A burden to others

A reasonably fast response from the Google-on-your-behalfers All Questions Answered prompted hatmandu and brighty to mention that their service had been both far better and far worse in the past.

The web, and specifically the services of Google, have democratized information to a phenomenal degree: within specific demographics, to be sure, but still a revolution on the scale of the early printed presses. But even Google’s services aren’t sufficient to massage the information precisely, without intervention from the user. Or from the user’s intermediary, researchers who know, when Google does not, a page of content from a page of Googlewashes.

So AQA’s raw material is practically free and available immediately, to us as much as to them. The structure of the workplace is the primary cost, and it’s this structure that will get squeezed and relaxed as demand ebbs and flows; man-hours, and availability of staff, are sold rather than the material itself. Hence, when demand rises or profits are required to do so, the quality of individual service dips….

What’s happening to information services isn’t in itself unusual. Almost every trade where the burden is the task rather than the artifact suffers the same fate. To take another example, even the most expensive restaurants see a large fraction of their margin swallowed up by employees rather than ingredients; the footsoldiers of the trade—your local Indian or Chinese—price their food largely on the man-hours taken to prepare it. A variety of ingredients rarely disturbs an almost flat fee across dishes. That’s understandable, and generally expected. But who would have thought, looking at illuminated bestiaries, engraved pamphlets or Encyclopædia Britannica’s dozens of volumes, that fact, opinion, truth and rumour might one day all go the way of feta, onion, trout and runner beans?

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