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Walkthrough Wednesdays

"There Is No Such Thing as Information Overload . . .


. . . only failure to filter."

This was said the other day at the Cisco Executive Briefing Center during a presentation that I was giving.  It was a large audience and one of the attendees was saying with all the ways to communicate he's being inundated with e-mails, IMs, pings, posts, feeds, requests to view, etc. and he finds it difficult to focus on work with all the distractions that "being connected" present.  This was when another attendee half joking said "There's no such thing as information overload only failure to filter.", but the point made has some validity and in the context of corporate collaboration is more true then ever before.  Clay Shirky gave a great presentation on the topic at the Web 2.0 Expo NY: It's Not Information Overload.  It's Filter Failure.

In the post-PC era we see an explosion of different devices, platforms and applications that provide multiple avenues of access to information, but does that mean there are more avenues and thus more information?  Not really.  I believe the last fax I received was a vendor SOW about 4 years ago and that actually came to my desk phone which I sent to the printer for a hard copy.  Instead of checking the mail room multiple times a day, I check every few weeks when I happen to be passing by and the pieces I do receive are usually junk mail.  Content that used to come to me through these avenues have moved to electronic form.  The avenues for information haven't increased, the amount of information that passes along them has and thus the source of information overload.  The article Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication Tools is almost 10 years old and other then wiki not being listed covers the tools that are still used today for communications.  This means less avenues that require filtering, but filtering must be more sophisticated.

My last post on Millennials Swing the Communication Pendulum to the Extremes addressed how Millennials prefer new modes of communications that use rich-media over more traditional communication means.  However, a preliminary study on Millennials or "Digital Natives" suggest they are in fact wired for multitasking and have the ability to process and filter from multiple sources concurrently.  This is why the publish-subscribe model works so well for them.  They can subscribe to their friends, co-workers, businesses, interest feeds, etc. then collect, filter, and process the information.  However, it's still a manual process and as the amount of information increases automated and sophisticated filters that are programmatic are required.

My primary means of communicating at work these days are: e-mail, instant messaging and social.  Social being the most complex because of the nature of communities and connections.  I'm connected to co-workers and a participant in over 20 communities and with activity lists, watch lists, news feeds, e-mail, notifications, posts, microblogs, etc. I'm having to filter a combined number of sources that's in the 100's of thousands.  Generally, the way we filter automated messages is to opt-in or opt-out, but this isn't sufficient anymore.  I want to create exceptions to both.  I want to opt-in but develop exceptions in many forms such as: author, subject, previously reviewed, date, etc.  By the same token, I want to opt-out of many of the feeds I receive, but not lose the occasion nugget of relevant information that's passing by.  Furthermore, I want to categorize my filtered information into different lists enabling me to quickly focus on particular areas of interest that remain "above the fold" on my screen.

Most e-mail clients have fairly sophisticated wizards for filtering messages, creating exceptions, and organizing them into folders.  I'd like to see something similar for enterprise social feeds that ensures relevant information makes it to me and isn't lost among the noise.  Here's a good article on How to Filter and Manage Your Online Social Life.  The next step is bringing that sophistication into the enterprise to increase productivity and deliver relevant, valuable content to the employees- whether they're digital natives or digital immigrants.  What are your experiences with filter failure and how are you overcoming the challenges presented in this era of information overload?

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