Information overload and the filter challenge
I was watching this video on the Open Road blog at CNET of a keynote address Clay Shirky from NYU gave at the Web 2.0 Expo in NY last year. His premise was that worrying about the information overload inherent in the Internet world is missing the point. Information overload on varying scales is something we have been dealing with for hundreds of years. The problem isn’t too much information, it’s that our filters just aren’t good enough.
The video is worth watching for some very interesting thoughts. I found myself nodding in agreement as he said:
What we’re dealing with now is not the problem of information overload, because we’re always dealing (and always have been dealing) with information overload…Thinking about information overload isn’t accurately describing the problem; thinking about filter failure is.
The Internet content volume statistics are truly amazing. But as Shirky says, an abundance of information is nothing new. One trillion Google indexed URLs is overwhelming… but it’s not like one billion URLs in 2000 wasn’t. And while the volume pales by comparison, Shirky’s example of there being more books in print by the mid 1500s than a person could read in a lifetime supports his argument that there has long been more information available than we can reasonably absorb or focus on.
The trick is what it always has been: finding the content that is useful and valuable and interesting. I’ll leave the discussion of different ways to go about doing that for another time. For now I’ll just assert that everyone is looking for – and finding to varying degrees of success – ways to filter out “the noise” (and what constitutes noise will be different for all of us). Everyone faces that challenge. Those of us who have a message that we want to get out into vast and growing sea of information (marketers? recruiters? fundraisers? communications directors?) have an additional challenge:
How do we create and deliver content that makes it through as many different filters as possible and reaches our target audience?
Looking forward to exploring this topic, and I would love to see any thoughts you have on the subject.