Archive for the 'Information Overload' Category

I’m So Glad to Know That None of Us Have Information Overload. Not!

I’ve meant to write about this article / “study” that popped up all over the internet in September. But I’ve been too busy and haven’t gotten around to it. Good thing that my reason for being busy isn’t the Information Overload that I’ve complained about to you in the past.

How do I know that it wasn’t Information Overload. Well, an academic study by an associate professor of communication Eszter Hargittai at Northwestern University told me so. And it’s a good thing that I’m not overloaded from seeing it on Social Media Today via a Google Plus post by +Keith Kmett. Or any of dozens of other places on the net. It was a trending meme for almost a week. (How long can I keep up this level of snark and sarcasm? Let’s ask Steve… Ah… Apparently the answer is “ever since I’ve met you”)

How do I complain about the study… Let me count the ways…

First off, it’s a survey of 77 total participants. Seriously? Seriously! And all were on vacation in Las Vegas.

Next, the question was only about how they felt about the amount of information in the broadest sense. News and entertainment and gossip.

“There’s definitely some frustration with the quality of some of the information available,” said Hargittai. “But these frustrations were accompanied by enthusiasm and excitement on a more general level about overall media choices.”

Right there, that tells you several things about what’s going on. First it’s clear the authors are looking at media choices. Having lots of choices for places to find things isn’t what Information Overload is about. Not at all. Heck, it’s not even about having too many choices at one time. That’s The Paradox of Choice as presented by psychologist Barry Schwartz in his TED talk and his book.

Information Overload is about when you have to find something. Not when things are optional. Not when it doesn’t matter what’s on the TV or on the front of the Google News webpage. No, Information Overload happens when you have a task and all the extra stuff gets in the way.

People are able to get their news and information from a diverse set of sources and they seem to like having those options.”

Well of course. If you feel like these are all options. But when it’s something you must find. You have to get. You need to know. That is what makes it different. That’s when the emotion of overload takes over.

The few participants who did feel overwhelmed were often those with low Internet skills, who haven’t yet mastered social media filters and navigating search engine results, Hargittai noted.

Right… because none of the 77 people in Las Vegas on vacation were web power users who have tons of tools (not “social media filters“). You know the kind, the ones who have 1000+ feeds in their RSS Reader. Who have set up a ton of custom Google searches on their regular topics. Who use 3rd party services on top of Twitter, G+, LinkedIn and Facebook. And who, still, blow past those tools with the volume and complexity. People like you all out there reading this on the Bscopes Blog.

What do you say? Am I nuts? (Wait… don’t answer that.) Is there really a Myth of Information Overload? Or is it real? And a real problem. Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Blog Reading Information Overload vs Email Overload

Last week on the blog, we mentioned Joshua Lyman.

What we didn’t bring up is his work on a different kind of overload: Email Overload.

In his email discussion, he hits on a point familiar to Bscopes blog readers. He says:

It is solved by teaching people better email behaviors.

Clearly, Joshua has noticed that Information Overload is Illogical. And so many of the suggestions that he (and others) are advocating are all around the behavior of checking or sending email. And, as others have noted, this can certainly help with the stress associated with Email and constant interruptions.

He also points to tool based help to the problems people have with email. And buried deep inside that post is another kindred spirit to Bscopes. A mention of a tool called PhilterIt. Which lets you “Visualize Your Emails Anywhere”.  This is something we are going to have to check out.

Clearly the more we look, the more we find. Leave a comment below and let us know what other visual tools are out there.

Twitter Folks Discussing Information Overload

We just featured Joshua Lyman‘s Twitter list on Information Overload. Check out some of the tweets:

Nancy is working individually with people to help them survive their overload. Certainly a big difference than Bscopes Software-as-a-Service tool based approach.

Monica is passing along an article from Cody Burke about the dual sides of Information Overload and find what he thinks is a silver lining in it.

We are looking forward to more useful posts as we monitor this list on Twitter. If you’ve seen something you found useful, leave a comment below.

