Open vs Closed Web Search and the Talent Paradox

We often talk about the notion of the web being categorised into both open and closed forms.  We’d like to explain that concept a little further, and try to examine exactly what it means for the process of talent identification, both now and in the future.

To put it really simply: some of the information that can be found on the internet is closed off: it’s not available to everyone.  It’s either hidden behind a paywall, or locked away in a system to which only a few (or even just an individual) have access.  On the flip side of that, lots of the information that can be found on the internet is open to everyone.

The reality of course is a lot more complex than this, and the truth is that the exact state of the open-ness of information is controlled by a number of variables.  For instance, some information can be bought and sold so is technically both open and closed.  Other information can be controlled by privacy settings so is open to some and closed to others.  Web content is rarely static: the rules governing what is open and what is not changes constantly.

The talent identification process we use involves a bunch of technologies and processes aimed at finding information about people.  The kind of information we’re interested in relates to what people do for a living.  Where they work, what they do, who they work with, where they studied, what they studied…that kind of thing.  As with all information, some of the content we’re interested in is open to all, other content is closed off.

So far so simple.  Here’s where it gets interesting.

The overwhelming majority of the content on the web is open (or at least is towards the open end of the spectrum).  Open content is indexed and searchable.

However, despite being very much in the minority, the closed content – at least as far as the information useful to the talent identification process is concerned – is the easiest content to find and use.  Examples of such content include commercially-run CV databases, who charge people for access to the profiles uploaded, social networks who offer paid, premium access to content not available to the public and proprietary CRM or ATS (applicant-tracking systems) used by recruiting agencies and companies.

Closed content is easier to use because of its format: it was originally designed to be stored as information about people’s jobs, employers, education and all the other good stuff that the talent identification process requires.  You may have to pay for access in some sense (whether it be a recruiting agency paying for access to a CV database, or a company effectively paying for access to a recruiting agency’s ATS) but once you are into the closed system, the information you have is already in the perfect format, and is quick and easy to search.

On the other hand, open content – including personal websites, blogs, social networks, forums, conversations, project and information sharing sites, group sites, communities and the rest – despite making up the majority of relevant content (all of this content carries information useful to talent identification) is fundamentally difficult to use.  This is largely because the bulk of it was never designed to be used in this way: it is general content about people, places, experiences that is held in multiple places, and in a huge variety of formats.  It is ever-changing, always moving and completely unpredictable.  Whilst it is indexed and searchable, extracting and using it is a much more complex and time-consuming process.

Put another way, it is easy to get access to and use closed systems containing information about a small number of people who may fit the criteria you are setting, but it’s a lot harder to search and use the information about a much larger number of people who may fit the criteria you are setting.

All of this leads us to what we call the Talent Paradox : the vast majority of talent identification activity is focussed on a tiny percentage of the available content.  Or put differently, the vast majority of recruiting is centred around searching amongst a minority of the available talent pool.

Our right-now talent identification process relies upon successfully searching and using open web content to locate and approach people relevant to the search being constructed.  It doesn’t ignore closed systems (all of which are useful and valid sources of talent), but – unlike most – doesn’t rely on them.

We believe that the evolution of the web will result in it becoming more open, and that the open content out there will become easier to use.  As the services that allow people to talk about people, places, experiences and interests continue to increase exponentially, the sheer amount of open content will continue to grow.  As the number of platforms that allow self-expression increases, content management continues to become simpler and a wider understanding of the benefits of controlling the information about the individual develops, the open web will become so vast that the closed web will become marginalised, until one day, many years from now, it becomes an antique: a memento of a strange old world.

Similarly, the emergence of semantic web technologies will, further down the line, enable us to automate and perfect search techniques, ultimately making the significantly increased amount of open talent identification content much simpler to search and use.

Of course until that happens, successful talent identification will rely on working with people who know exactly how to use the tools and techniques required to isolate and leverage the right content.  Now, if only we knew where to find such people.  Oh, wait…looks like you already have!



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