The Online Information Paradox

Techwriter10 0 Tallied Votes 428 Views Share

Too much information running through my brain
Too much information driving me insane
~Police, Too Much Information.

Yesterday, Seth Godin wrote a post in his blog called, Warning: The Internet is almost full. It's not of course, and he had is his tongue planted firmly in his cheek, but he brought up the very serious idea of information overload.

It's hard not to feel it--there is just so much going on online, so much to see, so many people to connect with, so many blogs to read and comment on. Then there's Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn (oh my!), not to mention the never-ending avalanche of content including articles, video and pictures. It's by turns wonderful and terrifying because we know it's out there for us, but how we can we ever keep up with it?

It's All There

At the same time we are feeling bombarded, there's something incredible, empowering even magical, about having access to all that content, even if it's hard to stay focused and to keep on top of it. It's comforting somehow just knowing it's there, realizing that you can enter a simple set of keywords into Google and access information about just about anything you can imagine any time you want.

In a recent video, Google CEO Eric Schmidt addressing The New America Foundation, discussed the wonder of having all of this information available to us and put it into context. "One Hundred years ago," he said "people had access to almost no information." Today, he explained, with the internet, we have access to incredible amounts of information all within reach of our computer screens and mobile devices.

Future Games

Schmidt went on to say that within our lifetimes, "almost all people will have to access to almost all of the world's information." Think about that for a moment. He says, and he's right, that this is a remarkable achievement, but it's not just the elite--those of us who are blogging and twittering and meeting on Facebook who will be able to access it. He says within the next several years, this information will be in reach of another billion people worldwide via mobile phones.

Overcoming the Paradox

So we have this paradox of information online. There is a sense as Godin pointed out so well that we are reaching the functional limit of our brains to process all of the information. Yet we have the exciting promise of having all of this information available to us as Schmidt explained.

The question becomes how do we process it, filter it and find the best of the best? How can our online social networks help us help each other find the best content? There are surely worse problems to have than an embarrassment of riches, but it's all grown around us so fast and we are still figuring out how it works, learning as we go. Yet if information is empowering, then the power is right here in our hands and it's amazing. I'm confident we'll figure out how to deal with it.

khess 95 Practically a Master Poster

In the old days, a mere 15 years ago, we said that the amount of printed knowledge doubles every 10 years--now, with the Internet and fast computers, it probably doubles every 18 months. That means just good info not fluff. Now add the fluff in to that.

writingroads 0 Newbie Poster

When I'm in a really good mood, I like to imagine that the all-powerful search engines are taking care of this to some degree. That their algorithms are really able to sort out the best of the best...and to spamify the worst of the worst. That they recognize new goodness, but (rightly so?) make these newbies prove themselves a to see that the 'net network agrees...

And then, like you said, our social media networks will also, and currently do, play a huge role in all of this. Our network points us to things we might be interested in, people and sites to stay away from, etc. But, the onus is on us to choose our networks well - to pick people who are of like minds, but also to pick divergent views so that we cast our net into the vastness of the web quite wide...

dankeldsen 0 Newbie Poster

Ah yes, information overload, a problem that's at least 75 years old - a problem that was partly attempted to be solved by Time magazine with it's creation in 1923 by Briton Hadden and Henry Luce as the first US weekly magazine. Not that I was around at the time! ;)

Leave it to Seth to catch our attention, eh? Another virus has been sneezed! Yeesh, he's good at that...

There are so many facets to this problem, but I'll just confine it to two points, well, with a bit of wiggle room.

The front-end of content creation has exploded on us, with the ability to create and distribute widely and at will at a level never before seen. That's a good thing! Gutenberg was onto something, and that something has been addictive to the masses.

The back-end of content consumption has exploded as well - with more ways to get access to, find and bookmark, spread, refine, retweet, etc.. As it turns out, many of the consumption tools available today are also contributing to the problem. While as a blog author, twitterer, presenter and startup owner I'm very happy that my messages (from time to time) are spread more distantly that I could've done purely on my own, that feedback loop creates even more noise!

Of course as content is spread around a bit more, that becomes a stronger signal of usefulness versus noise (as both Ron and @writingroads mention) for the search engines and the people running around spreading it around.

Ah, emergence! I *highly* recommend Steven Johnson's book "Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software" - there is art and science behind feedback loops, and we're only beginning to tap that for increasing findability. (add Linked, Nexus, and Six Degrees as some other great writing on connections, loops, power laws, etc.)

Ah, I could go on forever on this topic, but suffice it to say that unless and until content creators AND consumers put a bit more effort into creating content to BE findable, and creating systems, architectures to ENABLE that findability, well, we're just going to be continue to bury ourselves in content, and that's not going to do any of us much good.

So I'd suggest that as people go about creating new content, they stop and ask, what is this information architected FOR?

Collaboration? Marketing? Community? Innovation? Persuasion? Search Engine Optimization? Or nothing at all?

Identifying the PURPOSE, can help significantly, for all parties involved.


Techwriter10 42 Practically a Posting Shark

Thanks Dan, Julie and Ken for your thoughtful comments. It's all so complex and hard to deal with and do justice to in 500 or so words, but I'm glad we have started a meaningful dialogue. As Dan pointed out there are so many layers to this and finding the best information remains a challenge.

I like to think in a future semantic web, the best information will find us. That content will understand context and to a certain extent meaning. I wrote about this recently in EContent Magazine in an article on Semantic Web content delivery. We're only at the beginning of figuring this out, but I think the future lies in intelligent interfaces, which use our social interactions to learn about our likes and dislikes will deliver the best content. It's a huge task, but there are companies out there already beginning to scratch the surface.

Thanks again for your comments. It will certainly be interesting to see where this all goes.

MosaicFuneral 812 Nearly a Posting Virtuoso

South Park topic the from last season.
Perhaps a little crudely presented in the show though.

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