Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Text sklurging

Text sklurging

I found a supposed profile of myself on the 'Web yesterday, and I wondered where it found its origins. I searched the site which produced it and found three entries with the same or similar name. One fellow I knew about -- there's a guy in Alabama in the insurance business who has the same first and last names as I. Even worse for establishing my identity, there's a guy who lived in my home town with that much in common with me. Given my experience, I have to cringe when I hear the phrase, I know who you are.

I found the explanation that I quote below in its entirety. Some might find it shocking, some may find it boring, but a lot of people are using the 'Web as an authoritative source for a number of purposes. Without understanding what necessitates the caveat below, that can be a particularly dangerous practice. We are all aware of the journalists who get into trouble by not verifying the reports of their sources, but what about employers and credit agencies? What if they all were to say, I know who you are.

The dangerous practice with the most horrendous consequences can be described as follows: Using an automated process where human judgement is required. I've seen all the "intelligent engines," and as a matter of fact, I've designed and programmed a few before current software engineers had graduated to pacifiers. As smart as you can make them, they are still error-prone: And the decisions they are asked to make more and more frequently tend toward those of the variety that ruin the lives of innocents. Whenever people see someone sleeping in the street, you will hear the public wisdom on how it came about: Laziness, drug abuse, alcoholism, mental illness, lack of education, etc. Nobody considers the steady downward spiral of the hard-working, sane-and-sober, trained and educated (I distinguish between the two) productive member of society whose personal or credit information has been exploited by criminals. Granted, these cases are probably the fifth part of the explanations given above, but they exist and deserve separate treatment.

The way most people witness this fall from grace is this: A coworker, friend or acquaintance "starts to have a few problems." Maybe it presents as an economic infirmity, perhaps the symptom is unemployment, but then our attentions turn to whether our hair is combed or how well garment and armor covers our posteriors and the person with problems slips from view. Maybe weeks pass or even months, but our paychecks are still arriving at the bank, so we pay little note elsewhere. Other friends of the besieged individual begin to grumble that they "helped him out" but so-and-so didn't appreciate their help or repay their personal loans. After slipping from view, the depersonalized individual may vanish altogether if you don't have an intimate connection. If you're close, you'll be searching your repository of explanations for why someone with talent, skill, expertise and work ethic can suffer such a horrible fall. If you're not close enough, you'll probably say, It's the economy, stupid!

Economic trends are usually too large and sweeping to sufficiently handicap the industrious and the resourceful -- that's why the market-state explanations don't fly with most people. We all have our anecdotal stories about how grandpa pulled himself up by his bootstraps during the depression. But inaccurate or untimely information can cripple individuals, armies or gigantic corporations: Anybody remember Enron?

I usually call the "extraction of textual data for processing by an 'intelligent engine'" text sklurging. It's not a technical term, but it accurately reflects the computational gymnastics of juggling character data until you've picked up keywords and forced them into a certain context. This passes for intelligence among the unsophisticated. Once your personal information has been manipulated in this way, you'll wish that you'd just sold your social security number to the artful dodger instead. By the time anybody is aware that there is any problem, it is already too late. From the perspective of the credit-seeker or prospective employee, everything is going fine until one day when everyone loses faith. A deal was just a little too hard to close, a credit application is rejected -- daily, routine events on the surface of a catastrophe looming. Friends realize what is happening when the victim has no paycheck and no place to live. What happened? they ask, Has he just lost it? I can't believe he blew that interview.

The truly independent will find some way to 'take matters into his/her own hands,' and will prevail -- or disappear completely. For the average person, the loss of one paycheck hurts -- by the time five paychecks go by (10 short weeks to erasing you from society), it's no longer a topic for discussion. The passage of time is measured by the gladiators and ignored by the spectators. By the time that social welfare agencies show up, all the evidence has been destroyed -- not that they do such a great job of investigating the crime scene. Better to think There but for the Grace of God go I, because that's more accurate than basing your analysis of homelessness on the annoying beggar who's always bothering people for change -- he's probably using his proceeds to float stock while the poor take the blame.

One of those text sklurging programs that "put your resumee into a standard format" took a version I tailored according to a friend's specifications and made me an employee of one of the clubs to which I belonged. By the time the final product came around, the omissions, insertions, all-out errors and various sorts of mangling produced a resumee that took longer to edit than it would to write a new one -- at the terminal. I shudder to think how many people saw it before I was able to correct all of it. I'm a technology proponent, but a little horse-sense goes a long way in deciding which is the solution for a class project and what parts of business process should be automated.