A New Twitter List on Information Overload

Joshua Lyman over on Twitter created a new list of people who are tweeting about Information Overload. He’s already added 26 members to the list. They all focus on a number of different aspects of Information Overload.

For his contribution to cutting through the clutter by doing some meta-organizing of the Information Overload community, we hereby award Joshua our third “Antique Receipt Spindle” Award. (For those too young to remember this once widely used organizing device, wikipedia, the font of all knowledge provides this useful article.)

Joshua, you may feel free to proudly display this award on the desktop or blog of your choice.

Does Lifehacker Think That RSS is Dead?

Of course, on the internet, “Is <subject> Dead?” is one of the those meme’s that always being put out on blog posts. This week, the blog Lifehacker decided to poll its readers and ask the musical question (no, not “who wrote the book of love?”) but rather “Are You Still Using RSS?”

Check out the poll results:

I’d love to think that (a) this will put an end to asking questions about if RSS is still dead, and (b) will encourage the folks who read Lifehacker to  check out Bscopes to help them get through the RSS feeds they read and manage any possible Information Overload. So, why is it that I think Steve is likely to call me or text me to ask what color the sky is in my world today?

Make my dream come true… pass on the message to a Lifehacker reader or anyone else who knows that RSS is very much alive. Tell them about Bscopes.

5 Ways to Turn Down the Heat

Five ToolsAgain, in the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen tons of upset, frustrated people complaining about Google Reader and Information Overload. A few are also trying to find ways to overcome the overload rather than just give up. In this post, we want to focus, not on the problem, but on solutions.

Start With Your Needs

Most overloaded readers experience one of two kinds of problems:

1. Amount Overwhelmed

Such @firstworldlife who feels like he has too much to read no matter how much time you can find:

and

2. Time constrained

Such as @chachictweets who has a few minutes, but doesn’t know where to start:

 

To start to address this problem, we select a solution method based on the goal and the constraints. What do you have time for? All of a single topic?  Are working on research about one single topic for a blog post, article or paper? These determine which method or tool to use and how to put them together.

Combine Five Tools

There are techniques available. We used to experience the same pain, but we’ve gotten to a better place. We have built and used a combination of tools and methods to help the logical side master over the emotion of overload.

Here’s how we we get from chaos —> order. There are five main ways to turn down the heat and sift through the overload (taken from the Bscopes secret sauce):

  1. Separate: Into topics or categories.Not all blogs are the same. Many cluster together naturally. Don’t jump around from shiny blog post to shiny blog post like a magpie. Find and work through all the posts in a single topic area at a time.For most problems, separation is the first step. If you haven’t already organized every feed and blog in to categories. This must be done immediately and continuously. Then, depending on your time and constraints you can attack one topic fully or skim across several. But tailor the approach to your circumstances. If you are working on a specific task, focused in one or two topics, you’ll prioritize by reading all available topic posts, independent of the frequency or last visit.
  2. Frequency: How regular or irregular the blog is.There’s a sweet spot somewhere. Is it a once a day, once a week, or maybe once a month? Goldilocks likes to have hers just right. The frequency also depends upon the type of source. Seth Godin blogs a few times a week. CNN 20 or 30 or more times a day. Go back to your goal an determine how that combines with the frequency of the blogs you want to read. It makes sense to read each blog post by a deep thinking author. The posts of a news service area ones you should not try and keep up with 100%.
  3. Recency: when was the last post?Has it been a month, or has it been an hour? Some blogs are new with recent content on something topical. Others are providing timeless information. Know whether or not this matters.You can and should factor in how recently the site has been updated. If there are no recent posts in the last year or two it is a very different site than one that has been updated this week.

    In addition, consider if the recency matters to your goal. Research can often benefit from ideas that have been tested. In areas such as the sciences, a bit of time can help an idea prove itself. In other areas, the world moves on and leaves a post behind. If you are looking for info on web development, posts last updated in 2002 may not be the most helpful ;).

