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Information as Food

Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to attend a keynote by JP Rangaswami at a Tableau conference. JP is the Chief Scientist at as well as a highly respected blogger, author and technologist. JP borrowed from his 2012 TED talk and suggested we think about information as you would about food.

The premise being that humans have larger brains than other primates because of our relationship with food. Our gut has shrunk as our brain has grown, due to our ability to use external factors – for example the cooking of food to remove the onus on the body to digest it. This means more of our energy can be devoted to other things and the cooking of food distinguishes us from any other animal.

On re-reading my notes I realized that much of what JP was saying about information as food resonates with the way we at MarkLogic and our customers think about the content or information we work with every day.

With that understanding, JP asks: “If you treated information the way you treat food, what would you do differently?”

Key topics in the talk include:

  • Preparation – thinking about the end goal for the meal and the ingredients – how it will be cooked and what must be done in advance. We try to focus on our customers’ end goals for their content and the timeframe to get there.
  • Consumption – how do people consume information and what are they used to doing with it. JP refers to a YouTube clip entitled “A Magazine Is an iPad That Does Not Work,” which illustrates that if you have only ever seen digital then paper will be incomprehensible to you.
  • Distillation – how to take the essence of something and synthesise it – for example creating a separate sauce for your dish. In MarkLogic terms perhaps this means being able to store the core content as XML and then making the delivery mechanism the sauce – “Tablet, mobile or website with that sir?”
  • Fermentation – is the interaction of the ingredients that creates the value. For MarkLogicians the value in Version 7 is being able to query, search and semantically link simultaneously. It’s not enough to use MarkLogic server as just a dumb content store – its value is to be found in using it as a search engine and application services platform as well!
  • Famine – JP talked about building filters at the subscriber end NOT the publisher end. This is something we enable customers to do every day – their subscribers are presented with the ability to search everything they are entitled to see and have it delivered in the way they want. They are certainly not starved of information. Discoverability is crucial to monetizing information assets and/or promoting organizational goals.
  • Diet – what is the quality of what you are consuming? The ability to search meaningful information that is linked to other things that will be useful and relevant (not just junk) is a core MarkLogic function.
  • Exercise – what will the information do to the people who are consuming it and to the people it relates to? The example JP gave was to only share information on sites like Twitter if there is no reason you are aware of why it would harm someone else. A similarly responsible approach to data usage, access and compliance is all available due to our government grade security.

These are just a few of the ideas that occurred to me as I listened to this insightful presentation – I hope it will encourage others to listen to the whole talk and engage in a discussion with MarkLogic about a holistic approach to information as food. We’re hungry to talk to you……

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