Value Subtraction

Value addition has always been the focus of several industries, especially
infotech. The desire to add more and more value, features and capabilities
appears to be an inborn human instinct, both among producers as well as
consumers.

Till today, value could be compared to engineering a car. More and more
features have been added, like an onboard computer or anti skid braking. Another
way we can consider value is comparing it to sculpting a fine statue. Here, the
sculptor does not "add" anything. Instead, he removes parts which he
feels step in the way of the statue appearing a true piece of art. While value
addition is no doubt important, it is salutary to recognize that at times,
perfection is attained not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is
nothing left to take away.

Let us consider an example involving the web. When the only device is a PC,
then it pays to cram a lot of information on the website. For example, if you
have a site concerning restaurants, you will try to initially cover hotels in
your city when you are a startup company, and move onwards, adding value by
providing details about hotels in your state, country, and ultimately, the whole
world (of course, since this is a hypothetical situation, we assume that your VC
is still keen on funding you).

Now, consider other access devices like a Palm Pilot or a WAP enabled
cell-phone. Now, if I had one of these devices and visited your site from
Bangalore, then I do not want glorified value additions concerning the best
places to dine in Tokyo. I want to find out where the nearest good hotel is, and
for this, you need to subtract all your value adds, and tell me just what I want
to know, nothing more.

Tomorrow’s greatest utility, at least concerning information, is expected
to be gained from subtracting information. My only surprise is that it has taken
so long–after all, the oldest definition of information has been that it is
data when wanted, where wanted, and in the form wanted. And when the "when
wanted" factor equals "now" the "where wanted" factor
equals "here" and the "form wanted" is a small electronic
device on the person of the user, it is imperative that value subtraction be
pursued seriously.

For several years, value addition has been a bread and butter business.
Thinking the other way around is going to be a tough issue for many, but
hopefully, they will get the hang of things when they practice this magic art.

One way to do this is to assume that all the details, except for the most
crucial piece required currently is "noise" and then making attempts
to filter out that noise. Engineers are good at doing such things. Also, while
value addition was simple before and value subtraction more an opinion than a
theory, technology was not as great as it was today. But now, using global
positioning, it is possible to locate a particular user, and give him what he
wants. For example, if I am a resident of Bangalore, the list of hotels can be
limited to those serving food. However, when I go to Mumbai, I should be
provided with a listing of hotels which offer accommodation.

Here, the value addition is through subtraction–if there are 500 good
hotels in Mumbai, I am shown only the top 200 hotels where the port is above
mediocrity and the linen is above reproach.

Parthian shot

In A Study in Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes says, "It is of the highest
importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful
ones." Now, since Holmes was a genius when it came to the proper docketing
of information, we would be well advised to take his word for it. Of course, we
can disregard his sage advice–and swim in the proverbial ocean of excess
information.

Balaji N The views expressed here are
those of the author

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