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Survey: Internet Plagued by Needle-in-Haystack Syndrome

The daily need to tap into knowledge relevant to their field is driving tech workers in all types of organizations to scour the Web for timely, up-to-date information, but making sure it’s accurate can prove a challenge.

A recent survey asked tech workers how they search for information, to what degree they use and share it with others, how it affects their performance and how much they would benefit from subscribing to professional information services that vet information and sources.

Safari Books Online and partner Zoomerang released results of a survey of technology workers’ research and collaboration habits.

Collaboration Conundrum

The survey found that most technology employees work under very tight deadlines and find it difficult to find or share collective knowledge with colleagues in their field.

A majority of the respondents — 57 percent — spend an hour or less training and sharing information with new employees, and 25 percent of them don’t spend any time training new employees, according to the survey results.

“The little-discussed fact in today’s business world is the widespread lack of access to vetted, accurate information critical to maintain knowledge and skills in the technology workforce, leading to bad business decisions, lost productivity and increased on-the-job stress,” said Dennis Kilian, Safari Books Online vice president and learning evangelist. “It is no surprise that a staggering percentage of tech workers admitted to having made bad business decisions due to incorrect, incomplete or contradictory information.”

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Lack of shared knowledge and the ability to access accurate information is taking its toll on technology professionals’ work, Safari found. Almost half of the respondents — 45 percent — said the information they found while researching online and later used for critical projects was inaccurate.

“This is not a surprise to us — we have seen this before. If anything, we were surprised at the percentage of respondents that said they didn’t ever find inaccurate information on the Internet [55 percent],” Kilian commented. “What this is really referencing is that you can go out there and do a Google search and find a wealth of information, but the quality of the source is unknown. One value of sites such as O’Reilly is editorial oversight.”

A technology-centric, searchable library of multimedia digital information, Safari Books Online is owned by two of the biggest names in the online publishing industry: O’Reilly Media and Pearson’s Technology Group. As such, the fast-growing company is investing a lot of time and effort in researching the audience of technology industry professionals that make use of its online information services.

“One of the things we’re concerned about with a paid subscription model is the value of content. We just passed our one-millionth subscriber account. We’re growing very rapidly, and we’re interested in continuing that performance. We’re doing a lot of research — focus groups, brand awareness studies and individual interviews, as well as surveys of our own customers,” Kilian told LinuxInsider.

Thirst for Knowledge – and Trustworthy Sources

Searching online turned out to be the most prevalent form tech workers employ to acquire and learning new information, according to Safari’s survey results, topping other options, such as attending structured training courses sponsored by employers and taking accredited university courses.

The amount of time they spend conducting online research varies with employees’ job functions and daily needs. Eighty-five percent of the 225 workers who responded to the survey indicated that they search the Internet for up to two hours per day for answers they need to do their jobs.

The most common search was for troubleshooting specific applications (47 percent). Other popular research topics included project management information, technology integration, product information and reviews, and competitive and potential new business partner information, according to Safari’s press release.

Corporations typically offer a limited amount of formal, structured training to their technology employees, according to Safari’s research. Only 23 percent offer in-house structured training courses, and only 20 percent offer reimbursement for higher education costs.

Sixty-five percent of respondents said that they would like their organization to provide targeted access to expert information specific to their role. Employees most often use the name and reputation of content owners and publishers to gauge how trustworthy the information is, according to the survey. Other indicators of trustworthiness used by respondents include comparing multiple sources, testing and debugging, and trial and error.

Knowlege Management in the Organization

Safari’s digital media library is the only one that offers technology workers access to professional content from all of the top four online publishing companies, Kilian noted. “Our complete library is close to about 6,500 titles, and we also have videos, 175 plus about 1,000 hours of tutorials, as well as rough cuts of manuscripts. Then there’s links to articles.”

Growing at a 35 to 40 percent per annum clip in recent years, Safari’s active subscriber base now totals over a quarter of a million, according to Kilian. Different classes of users — light, moderate and heavy — have different usage patterns, he explained.

“An application developer might use the system eight hours a day cutting and pasting to their heart’s desire — have the screen up all day. The bulk of our users we consider casual and moderate users. They use the service once or twice a week getting answer to a specific question. Then there are the ‘learners’ interested in understanding a new technology. They might spend a couple of hours really delving into a topic — a chapter or two a day, maybe more,” Kilian said.

“The pace of change in the technology industry, as technology changes, the time lag between what happens in the market and when reference materials are published has grown…Yet you have people talking on wikis and blogs almost immediately.”

In order to keep up with the fast pace of change and need for the latest developments, Safari publishes manuscripts as they’re being written, enabling readers to participate in the process by discussing the works in progress, making suggestions and doing some voluntary proofreading, Kilian noted. “Its really the immediacy of information and the pace of change in the technology industry, which is more prevalent there than in others.”

Organizations have a need to institutionalize employees’ online research habits and sources while not restricting them in a constraining way, he added. “When print media was still the primary source, they had corporate librarians as gatekeepers so the whole idea of knowledge management is coming to the fore — it’s been going on for a long time. Libraries are becoming virtual and at the same time that role has changed. Companies have a need to distribute trusted content on intranets and when going outside not restricting, but need to vet outside sources before it using it in a project. It’s an ongoing conversation.”

1 Comment

  • How unfortunately reflective of the times that this article turned out to be just a plug for O’reilly. The same has happened to most internet searches…there was a time when you Googled something you got sites with information, now you get sites that will sell you information. The information is still there but it’s getting much more difficult to get though the wall of commercialization to find it.

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