21 Jan 2012

Twitter and the information overload problem

It was interesting to see Twitter, arguably one of the most popular social media sites, acquire Summify this week. Notwithstanding Twitter's significant and ardent fan base, many find the application too overwhelming to bother with. A seemingly endless stream of tweets can be generated by following even a handful of accounts, and it can be difficult to keep pace with (even if that is not necessarily the idea), or to find the valuable signals amongst the ever increasing noise.

It is indeed this very weakness, which makes the takeover of Summify particularly relevant. Summify aims to produce a summary of your various social media and networking feeds by filtering the content based on relevance and importance, thereby making it quicker to get the information you really need. A nice solution to the age-old problem of information overload, and indeed Twitter are not alone in seeing the substantial value offered by tools designed to filter content in this way. Gmail's 'priority inbox' feature was introduced a year or to ago to help users identify and access their most important emails quickly.

It is simply not enough to deliver content to users now; providing the applications to help them manage that information so they can make use of it effectively is equally, if not more so, important today. If social media providers neglect this aspect, their users will likely feel too overwhelmed to engage with the service (as in the case of the aforementioned Twitter overload problem).

Clay Johnson's recent book 'The Information Diet' appears to take the opposite view - that individuals should be solely responsible for their own information consumption, by knowing what to look for, what to avoid, and how to be selective. In short, don't blame the information provider, blame the consumer! Acquiring these skills makes obvious sense, however in a world where keeping up to date gets more difficult every day, surely we can use all the help we can get?


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