Selling knowledge: Is online information trustworthy?

Many firms may offer to sell you knowledge, but your best bet is to go with the firm with the brand name and good reputation. Linda Dailey Paulson explains why.

Online knowledge brokers provide specialized, high-level information about business processes requiring specific expertise. Decision makers needing instant high-level information are willing to pay a premium to gain a competitive edge. It’s a perfect example of supply and demand. But with this wide-open opportunity come numerous challenges. Namely, how do CIOs know the information purchased is accurate, and what are they able to do with that purchased information?

One would think reading the fine print in the form of the usual legal disclaimers found on sites would answer most legal questions.

"The disclaimers are put up to protect the site. These are not statements [a buyer] can rely on," said Maureen Dorney, partner and attorney with the firm of Gray, Cary, Ware & Freidenrich . "Those limiting warranties they make are to protect the site, not to protect the user."
This is part two in a two-part series on knowledge brokering. Partone examined the new market of selling information online.
Who can you trust?
How do you know the information you're buying is credible?

"Part of it is relying on the good name of the site," Dorney said. "If I'm going to be using information, I would check the 'about us' section or equivalent to find out who is behind the brand if it's not obvious. If it's Dow Jones, you know. For a new player, you have to do a little analysis."

"Information is an extremely ephemeral good," said Peter Burris, senior vice president and co-research director ofMETA Group . "It's when it has to be shared in a community that the brand starts to kick in. And an important nature of the brand is the community itself."

Characteristics of knowledge
Knowledge, Burris said, should have five distinct attributes. It should:
  • Be consistent. "Call me today, I'll give you an answer. Call tomorrow with the same basic question, and I'll give you the same general answer. There should be a baseline of information."
  • Have a degree of discretion.
  • Be subjective or provided by what he calls "a fair witness."
  • Be timely.
  • Be contextual and useable.

Because quality of content is a huge issue for those purchasing knowledge, according to Daniel Rasmus, director of Giga Information Group , brand identity is crucial.

"If you trust the brand, you have the credibility of the organization behind that brand," he said.

Beware copyright
Attorney Dorney said it is also crucial for those CIOs wishing to reuse information to carefully read the terms and conditions for re-use obtained from the broker. In some instances, the site publishing the document may not own the information or copyright. That may revert reprint approval to the author/creator; terms to use that information, including additional rights and payment for use, would be negotiated by that individual. To do otherwise might be considered copyright infringement—and the copyright holder would have legal recourse for the violation.

"It is important for CIOs to understand the terms that limit your use," she said. "Use that goes beyond that could put you in hot water with the site or with those other sources who have provided or created that information."

Buyer beware
Another problem is subterfuge by brokers.

"As we all know with the Internet, some things are not what they appear to be," said Rasmus. There are those who create another persona to illicitly sell information owned by other people or who write under pseudonyms to circumvent an employer's confidentiality agreement.

Although there are indeed benefits and risks to buying and selling knowledge, the wise CIO should be able to navigate this brave new e-commerce model without difficulty. The challenges are not insurmountable.

"I think the CIOs need to be cautious," Rasmus said. When in doubt, "go to a trusted company."

Because decision making is a highly collaborative process, Burris said, "providing information that galvanizes" online communities is going to be crucial for knowledge brokers to succeed. He said META Group has seen its user sessions triple in the last few months.

"We're trying to create in the minds of our customers and prospects that on a daily basis, they can go to the META Group and get information that makes their job easier, and they can then pass that information along to their compadres. It is a collaborative world."

Linda Dailey Paulson writes frequently about computing and technology topics as a freelance author.

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