    You can slice off parts of the problem using recency. Catch up on all of the posts of a single topic, or read some of a series of topics since your last visit.

  4. Priorities: Measure the importance of the topic to your specific interests.Go back to your goal. If you are amount overwhelmed and need to find information to create a new blog post, then very few topics are high priority. They others may just have to wait.This is very much a battle between the emotional and the logical. What we are talking about here is classic Delayed Gratification. Make your tools help reinforce your logical side.
  5. Last Visit: How far behind am I on this blog?This combines with Frequency and Recency. Have you skipped this blog for the past few week or is this one your been able to keep up with?Depending on the topic of this blog, it may or may not intersect with the urgent ones. But over a longer time-frame, this must be tempered to balance the important against the urgent. So, this measure keeps them in balance.

Use What You Need

You need to mix and match these techniques. By combining them in various ways, you can have the tools you need to then solve your different problem. You’ll work differently if you have only 10 minutes than you would if you need to spend several hours catching back up on the latest in a topic, such as Internet Marketing in preparation for creating your newest material.

When you feel emotionally overwhelmed, stop. Think back to your goals. Determine your constraints. Then combine the tools to be as productive as possible in your given circumstances.

Let us know, in the comments below, how this works for you and your environment.

Do the Emotional Needs of the Many Outweigh the Logical Needs of the Few?

I’ve been reading several recent blog posts and tweets — all touching on the idea that Information Overload is an emotional issue. And, of course, we both agree, and we wrote a blog post saying as much last Summer. Since that post was published, we have added many new Bscopes users and blog readers. So, while addressing the ideas raised in these recent posts, I will refer back to our original post.


Digging For Gold

I started digging through these blog posts and through the tweets. In them I find things that I both agree and disagree with, simultaneously (how illogical!) As a result, I became confused. Here… take a look:

The best way to deal with information overload is to realize that it’s an emotional problem. (R.S. Wurman )

— rubir (@rubir) January 29, 2012


Ok. Clearly I agree with the statement. But it’s a tease. It makes me feel better. But it isn’t practical. It isn’t actionable.

Finding An Actionable Nugget

Talk about a meta illustration of the entire overload process… I dug through the entire original article from 1997 by Fast Company writer Mark Fischetti quoting original TED chair Richard Saul Wurman. And there, in the final paragraphs is the real useful wheat. Found inside the haystack (to badly mix a metaphor):

The best way to deal with information overload is to realize that it’s not a mental or a physical problem, it’s an emotional problem. And the only way to overcome it is to “hold on to what really interests you and make connections from there,” says Wurman. “Connecting one interest to the next is how you teach yourself and others.

“It’s worthless to read something you’re not interested in, because you won’t remember it anyway. Nothing occurs during that experience that helps your insight and understanding. Once you realize this, you’ll free yourself from the guilt of not paying attention to most of the news and information that’s out there.”

Fine. Brad is Jewish and Steve is Catholic. So I don’t think either of us is really going to “free ourselves from the guilt”. But, aside from that I now have something that can be turned into practical advice.

The Bscopes methodology is clear. Separate wheat from chaff. Rank. Sort. Label. Read what is hot for you. Ignore what is not.

This leads directly back to why we built Bscopes. To implement exactly such a method. To automate a task that is nearly insurmountable when you try it manually. And to help you focus on your inner Vulcan.

Psychology? How About Terms Like “Empowerment”?

Comforting – Psychology behind digital information overload. Not overwhelmed… part of the revolution! wp.me/p25u9C-nf via @pandodaily — Sandy Glickman (@sandyglickman) January 23, 2012

she points to this Brian Solis blog article:

The challenge lies not in the realization that we are empowered to curate our social streams and relationships, but in the consciousness of what is and what could be. Meaning, that we must first understand that how we’re connecting, consuming, and creating today is either part of the problem or part of the solution. We, and only we, are in control of information overload and everything begins with acceptance. … Information overload is a real phenomenon, but it is I believe, by design. It either works for us or against us and it is our choice as to which way the stream flows.

