Surprise Value

Lack of a content strategy usually leads to stale content, unnecessary, useless, or uninteresting content. No one has been charged with its planning, care and feeding early in the process (only its generation right before launch). Information is separated from redundancy and noise due to its inherent “surprise value”. Richard Dawkins discusses the economics of information transfer:

“It rained in Oxford every day this week” carries relatively little information, because the receiver is not surprised by it. On the other hand, “It rained in the Sahara desert every day this week” would be a message with high information content, well worth paying extra to send. [American engineer Claude Shannon] wanted to capture this sense of information content as “surprise value”. It is related to the other sense — “that which is not duplicated in other parts of the message” — because repetitions lose their power to surprise. Note that Shannon’s definition of the quantity of information is independent of whether it is true. The measure he came up with was ingenious and intuitively satisfying. Let’s estimate, he suggested, the receiver’s ignorance or uncertainty before receiving the message, and then compare it with the receiver’s remaining ignorance after receiving the message. The quantity of ignorance-reduction is the information content.

Shannon’s unit of information is the bit, short for “binary digit”. One bit is defined as the amount of information needed to halve the receiver’s prior uncertainty, however great that prior uncertainty was (mathematical readers will notice that the bit is, therefore, a logarithmic measure).

— Richard Dawkins, The Information Challenge | Australian Skeptics

When web content carries no surprise value for the reader, is it ignored? Could surprise value be tied to purposeful seeking (user tasks)? Is the pleasure / accomplishment we feel when an interaction produces useful outputs related to this surprise value? How is this idea reflected in content strategy? Could one objective of content strategy be to create content that maintains the surprise value of information?