You’ve got to know when to fold ’em

You’ve got to know when to walk away, or know when to run….

I’ve worked with some interesting patrons lately.  As a reference librarian, I love to help people find answers to their questions, and I really love helping them with business research.  The thing I love most about business research is that there is no one place to look for business research questions.  I tell my students there is no Walmart for business information; you have to go shopping all over town.

Now this analogy can backfire, and I’ll tell you why.  With the thousands of dollars that we spend for business databases, books, and journals, there comes the inherent expectation that every single piece of knowledge about a company, industry, or product ought to be available somewhere (and it ought to be available online).  Most librarians will tell you that it’s impossible to have everything online, and most business folks should know that companies only disclose what they have to or what they want to.   This makes the search for business information a little tricky.  How long, deep, far do you look for information before you decide that the information you are looking for does not exist?  When do you decide that the information is impossible to find when you’ve tried and tried and you still haven’t found what you’re looking for?  (You can start humming U2 now if you wish 😉 ).

Last night I met with two students who were looking for information about donut, bagel, and pastry shops.  One thing they wanted to know was the sales mix of products for a typical Dunkin Donuts store.  Basically they wanted to know how many donuts, muffins, coffee, bagels, english muffins, etc were sold at each store, with a percentage of sales for each product.  You know who knows that?  Dunkin Donuts.  You know who else knows that? Yeah, me neither.  Fact of the matter is, Dunkin Donuts is likely to keep those cards pretty close to the chest, as it is not in the company’s best interest for other companies to know what their top sellers are.  Now occasionally you’ll find a press release or an article in a trade publication that mentions how sales have increased in a product category, but they’re not likely to give you information for the whole restaurant.

This is typically easy to explain to students, but sometimes they still don’t stop looking.  They’ve got it in their heads that their projects will not be complete without that one piece of information, and perhaps their argument or recommendations are based on finding that one needle in a haystack.  When I get questions such as the donuts sales mix, I will try my best with to work with the students to find what they are looking for, because I don’t know everything and occasionally the best report ever will be available in IbisWorld or Hoover’s or Business Source Complete.  However, most times I steer them toward the information that is available, while teaching them a bit about the nature of information, and why sometimes information is sacred.  It’s tough sometimes letting a student down, but part of doing tough research is knowing when to walk away.

So, dear readers, how far do you go before you decide the information you’re looking for is not generally available?  Do you have a checklist so you cover all of your bases?  Or do you simply spend a certain amount of time before you give up?  If you have tips that work, please leave a comment on this post and share your insight with others.

My content is all over the place

So I’m struggling with something.  I have this blog, and I have just started another blog for my biking interests.  So I have content here and at WordPress.com.  The pictures that I have for this blog are generally uploaded to this blog directly, although I’ve started using my free flickr account to host my pictures. I also have a blip.tv account for videos that you see here, on my bike blog, on my Business Blog, on the Biz Wiki, and in other places.  I also have separate Flickr and Blip.tv accounts for family pics and videos. I also have a Vimeo account, a YouTube account, Picasa, and more. The cool thing about the web today is that it enables you to get your content all over the place.  The bad thing is that you have to remember where you put everything (and also remember the usernames and passwords).  These days I’m lucky to remember to take out the trash on Wednesdays.

Ideally it would be nice to have all my content in one place, but that’s kind of hard.  Frankly, services like blip.tv and Flickr make it so easy to post content.  Options for hosting this on your own server with applications like Gallery are available, but it takes a lot of work to make sure things are working right.  I had an install of Gallery for quite some time, but it was too sluggish on my  host to be of much use.  I ditched Gallery and moved my family pics to Flickr.  I also use to upload family videos directly to my host, but those videos take up a lot of room, and my space on the server is limited.  I have several blogs, including this one, hosted on the same server.  My new bike blog is currently located at WordPress.com, though I don’t know how long I will leave it there (there are pros and cons of wordpress.com vs. wordpress.org).  I suppose the nice thing about having the content separated from the engine (i.e., pics and video separate from the blog) is that it allows you to more easily take your content (pics and text) wherever you wish.  If in the future I want to move the Redneck in Spandex from WordPress.com to my own domain or host, it should be as simple as exporting the blog content.  Since the images and videos from the blog are linked to Flickr and Blip, then everything should display okay after the migration without any broken images (in theory).

Now the librarian and geek in me struggles with the issue of how long my content will be available.  If Blip.tv folds tomorrow, that would mean that I would have broken video files and links on about 6 different blogs and websites.  A demise of Flickr would have very similar consequences.  And since I have two accounts for both services (only one Pro Flickr account), then I could have broken image links all over the place.  The thought of that is unsettling, although I guess it would make sure I have plenty of work to do.

Does anyone else struggle with this?  Is this even something to worry about?  Will my content always be threatened by the possibility of extinction?  If not, do I need to be concerned about where my content will live next?