Making data more digestible


NEW YORK -- Yoshi Amran is a man with a mission tailor-made for the information age: to make sense of the millions of bits of information that inundate his clients each day.

The Massachusetts businessman does it by custom-filtering the news wires, press releases and electronic data for each of his clients. With the chaff computer-edited out, he sends the remaining dozen or so articles of interest via fax or electronic mail by 8 a.m. each day.

The service isn't cheap -- it can run between $5,000 and $15,000 a year -- but Mr. Amran's Individual Inc. seems to have struck a chord. From 2,000 clients in 1990, he now has 15,000 and is introducing a cheaper service this spring.

"Today, the problem is too much information," Mr. Amran said. "There's a premium on getting the right information to the right person at the right time."

Individual Inc. was one of 30 companies that explained their roles the information explosion yesterday during Alex. Brown's 1993 Media and Communications Services Seminar. Held for the first time in New York City, the seminar is an attempt to make sense of the tumultuous field of information technologies and point to some of the more promising companies.

Broadly speaking, the 30 companies could be divided into well-known communications giants, like Time Warner Inc., the baby Bells and Dow Jones & Co. Inc., and a host of obscure companies, like Mr. Amran's, that have found a niche.

"We're trying to show some of the new opportunities in information gathering, advertising and technology that have recently come up," said Andrew Marcus, an Alex. Brown media and communications analyst.

The field has grabbed attention through a series of technological breakthroughs that could turn long-standing habits on their head by the end of the decade.

Among the coming changes: interactive communication that, among other things, can allow television viewers to call up movies from a central archive and stop, rewind and fast-forward them like a video cassette; the blurring of lines between telephone, cable and entertainment companies; and the increased delivery of information electronically instead of in print.

"Why are all these changes taking place now?" said Geoff Holmes, senior vice president for technology at Time Warner. "Simply put, the economics now work."

The costs of such projects are now feasible, Mr. Holmes said, because fiber-optic cables allow vast quantities of information to be sent rapidly. In addition, software is sophisticated enough to allow, for example, thousands of people to call up the same movie at the same time, stop it, rewind it or fast-forward it without disrupting anyone.

Of the changes discussed yesterday, interactive use of cable television is the most likely to gain acceptance in the near future. Mr. Holmes said a pilot project in Orlando, Fla., to wire homes with digital cables should be ready by early next year.

Nor will these radical changes be as costly as widely estimated, said Richard Jones of Broadband Technologies Inc. The maker of digital equipment for telephone companies, Mr. Jones estimated that 90 percent of U.S. households could be hooked )) up to this information "superhighway" within 10 years for about $20 billion -- far less than the $500 billion that had been estimated.

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