Information Wants to Be Free?

We often hear that “information wants to be free” – but does it really? If it does, why did my research partners and I just pay $13,000 to get a copy of this database?

Now that’s admittedly 13,000 Australian dollars, and once you take exchange rates into account it comes out to — a whole lot, in any currency. Why is it worth that? And why did we get it? Alert readers will be able to guess that the answer to both questions is aggregate, filter and connect.

This is a concrete example of creating value from information in both cases. First off the database. It is a compilation of data about strategic innovation alliances going back over 30 years. The data has been aggregated from public sources. It has also been filtered – out of all of the available news about strategic alliances, the original researchers have filtered out all of the ones that are not innovation-related. They’ve then also aggregated data about the objectives of the alliances, start and end dates, industry, and several other things. And they’ve connected all of that data together into a database. By starting with widely available information, they have used aggregating, filtering and connecting to create a valuable resource for researchers.

The people that have put the database together have already done plenty of analyses of the data, and published many papers on their findings. So why would we pay for data that has already been pretty thoroughly worked over? Because we can aggregate, filter and connect too. In this case, we’re paying them for most of the aggregating and filtering, but we have some unique connecting capabilities that makes it worthwhile for us. I have some skills in longitudinal data analysis that are fairly rare – connecting these with the data will create new information. My primary collaborator has developed some unique economic theory, which we’ll connect with the outcomes of my network analyses. By connecting our unique skills and knowledge to a database that anyone can buy, we’ll create new value.

Our objective is to provide some practical insights that will help organisations manage innovation collaborations more effectively. Studies show that somewhere between 50-80% of all innovation alliances fail to meet their objectives. If we can figure out a way to improve these outcomes it would be quite valuable.

So the next time someone tells you that “information wants to be free”, remind them of the entire quote from Stewart Brand:

On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.

And then remember that the way to create the expensive information is to aggregate, filter and connect.

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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7 thoughts on “Information Wants to Be Free?

  1. I would change the last sentence to “And then remember that the way to create the VALUABLE (AND WORTH PAYING FOR) information is to aggregate, filter and connect.”

  2. Sounds interesting, Tim! I’d like to read the paper when you’re done. Also remind me to send you an MISQ paper that a colleague did on longitudinal analysis of collaboration in standard making. Might be relevant to what you’re doing.

  3. Thanks Marta! The longitudinal paper definitely sounds useful – I’m interested in any longitudinal papers, really, since there aren’t that many good ones… As we get papers out of this, I’ll keep you posted. We’re aiming for at least 4 or 5 papers, and we’re also submitting a grant based on the research we’ll do out of it – so if that all pans out, it will have been worth the money!

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