Top post: Aggregators or direct sources?
This is an updated version of a post that was originally published in 2016.
When buying information – public records, news, or legal filings – you have two choices: Buying direct from the sources or buying from information aggregators, firms that compile data from multiple direct sources into one database or product. These are usually fee-based, because it costs money to gather, organize, and provide access to so much information.
I frequently use aggregated sources, including LexisNexis, Dow Jones Factiva, Tracers, and others. Aggregators save time, since I don’t need to go to every newspaper, courthouse, or individual data source. These products also help me get the big picture before I start digging deeper.
But the further you get from the original source, the possibility of errors increases. So, 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. For example, 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. I use several aggregators for news searching, for example, and I often get different results.
So what’s the best approach?
First, know your purpose. Are you looking for something specific? If so, go straight to the source. For example, if you need the incorporation filings for a particular business and you know the state in which the firm is registered, then a quick search at the Secretary of State’s website will suffice. But what if you’re trying to identify all the companies owned by an individual and you don’t know where they’re registered? That’s when an aggregator would be the best starting point.
Also, never rely on just one source, and always verify your findings through direct sources, if possible. If something can’t be verified, make sure you’re clear about that issue in your reporting, or don’t share the information with your client.
Bottom line – Don’t make decisions based solely on information you’ve pulled from aggregated sources. They’re handy, but they have their issues. And verify, verify, verify.