Aggregators or direct?

When buying information – public (and not-so-public) records, news, or legal filings – you have two choices: Buying direct from the sources or buying from information aggregators, firms that collect the data from the various sources and compile it into one database or product.

I frequently use aggregated sources, including LexisNexis, Dow Jones Factiva, TracersInfo.com, and others. Aggregators save time, since I don’t have to go to every newspaper, courthouse, or individual data source. Using their comprehensive reports, these products also help me get the big picture before I start digging deeper.

But I never stop there, and I frequently forego the convenience by going straight to the source and bypassing the aggregators. Whether you’re a researcher or investigator – relying solely on aggregated sources should be avoided for several reasons:

They’re not up-to-date

For a recent background investigation, I ran a New York business entity search and found one record for the firm. The status was “inactive (dissolution),” as of just six days earlier. In one of the aggregators, the incorporation record still showed up as active, and if I had not gone straight to the source, I would have missed a key piece of intelligence.

Things aren’t as they seem

Data-entry errors happen all the time, and aggregators aren’t always clear about how they present the information. Traffic violations are often listed as criminal records. Case numbers change, and sometimes you’re given so little information that it’s impossible to determine identities, infractions, or outcomes.

You don’t know what you’re missing

I don’t care how much you spend or what the sales rep tells you. Aggregators don’t include everything. They have gaps, whether it’s due to error, a supply-side issue, or company decision, and certain sources are often excluded. I use several aggregators for news searching, for example, and I often get different results.

So what’s the best approach? Use multiple sources, and always verify the information you find. If it can’t be verified, don’t use it or make sure you’re clear about the issue in your reporting. I also consider the case or project. Does the budget or time frame allow for going direct to the source for every search? Or am I required to be as diligent as humanly possible in my investigation?

Bottom line – Don’t make decisions based solely on information you’ve pulled from aggregated sources. They’re handy, but they have their issues.

 

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