Brian gets some of it right. He describes the problem and the emotional impact. He describes some folks attempts to treat it like an addiction and go cold turkey. He describes some folks attempts to treat it like a diet. He even regurgitates Clay Shirkey’s “Filter Failure” quote. What Brian doesn’t do is offer any practical advice. He says it is up to us. But he neither tells you how to cope with the emotion nor how to manage the actual information.

If Brian were a psychologist, he’d likely be the kind that tells the addict “you just have to try harder”. Or care less.

He leads you right to the edge. He points the way to the promised land. But people need a map. They need a guide. They need tools.

Begging For A Guide

Look at these tweets:

@anib it is more information overload leading to emotion overload. A week off leads to introspecton. — Yvette Wray (@magependragon) January 23, 2012

and

Calm down, information overload is a good thing bit.ly/ySCAbT via @simplyzesty #socialmedia #li #yam — Dick Foster (@Dick_Foster) January 22, 2012

More Psychological Cliches

Yvette can only cope by periodic by periodic withdrawal. And Dick’s tweet telling people to calm down points to this article by @laurenfisher. She, like others, deals with emotions, telling everyone to “calm down”. As if just being told to stay calm can stave off the emotions and panic.

And again tries to make information overload into a disease. In this case, calling it “social media fatigue”.

While there may be some evidence to suggest social media fatigue – a result of information overload – is a real thing, these results seem questionable.

Fatigue, of course, leads to burnout. She falls back on the, everyone has been overloaded ever since they invented the printing press cliche. Get over it, she says, You’ll just need to develop better skills. And perhaps loose that appendix and grow a third eye while you are at it:

The problem is in the very term ‘overload’. It is not overload of information at all, but simply more information circulating around that we have to navigate through. And with this comes a new set of skills that we are increasingly adept at developing. Of course, more information is going to lead to more material for us to sift through, which can seem an arduous task. But these are the skills of modern society that are increasingly required to succeed. It’s not so much about what knowledge you happen to contain in your head, but how quickly you can sift through and navigate to that information that you need. Information overload is not new and it is not bad. It is a necessary condition of the advancement of society and equal access to knowledge.

As if “more information” and “overload of information” weren’t obviously two connected points on a continuum.

Worst of all, she doesn’t actually tell you how to quickly sift and navigate. She says it’s an essential skill of modern society. Did I miss where they taught it in High School or College?

She doesn’t offer any tools. She hasn’t built any, nor does she have some you could buy or rent. It’s as if our ancestors had determined that they needed to farm more and more land to survive, but no one had built a plow and no one was talking about hooking up oxen.

Now I Need A Break

And I’m not alone here…

The problem with information overload is not that there’s so much to know. It’s that there’s so much more that I think I *should* know… — Melonie Fullick (@qui_oui) January 20, 2012

and

@hoodiesnheels @iamproverbs @HeatherLLove whoa whoa information overload LOL okay *breathe* lol

— Jenelle Thompson (@jenellethemodel) January 23, 2012

Clearly @qui_oui and @jenellethemodel are feeling stressed. Having an emotional response to this illogical problem. In fact, in a Digital Brand Marketing blog post, Bill Corbett Jr. is writing about the stress caused by Information Overload:

Information overload is a form of stress.

That Tweet dream Sunday I reached the breaking point where I needed to make a commitment to myself and my family.  I suggest you consider making this same commitment to yourself and your family – disconnect and go off the grid. For many this will be very difficult to do.  For me, after my recent “Tweet dream” I am making the commitment to go off the grid not just once but periodically.

I can report that I am slowly attacking my “addiction” to being connected.  I have been able to take several full days off the grid and I am looking for a vacation spot where I will have no option.

Bill can do nothing but try and do a cold-turkey detox. Incredibly radical. Others have written about declaring RSS bankruptcy.

He isn’t dealing with or mastering the emotion. Working through it. There’s no solutions. No tools. None of them are dealing with it. And taking a vacation and thinking the problem will not be there when you get back. Well, that’s Einstein’s definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

These Folks Need a Guru

Someone to tell the to breathe. To take a vacation. But more than that. Someone to help them live day in and day out and cope with their overload.

