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Relationships, not Information

Ever since reading his insightful weekly columns on Hotwired’s too-good-for-its-own-good site Packet, I’ve been a fan of Michael Schrage, and the insight he brings to issues of business, economics, technology, information, and society. An old essay of his, “The Relationship Revolution,” has been recently reposted, and ought to be required reading for those of us toiling away dealing with information on the internet.

There’s a passage near the end that I found particularly resonant to experiences I’ve had consulting with clients:

It’s time to stop thinking of computer networks and digital technologies as media for managing information and to start thinking of them as media to manage relationships. As a general rule, too many organizations have spent too much time obsessing on the information they want their networks to carry and far too little time on the effective relationships that those networks should create and support. This is a grave strategic error.

I’ve been involved in a couple of website strategy projects where this became an explicit goal. To think of information not as “information”, but as a currency in building a relationship between a company and their potential customers. It’s lead us to rethink the nature of how information is offered to people visiting the site. Instead of overwhelming them with all possible details, instead try to provide a meaningful path that develops in line with their appreciation of the organization and what it has to offer.