Has information overload reached a turning point?

I’ve long felt that information overload is a temporary condition. I know it’s hard to think that way when you’re coping with a mountain of emails and Google search results.

But I’m getting the sense that we’ve reached an important milestone in the trajectory of information overload. That perhaps we’ve crested the mountain and are starting to go down the other side.

I’m hearing less about the stress and angst that IO creates and more about solutions—techniques and technologies that people are actually trying. In many cases, they’re feeling more productive and efficient. Not to mention less harried.

Clay Shirky has famously said that information overload is caused by filter failure. Clay Johnson’s new book advises us to go on an information diet. We’re apparently starting to see both better filters and better diets.

Here are some of the indicators:

The End of Information Overload?“—Liz Wilson, staff writer at paper.li, says people are reading more, and they’re reading longer pieces.

The Phone Stack“—Cool People Care says the phone stack is catching on. It’s a simple idea: “When you’re out at dinner, after everyone has ordered, each person places their phone in a stack in the middle of the table.”

3 Tools to Store and Search Your Social Media Activity“—The Social Media Examiner extols the virtues of egoArchive, Memolane and Greplin. egoArchive is now called Archify and will enable you to search everything you’ve seen on the web, which can be a huge time saver and result in more successful searches. Archify’s tagline: “What you see is what you search.”

How to manage in-box ‘bacon’“—Chris Gaylord at The Christian Science Monitor offers several filtering techniques to deal with the commercial messages you sort of want (and Unsubscribe.com for the ones you don’t).

Too Much Input and Not Enough ‘Innerput’ Is Bad for Business“—Blogging at the Huffington Post, psychologist Jim Taylor advises setting criteria around the information you’ll consume—and jettisoning that which doesn’t clear the bar.

And end to emails . . . here’s the way“—A state-of-email report from Sydney Morning Herald’s Glenda Kwek. Kwek mentions France’s Atos (74,000 employees), which aims to completely replace email with wikis, instant messaging and other tools. Not everyone thinks that’s a good idea. And Stark Insider’s Clinton Stark doubts that email will ever disappear (“Email is dead. Long live email!“).

Not all of those articles include measurable evidence that the world is getting a better handle on information overload. But the scores of comments that accompany some of the pieces are filled with ideas from people who have come up with answers that work.

Have you seen evidence that the dialog is moving away from “Woe is us” to “Here’s how I’m coping?” If so (or if not), the comment box is yours.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Cultural change, Email management, Impacts on society, Pearls, Personal productivity

One response to “Has information overload reached a turning point?

  1. The web has started to feel more manageable because we have gotten better at organizing it. Organizing the web has two important aspects: culling and sorting.

    Culling is separating the good from the bad. In this step, the topic of the content in question is irrelevant. All that matters is whether the content could possibly be relevant to anyone. So any original, reasonably well-written, non-spammy content is kept, even if it’s on a topic that seemingly no one cares about.

    Culling is pretty far along. You might see a lot of content that is irrelevant to you on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, but very little of that content isn’t of interest to anyone. You don’t see “Make $80 an hour doing data entry from home” in your Facebook news feed. You do see that some guy who you follow on Twitter solely for his content discovery insights is angry about the traffic in some city you will never visit. You won’t see anything on these sites unless someone has voted it up or shared it.

    You rarely see spam on Twitter or Pinterest, either. That’s because these services rely on humans to seed their corpuses, and humans are good at distinguishing spam from good content. Not enough people will like or share spam for it to have a big presence on one of these sites. People have always been good at distinguishing spam from the good stuff, but there have never been enough people sharing on the web for the human filter to scale to the entire web.

    Now that there are many, many people sharing content online, looking only at content that has been shared has become a lot more attractive. Ten years ago, there wasn’t nearly as much content that had passed through a social filter like Twitter. But now Paper.li, for example, can make a pretty comprehensive representation of the web drawing only on tweets. Their new topic browser covers 20,000 topics.

    Once the corpus of web content has been made a more manageable size by the human filter, it needs to be sorted by topic. This is a little harder. Humans are good at categorizing content, too, but there aren’t enough people interested in the most niche topics to apply the associated tags to content on that subject. If I search for content discovery on Twitter, the results are very noisy. Not enough people are using the #contentdiscovery hashtag, and there might not be enough content discovery tweets to start with, anyway.

    While sorting is not as mature, it has drastically improved. There are now discovery engines that can recommend relevant content without using social signals at all. My favorite such service is Trapit. Trapit’s discovery engine trawls the web, sorting content sources by topic. Then Trapit’s editors cull all the crappy sources. What remains is a slice of the web that is completely free of spam and fairly well organized. Of course, Trapit’s index is not big enough yet. Right now, they have about 100,000 sources. They probably need to add hundreds of thousands more for it to truly be complete. I now feel like I have a handle on web content.

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