Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ways to turn down the noise

Like a lot of people who keep track of new business and technology developments, I find myself getting overwhelmed with information. It's sometimes difficult to separate the signal from the noise. To keep from being completely buried under the noise, I've come up with some rules for determining what (and what not) to pay attention to:
  • Press releases: They're advertisements, highly biased and often very inaccurate, but they're useful for identifying new products and services that might be of value to you, and competitors that you may not have known about. They can also alert you to management appointments and changes at your customers and competitors.
  • Analyst reports: I almost completely ignore analyst forecasts, although reports of actual sales can be very useful. No forecast that covers more than 12 to 24 months is in any way accurate (and I say that as a former analyst who made my living doing five-year forecasts.) In addition, analysts often bias their forecasts upward to make their reports more appealing to vendors, or to placate an existing client or encourage a potential client to sign on. Analyst reports that make recommendations about which products or services to buy, or which vendors to consider, are subject to similar biases, and should always be looked at skeptically.

    Also, pay attention to the backgrounds and experience of the analysts themselves. How much working experience do they have in the industry they're covering? Did they work for a customer or for a vendor? Was the report written by the analysts whose names are on it, or was it actually written by junior, less-experienced researchers?
  • White papers: Most white papers, whether they're directly written by a vendor or by a research firm for a vendor, are advertising. What's worse, in order to get them, you usually have to identify yourself, and you can expect a sales contact shortly thereafter.
  • Webcasts: Again, these are mostly advertising for the companies participating in or sponsoring the webcasts. Unless you want to spend an hour listening to an ad, they're a poor use of your time. Even when customers are included as presenters, they may be there only for show, and the vendor representatives will dominate the conversation.
  • Tech business blogs, such as TechCrunch and Silicon Alley Insider: These blogs generate traffic with controversy, often mix facts, opinion and conjecture together, and in general, are more entertaining than reliable.
  • Hardware blogs, such as AnandTech and Tom's Hardware for computers, or Digital Photography Review for digital cameras: These blogs often do an excellent job of covering and reviewing new products, but be sure that the reviewer received no compensation from the vendor for the review.
  • Newspapers and magazines (print or online): The quality of the information that newspapers and magazines report is directly related to the experience and quality of their reporters and editors. It takes time for a reporter to understand a subject area, especially technology, business, medicine and science. Budgetary pressures have forced many publications to fire their experienced specialty journalists and rely on freelancers, news services and press releases. Check reporters' bylines to find out where they came from and how much experience they have in the subject area. Also, anything labeled "Advertorial" is advertising, even if it looks like normal editorial content.
By being an informed consumer of news, you can get better information and draw more accurate conclusions in less time.
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