Are you going to eat that?

When we were kids, we used to share plates, or try to. If food was left over that one kid didn't want, another might ask

"Are you going to eat that?"

but it was despicable to ask if you weren't actually going to eat it.

Let me level with you. I generally hate people getting asked the infamous

"Do you really need that? What do you need the computer to do that for?"

it tends to be a hallmark of laziness or condescension on behalf of a developer or support person. I tend to think that lots of copies keep things safe. Moore's Law just blows away the necessity of brevity most people learnt when they started computing if they're olde enough to remember or at this point even heard tell of punchcards.

Yet after thousands of dollars and hundreds of records and a really good question over a listserv, I find myself having to blog about data again. This time, I really needs question redundancy and of all things signal to noise.

It's very easy to lose sight that Ranganathan's first law is

Books are for use.

It is so blissfully obvious that we forget ourselves and take it for granted. In modern times Data are for use. Coupled with the Database is a growing organism, you needs toss any chaff you encounter.

I have a horrific personal signal to noise ratio. I do a lot of babbling. I do a lot of musing. Every now and then I come up with a good article. So I grok the desire to harvest, harvest, harvest stuff is free, take it, and that the more stuff there is the richer the environment. Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe is a great example of redundancy working in our favour.

"More is different." More can be better. Or more can be crippling.

Less, as my art teachers reminded me endlessly, is more.

I ranted to a colleague on Wednesday about a procedure that called for data to be replicated in 3 separate fields in more or less the same fashion about a change that the Salesforce database in question would have tracked anyway. Are you going to eat that?

Part of the problem was that these folks were paying my nice consultant rate instead of my customary fee. No good deed goes unpunished. I hate to say it, but when I charge my jerk rate, I at least feel like my clients probably hear me out more frequently since they *are* paying a premium. It could also be that cash takes the sting out of being ignored.

The larger part of this particular problem was that the person administering the database didn't know the most basic parts of navigating it. Sure, it can be daunting. Yes, it takes time to learn. I definitely had more than my share of durrr moments as I learnt things. But I didn't sign up to administer. If you can't search for a record, if you don't realise the difference between a contact and an account, perhaps being in charge of the system is not where you want to be.

Now accidental administration happens. When it does, seek people out that know more. This environment had a wonderful natural mentor or 3, yet serious asymmetries of power kept people from blossoming.

This triplication was stifling. It didn't just cost them the money they were paying me to unnecessarily triplicate data, their usability was suffering. Too much data on the page is confusing to folks.

The salesforce entry screens that are the most valuable to their home institutions have the least fields possible for the information that they are attempting to capture. This is true in libraries as well.

Every user their record.

How many fields do you *really* need for your patron records? I've seen libraries collect social security data and display it on the check out screens. Really? Why are you collecting that in the first place? Now you have to secure it. Use a different unique or nearly unique patron identifier. You probably already have one: their library barcode.

One of the hints I give people most frequently on grantwriting is to leave a lot of blank space on the page when you shift your narrative. Reviewers appreciate this since it signals that a new idea is on the way.

When you migrate your data, stop and think about migrating your processes. Don't send yourself and your organisation to psychic prison. Break away from the business as usual trends while you have a fresh start. Sit down with one another and shoot for ideal policy and procedure and THEN select and implement a system that compliments those NOT the other way round.

For instance, invoke fine amnesty when you switch ILSs. Your migration team will thank you for having one less thing to do. Your Patrons will thank you and you'll see lots of materials you've not seen in years. They will be like to visit more often and pay fines anyway. Congratulations, you just made new olde friends.

Too much data is just clutter. Let your special stuff shine. Get to the signal while the getting is good, and your users will appreciate you all the more.

In Salesforce, what you're generally trying to capture is the spark that happens when a new acquaintance hands you their business card. Hey, call me mebbe? This makes the birthday field intriguing and clever. I feel like there should be a hobbies field. The LinkedIn field is crucial for auto updating. Guess what? If they speak, put the bio in now instead of later when you lose your head in advance of conference. As your relationship evolves, ensure that your data reflect the milestones of that relationship. It will let you provide far better customer care than sticking with the cookie cutter configurations. Smart companies like Wufoo realise that special and tailored is better in the long run.

Every user their record.

All of your social networking stuff should all be in the same section. All of your data ought be ranked and weighted so that it displays logically to the ENTIRE organisation, not just your department. When bits of data are useful to one team and not another, leverage the different groups and personal setup options that Salesforce allows so that no one gets confused. Does this burn a lot of initial time? Sure, but clever presentation and ease of usability saves a heck of a lot of time later and assists in ensuring organisation wide adoption.

Pay the damn money to ensure that each person has their own login, a contract for the entire corporation is in effect, or use an open source alternative like Zurmo. Your staff will feel at home and included when they have their own home in the database.

For corporate entities your signal might be the stuff that would get you busted for insider trading. *REAL* information. Complex, delicious, hard to find information. Gos. Olde filings. All of the stuff that isn't in someone else's flat as a pancake directory.

Fine, send your crawler out to check for recency versus the corporate directory, but fill that information out with data that you can't easily get on the web, but could easily get in person.

Break out of the analog thinking of a business card or even a vcard and get into the digital thinking of how you're going to use what you're collecting. Is it hard to find parking at headquarters? Is there a good lunch joint down the way that impressed the client last time? Are they a meatgrinder with high turnover? Who is their corporate rival? Who are their corporate allies? Are they innovative?

This is all about aboutness. What is that company about? What is that person like? How does that process help us? Are you going to eat that?