But now I feel the need to warn them, warn all of you. That as in many industries, there are a lot of people out there peddling an answer. Some are legitimate. But others… well, they are somewhere between consultants, doctors and snake-oil peddlers of old.

I’m going to need to write another blog post just to try and separate out the characteristics of the ones that can help from the ones that only want to sell you something.

What To Do

Be logical. No one, not even Bscopes, has a magic bullet. But you can look for tools to empower you. To make you more able to find what you love or need and ignore the rest. And when you find those tools, share them with the rest of the world.

Support Information Overload Awareness Day

Information Overload Awareness Day
Today is the third annual Information Overload Awareness Day.

This, of course, is what Bscopes is all about. And so we certainly want to throw our support behind this effort.

Tools Exist

The biggest thing I’ve noticed is that people seem to passively accept the fact that the noise grows worse over time. There’s no recognition that we can fight the trend. Only a sense of inevitability. Of the idea that we’ll never find the wheat we need under all the chaff floating around. But it is not true.

Lots of People Are Working On This

Here’s a quick list of some of the others who are talking about this today:

What To Do

  1. Tell your friends that there is hope. Point them to the tools and articles.
  2. Encourage people to sign up for Bscopes. Help them reduce their feeling of overload.
  3. Check out our blog page on Surviving Information Overload
  4. Tell us about your overload. And tell us what you are doing to solve it.

Bookmark Your Personal Heatmap

My Heatmap

My Heatmap

Many users have asked “How can I bookmark my heatmap, so I can easily come back to it and so I can send it to other folks?” We’ve now made it possible to do that. Through the magic of the Apache Web Server and a little elbow grease (ok, maybe a lot of elbow grease and a decent sized wrench) we got it done.

The latest Bscopes release that gave you your own Personal Heatmap includes the ability to Bookmark that Heatmap.

Your Bscopes heatmap can be easily found by using the string “user” and your User (login) Name to the Bscopes URL in the pattern: http://www.bscopes.com/user/loginname.  As a demonstration, we created a heatmap specifically to collect blogs about Information Overload in a user with that login name. The Heatmap is at http://www.bscopes.com/user/InformationOverload.

This makes it possible for you to include a link to your own personal heatmap page on Bscopes.

We believe that the ability to bookmark your heatmap, leaving comments on other user’s heatmaps, and Gravatar support are a very important part of how we envision the Bscopes community working.

Give it a try. Look at the  Information Overload page. Check out the heat, and while you are there, leave us a comment!

How Many Kinds of Overload? Let Me Count The Ways

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning from wikipedia

Infinity Symbol

Infinity by doug88888, on Flickr

Blog/RSS Overload

We’ve written a lot about overload. Most of the time at Bscopes we are addressing the problem of trying to read too many blogs and websites. It’s our position that we’ve addressed the most common issues in our secret sauce with the Bscopes Heatmap as a tool to survive it.

Now into the second decade of the 21st century (does that make you feel old?), people are discussing a number of different sources that make them feel overloaded.

Other Kinds

Here’s a list of the Top 5 other overload sources that we see:

1. News Overload:

Some folks are news junkies. They want (need) to consume the latest news. Despite the death of “old” media like newspapers, there is more news than ever before. And tons of sources. And almost as many content aggregators — from google news to vertical niche aggregators like Techmeme. The Bscopes secret  sauce uses frequency and update interval to account for news feeds that spew content into our space.

2. Internet Marketing Overload:

If you google “overload” and look at blogs and websites, this discussion is everywhere. Apparently not only do marketers talk (and sell and market) but they talk to each other. So much so that anyone trying to learn about using the Internet for marketing seems to get overloaded very quickly. This is best controlled with a simple filter and put into its place.

