tech developments, the one tool we need most already is way overdue.

We need a road map to lead us to the richest content for our individual needs, a giant sifter to separate the wheat from the chaff, a Disaggregator, if you will, that will alert us to disparities in quality and usefulness and save us inordinate time now spent scouring the Web.

Give me a table of contents. Please.

Print newspaper readers long have counted on a daily compendium of local information, from movie listings and restaurant reviews to court verdicts and political analysis.

But today, when that paper in the orange plastic sleeve is plopped on your doorstep, it’s already outdated.

While it was being printed, the world was moving on – and the latest developments are just a computer click away.

Granted, most of the paper still holds true – the movie listings, sports scores and such. But you could fall 24 hours behind on the news if you’re not checking by computer.

In the technological revolution, some form of journalism eventually will fill the void left by many dead and dying newspapers, including this one.

News will get reported, though who knows what accuracy or credulity those reports will carry.

But even if you find a trustworthy online purveyor of local news, folks in communities that have lost their newspapers will have to hunt high and low for everything else.

The one-stop packaging that newspapers provide hasn’t been replicated, despite the oceans of information rolling on the Web.

Many of us waste a lot of time sifting through what can only be characterized as crap.

We go at it with pitchforks, fighting our way to the marvels and wonders and mother lodes of useful data out there for the taking.

So the organization of online content into tidy silos, with clear labeling for our easy access, will be the next major improvement.

That may seem a herculean task, but it will happen.

I remember when the National Conference of Editorial Writers met in Seattle in 2000, and a bunch of Bill Gates’ underlings and other geeks met us for lunch in the Space Needle.

Soon, they promised, we would access the Internet without even plugging anything in. The signals would fly through the air, and we’d pick them up!

Sure we will, most of us thought then, nodding and smiling politely.

Today, many of us won’t even check into a hotel unless it has Wi-Fi. Starbucks coffee offers complimentary Wi-Fi to customers.

So we’ve got easy Internet access, and heaven knows we’ve got tons of content. Now all we need is that essential Disaggregator.

Seattle dudes, are you listening? Knowing the Seattle dudes, the project’s probably almost done.

Billie Stanton can be reached by e-mail at bstanton@tucsoncitizen.com or by phoning 573-4664.

Citizen Online Archive, 2006-2009

This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

In 2010, a power surge fried a server that contained all of videos linked to dozens of stories in this archive. Also, a server that contained all of the databases for dozens of stories was accidentally erased, so all of those links are broken as well. However, all of the text and photos that accompanied some stories have been preserved.

For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

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