NEW YORK -- Web 2.0 Expo -- With the introduction of social media tools, and our abundance of blogs, vlogs, and clogs galore, Web users often find themselves struggling to remain productive in what's been called the "information overload" culture. But in a keynote session here today, Clay Shirkey, author of Here Comes Everybody, said that so-called overload is actually little more than "filter failure."
"What we're dealing with now isn't information overload -- because we're always dealing with information overload," says Shirkey, who says information overload has been an issue since the introduction of the printing press. "[The Internet] introduced, for the first time, post-Gutenberg economics. The cost of producing anything by anyone has fallen through the floor, famously. And as a result, there's no logic you have to filter for quality."
Instead of blaming the abundance of information available in the connected age, he says, it's consumers' duty to continue to evolve with the systems -- and to reconfigure their information filters, both culturally and technologically.
Facebook (Nasdaq: FB) is one service that takes a lot of heat for creating information overload, opening up users to a wealth of information and "news" never before available nor solicited.
And many users have found out the hard way that Facebook often serves as a path to unwittingly handing over information to more than just an intended set of recipients.
Shirkey cited an example of a friend who, in breaking off her engagement, ended up accidentally alerting all her Facebook friends and those of her ex-fiance's about her newfound "Singlehood" -- despite the fact she thought she took proper measures with her privacy settings. Shirkey says neither his friend nor Facebook are to blame for such a self-inflicted leak. Rather, the trouble is that managing privacy in the way most people are asked to do today is an "unnatural act," and few are accustomed to it.
"We're not moving from one engineered system to another," he says. "We're moving from one evolved system to another."
As the shift is both technological and cultural, it will require that consumers develop and evolve accordingly. "Designing new filters doesn't mean redesigning old filters," says Shirkey. "They're broken for structural reasons, not surface reasons. In some instances it'll be a simple matter of programming... Some of it is actually going to be around rethinking social norms."
In that sense, users will need to break down today's alleged information overload bit by bit and rethink how they absorb information, at each level. (You might even think of it as If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em 2.0.)
"When you feel yourself getting too much information, it's not to say to yourself 'What's happened to the information?' It's to say, 'What filter just broke?' " he says. "When you start asking that question, we're going to get some clue as to where to put the design effort."
— Nicole Ferraro, Site Editor, Internet Evolution