3. Social Network Overload:

This is a newer form of overload. Robert Scoble seems to find the limits of each new social networking site out there. People have been complaining for a while about Facebook Overload and how they can’t keep up with the river of information in their Twitter stream. Now, within weeks of Google+ being opened up to users, people like Alexander McNabb are now complaining about how that is making them overloaded.

Google+ has finally pitched me into information overload. I’m dealing with too many streams of information and it’s becoming uncomfortable. I know I’m an unusually ‘connnected’ person: quite apart from the Twitter, Facebook, Blogger triangle, I handle reasonably large volumes of email and follow a lot of blogs and sites. I’m rarely truly offline. It’s one reason I find it funny when my bank tells me they tried to get in touch with me but couldn’t. I mean, there are people who actively try to avoid me and find it hard. It got so bad that when we returned from getting stuck under the Tikkipukkapokka, or whatever it was called, Icelandic ash cloud, I actually gave interviews to media amused that I had been caught offline in a totally analogue rural lighthouse.

 

We took special care to account for social streams in Bscopes Heatmaps. They are important but only in a temporal fashion. That is a text message or Tweet is HOT at the point it is written and does not typically have a lasting value. Nor does it have any value outside of the author and its recipient.

 

4. Conversation Overload:

I’d say this is superset of Social Network Overload. Certainly conversations occur there. They also occur via e-mail. And by Text Message. And even good, old, voice-mail tag. Folks like Tom Foremski complain about interpersonal aspect of this kind of overload:

As a journalist I have trouble keeping up with the conversations in my email, yet today I have conversations everywhere and in new places. There’s email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, my two blogs, then there are SMS messages, voicemail (which I never check) and the latest is: Google Plus.

The problem with conversations is that they are more important than not reading that great article… Conversations are with people that I work with, that I meet at conferences and events, potential business partners, friends, family, readers, supporters, and more. I want these conversations because I respect these people.

But I don’t want it to seem that I’m ignoring people or that I’m arrogant in some way, but I have to admit this — I can’t keep up! And I bet many others can’t keep up too.

I don’t know how many others. I once felt this way when I had a very different kind of job. But now, as a software developer with only one business partner, tools like GTD allow me to manage this well enough. But then again, I only follow two dozen people on twitter. And I let my wife tell me if I miss anything on Facebook. So maybe I’m not overloaded only by not participating. Or by being an anti-social nerd. ;)

5. Cuteness Overload:

Ok. No so much the same kind of overload, Cuteness Overload still ranks very high if you search google for the word “overload”. And I certainly can get overloaded on cuteness almost instantly. Heck, I’m overloaded after even one picture of LOLCats. But, then again, I’m notably snarky.

Different? The Same?

Are these kinds of overload the same as what we’ve been discussing here on the Bscopes blog? Or are each of them fundamentally different? I can certainly see some similarities. Most importantly I think they all have the same effect on each of us. It provokes an emotional reaction. It triggers our fight or flight response and ups those stress hormones that are already too high in most of us.

What I’m not yet convinced of is if you can use the same tools to assist in each different kind of overload or if you need different tools for each job.

What This Means

I think it’s kind of a “straw that breaks the camel’s back” kind of issue. Any one of these is bad enough. But when you add each new fire hose of stuff coming at you… Well, it becomes overwhelming.

What Do You Do About It?

For some folks it is ostrich mode. You just bury your head and forget about it. You hope it goes away. For those folks, denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.

Some folks, like Kristi Hines, give out advice on how to get organized: she makes lists on Twitter and Facebook. She trims down her use of Stumbleupon. She’s a pro at Gmail lablels. She puts her RSS feeds into folders.

Techniques like that will take you far. For some folks you can even get far enough. For others, eventually the volume increases and the overload returns.

What Do You Want?

I won’t pretend to know all the answers here. But we are curious. Bscopes has focused so far on Blog Overload and helping to manage website URLs and RSS feeds.

Since you’re a Bscopes fanatic and have thoroughly digested the Heatmap technology, the question now is what else, if anything, should we include in Bscopes?

As always, your opinions are wanted. Leave a comment below.