In a market where recruiters claim they can't find any qualified American workers yet they confess that they don't have more than 10 seconds to spend on each resumee, I think we need a whole lot more horse-sense and a lot less help from rule-based thinking.

Read the statement below and see whether you might be slightly concerned:

How did ZoomInfo get this info?

<meta name="Keywords" content="database,resume,expert,recruiter,recruiting,web site,company descriptor,job titles,occupation,management,biographies,lead generator,headhunter,research,targeted,information access,extraction,natural language processing,artificial intelligence,education,location,press release,SEC filing">
How did ZoomInfo get this info?

How does ZoomInfo create its profiles:
Our patented semantic search technology continually crawls the Business Web – the millions of company websites, news feeds and other online sources -- and extracts business information using natural language processing and extraction algorithms. ZoomInfo then automatically organizes the information into fresh, comprehensive, objective and easy-to-read profiles. And because our data is automatically generated using the world's most up-to-date source, the Internet, we deliver the freshest information available. ZoomInfo also allows users to edit existing profile information or to add new profiles. Information sources are clearly marked on each individual profile.

Please note:
ZoomInfo does not fact check its profiles and aggregation errors are possible. Additionally, ZoomInfo does not verify user-submitted information. Errors to your own profile can be corrected by updating your information Other errors or inappropriate content can be reported to ZoomInfo using our support form

Who is ZoomInfo?
ZoomInfo is a business information search engine used to quickly find information about industries, companies, people, products and services. ZoomInfo's semantic search engine continually crawls the business web to identify company and people information, which is then organized into fresh, comprehensive and objective profiles.

Learn more about our technology

What is my ZoomInfo Web Identity?
Anyone who can be found on the Web has a Web identity. Some people, like famous athletes or captains of their industries, have a comprehensive Web identity. The rest of us may have only a minimal one or none at all. No matter who you are, ZoomInfo allows you to take control of your Web identity by allowing you to create or claim your ZoomInfo profile. Your profile can include your career history, education, affiliations, Web references and contact information - all in one place - for recruiters, business associates and colleagues to access. Now, when others search for you, you can have some control over what the Web says about you. Take control of your Web Profile today!

So, why would I want to be found on ZoomInfo anyway?
Let opportunities find you! Millions of people use ZoomInfo to find old friends, colleagues, business associates and talent. And since ZoomInfo profiles show up in Google, Yahoo! and other search results, having a ZoomInfo profile allows you to increase your visibility on the Web and to control your personal brand by creating an accurate, up-to-date Web profile that can be found all in one place and edited regularly. Allow colleagues, recruiters and job opportunities to find you. Update your profile today!

The information in my Web Profile is wrong. How can I fix it?
ZoomInfo collects information from many public sources including Web pages, press releases, SEC filings and directories. This information may be incorrect or out-dated and, because of the complexity of the Web, we may also make errors when we extract the information.
You can correct this. By claiming your ZoomInfo Web Profile, you can take control of your Web identity and update your own Web Profile. Make sure your Web Profile is up to date.

I can't find myself on ZoomInfo. Does that mean recruiters can't find me either?
While ZoomInfo scours the Web for people references, we may have not found enough information to create a Web Profile for everyone. However, you don't have to be left out— create your own Web Profile and allow your friends, colleagues, recruiters, business associates and job opportunities to find you.

Wait, isn't this an invasion of my privacy?
Our service provides information about people, and thus each individual's privacy is of utmost importance to us (read our privacy policy). We only create profiles with information that is already available to the general public through any major search engines such as Google or Yahoo, and focus on a person's professional achievements, much like a resume. We also give our users control over their own Web Profiles —you can choose to edit or even delete information in your profile. Once you have claimed your Profile, you can take control of what others can view. Claim your profile today.

Can I remove my profile from ZoomInfo?
If your information changes, or if you no longer want to be listed on ZoomInfo, you may update or delete the information by logging in with your username and password in and making changes. To be completely removed from our directory, you may also email your request to delete your information using our support form at or by contacting ZoomInfo by telephone or postal mail using the contact information shown at the bottom of our privacy policy. If you want to remove your Web Profile completely, please send the link to your Web Profile in an email to remove@zoominfo.com.

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