International Production and Dissemination of Information (3-3)
In recent years, several projects have attempted to quantify the information on various media. This research by David Bounie Telecom ParisTech and LairentGille Telecom ParisTech and is original but subject to numerous methodological problems (concerning originals, copies, value, etc.) and it raises more general accounting and statistical questions (about satellite accounts and statistical systems) from the point of view of the organization of knowledge. The objective of this article is twofold. First, after summarizing our own estimates, we comment on the main methodological concerns these works raise. Second, we draw more general conclusions about redefining an accounting framework and a statistical system based on comparable international standards.
An Update of the 2003 Study
In 2009, we updated the 2003 study summarizes the key figures. The total amount of information stored on the four media making up the first type amounted to 14.7 exabytes in 2008. This figure is nearly triple that of 2003, mainly because of the increasing production of information on magnetic media. This trend confirms that the magnetic storage is rapidly becoming the universal medium for information storage, as Lyman and Varian pointed out in their earlier study. It is worth noting that the plastic media were the only type to decrease, mainly because of the drop in the production of personal photos on plastic paper, which have been replaced by memory sticks or other devices.
A further interesting point is that the flow of information exchanged via telecommunications networks also almost doubled between 2002 and 2008, making telecommunications the type of media transmitting the greatest quantity of information. More than twice the amount of information produced and stocked on magnetic media was exchanged on telecommunications networks. This evolution is mainly due to the huge increase in mobile phone subscribers around the world. It is noteworthy that the number of mobile phone subscribers was by far higher in the rest of the world (74%) than in the United States (8%) or in European countries (18%).
Some Methodological Issues
To carry out this initial assessment of information volumes, we listed information using notions such as stock and flows, original content, and copies, with reference chiefly to the information media (materials that carry information, i.e., paper, plastic, magnetic, telecommunications networks, etc.). However, these media are becoming increasingly difficult to mobilize because of the growing dematerialization of information and ongoing technological developments.
In addition, we use assumptions on compression algorithms and data conversion. We then play down the importance of the question of the audience and accessibility of information. In this section we will discuss five challenging questions about information:
1. How can it be characterized?
2. How can its production be determined (stock, flows, originals, etc.)?
3. How can its volume be measured?
4. How can its consumption be determined?
5. How can it be valued?
Answering these questions involves the definition of classifications, conversion factors, measurement of audiences and prices, and more. The vast bulk of this consolidation work remains to be accomplished.
It is necessary to remind readers that information has a completely fundamental economic characteristic, which economists describe as “non-rivalrous”: information is not destroyed when it is used. Accordingly, information can be regarded as a durable good, even though in use it differs radically from other items classified as durable goods. We must also mention that technological progress has encouraged media decoupling (already referred to as dematerialization) and made it far easier to duplicate information at an insignificant cost.
The Characterization of Information
The characterization of information according to the media on which it is stored or by which it is transferred is unlikely to withstand the pressures of technological change. The experience of economic statistics reveals the difficulty of establishing classifications that satisfy all expectations. To characterize an economic activity, statisticians use activity- and product-based classifications. These classifications attempt to respond to two challenges: first, one-to-one mapping between activities and products, and second, merging the categories thus formed into significant classes. Two concepts in particular must be combined: the classification of activities according to their production process and the classification of products according to their functional purpose.
What is the best way to establish a classification of information? Should a classification focus on information activities, or on information purposes? Traditionally, information has been classified according to various principles, the most frequently used criteria being the type of medium: paper, silver films, gramophone records, magnetic tapes or optical discs, computer memory media, etc. As the media tended to relate to a productive activity, the classification tended to be activity-focused. When these media were unalterably engraved or printed, there were certain forms of concordance between the medium and its content. But as soon as these media become rewritable or substitutable, this concordance no longer exists.
Classification by productive activity, which is a broader classification than a solely media-based classification, derives from economic classifications. Thus, media industries producing knowledge and providing entertainment fall into the same class as communication industries distributing or disseminating information, as opposed to another class comprising the IT industries that produce software, databases, and hosting sites, process data, and perform other work within a constantly growing scope of activities.
Another type of classification concerns the form of information, distinguishing between written words and images, fixed images and animated images (video), sound and in particular music, drawings and diagrams, graphic works, etc. However, a document nowadays can be composed of many of these forms of information, so this distinction, though once useful for characterizing the delivery mechanisms and types of information, is no longer as relevant. Information tends to be what is called multimedia.
Classification by legal nature is sometimes used: information protected by copyright or patent, personal data falling within the scope of data protection laws, information produced by the United States and protected for security reasons (classified information, for example) or, on the contrary, information in the public domain (open data), and so on.
Finally, a few classifications attempt to characterize information according to its purpose, use or function. Such classifications have been proposed in numerous domains; thus there exist detailed, hierarchical classifications of books (in particular for the organization of libraries) and classifications by literary, musical, or artistic genre that are obviously subject to debate and above all cannot be transposed from one domain to another.
By Alula Berhe Kidani, 03/07/2012