Information overload in the web era

By April 22, 2008 May 11th, 2008 15 Comments

Information overload appears to be a growing problem for people in the web era. Today on Techmeme there is a post entitled Web2.0 Expo Preview: Torture by Information Overload:

Now that the first burst of enthusiasm for social networking has died, people are realizing that web 2.0 is actually a huge time sink.Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Plaxo may have helped foster community and communication, but they’ve also added immensely to the flow of often-interruptive messages that their users receive, leading to information overload and possibly a nasty internet addiction.

They even go on to talk about an internet addiction clinic.

This problem applies to online news sources as well as social services.

The answer to the problem of information overload is simple – don’t read it all!!

To borrow a concept from Stowe Boyd the best way to think about all the feeds and news and status updates is as a river of news. You look at it when you can and sample what is going past at that moment. You don’t worry about missing stuff – if it is important people will write about it again and you will pick up on it the second, third or fourth time round.

I heard this idea from Stowe when I first met him at a LibraryHouse conference in London a couple of years ago and at the time I was unconvinced. At the I thought the way to get the best out of the blogosphere was to pick the best blogs and try to at least glance at every post.

But as the number of blogs and posts that were in the unmissable category expanded it all became unmanageable. My reading became a chore. I all but gave up on blogs like Techcrunch and Mashable because there were simply too many posts.

But now I have a river approach using tools like Techmeme and Feeds2, a feed reader that filters posts for me – and I pick the best stuff out of the river. I sample many more content sources and stay more up to date with news than I did on the old model.

I think this is the way forward for all of us – good content sources are multiplying, and we want to be part of more and more networks. You can only manage that sort of volume with a river approach.

It works for status updates as well as blogs. The people sidebar in Flock has my Twitter updates and status updates from Facebook friends flowing by in a single stream, and I use FriendFeed in a similar way.

If I’m right then tools like Netvibes and Google Reader will give way in popularity to smart aggregators and filters like Techmeme and Feeds2. Techmeme is great for news and Feeds2 is the way I follow the hundred odd blogs that interest me. In this second area I see a lot of scope for innovation – good social news sites have existed for a while, but no-one has cracked the personalised aggregator space yet.