» Archive for October, 2010

What We Learnt on Information Overload Awareness Day

Thursday, October 28th, 2010 by Cody Burke

Ready, set, lower!

Information Overload Awareness Day was held last Wednesday and several hundred knowledge workers gathered online to learn more about the problem and potential solutions.  In case you weren’t able to attend, here’s a brief summary of what was covered.

To set the stage for what was to come, Jonathan Spira, chief analyst at Basex, addressed the reasons why we now have the problem of Information Overload and what the cost of the problem is to the U.S. economy (estimated at $900 billion annually).

Paul Atchley, associate professor and director of the Cognitive Graduate Program for the Department of Psychology at the University of Kansas, explained both why we can’t actually multitask and why attempts at multitasking could be dangerous.

Paul cited the following factors in his talk:
*  Decrease in driving safety while talking on the phone (4 times as dangerous), and texting (2300% more dangerous!).
*  Decreases in productivity and creativity for multitaskers, including a 20-40% decrease in efficiency.
*  A reduction in attention for multitaskers, leading to decreased retention of context for information.
*  Multitasking’s seductive social nature, which appeals to humans’ deepest psychological needs.

Max Christoff, managing director for information technology at Morgan Stanley, brought his extensive experience in fighting Information Overload at the firm to the discussion.  He detailed some of the efforts the firm has undertaken to reduce the problem.  Max outlined the way the firm redesigned the new e-mail message alert system to automatically classify incoming e-mail by priority in order to reduce interruptions caused by the alerts, as well as to provide a more intuitive way to interact with the alerts.  While some workers were lukewarm to the automatic filtering system (they did not quite trust it to capture all important messages), they liked the redesigned interface for managing alerts.

Dan Rasmus, author of Listening to the Future, spoke about Information Overload in terms of three areas:
*  Policies and practices, including the importance of taking personal responsibility for our own information habits and designing our information  environment.
*  How we present information in physical spaces and the effect that has on how it is consumed.
*  The failure of search tools to serve the user when they are designed to maximize advertising.

Nathan Zeldes, president of the Information Overload Research Group and Intel’s former Information Overload czar, spoke about his experiences in bringing the problem to the attention of Intel, as well as his post-Intel efforts to form the Information Overload Research Group.  Over a decade ago, Intel’s own research indicated that its knowledge workers were losing approximately eight hours per week due to Information Overload, a fact that led Nathan to devise and apply a number of solutions starting in 1995.  This led Zeldes into focusing his attention on the problem of Information Overload.  An article about his work at Intel caused others interested in the topic to contact him and these informal contacts eventually led to the creation of IORG.

Oliver Brdiczka from PARC discussed how multitasking is harmful, as well as how technology tools that PARC is developing can help.  He shared with us how PARC is exploring contextual intelligence in applications, and presented two solutions, Meshin, a tool to provide relevant content in an Outlook inbox, and Siri, a mobile personal assistant.

What did everyone think when all was said and done?  Shortly after the event ended, the following comment was e-mailed to us: “I liked the web based format with many short presentations and the possibility to tune in and out according to your areas of interest.  It saved a lot of time and was very anti-Information Overload, so well done!”

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Information Overload Awareness Day – Year 2

Thursday, October 21st, 2010 by Jonathan Spira

Yesterday, October 20, was Information Overload Awareness Day.

Don't just stand there... do something!

If you are reading this column, you probably knew that already and you might have even been one of the several hundred people who attended the Information Overload Awareness Day Online Event.

When we first announced Information Overload Awareness Day last year, we weren’t sure if it would catch on.  The fact that CNN ran a “Happy Information Overload Day” piece yesterday proved, in fact, that it is starting to.

I’d like to thank the knowledge workers from across the globe who attended.  Many were with us for the entire four-hour event  Our speakers, in order of appearance (and we’ll have more on what they said next week) were Paul Atchley from the University of Kansas, Nathan Zeldes from IORG, Max Christoff from Morgan Stanley, Dan Rasmus, author of Listening to the Future, Oliver Brdiczka from PARC, and Cody Burke from Basex.

We took this opportunity to single out seven organizations for their significant contributions in the fight against Information Overload, bestowing upon them the Basex Excellence Award, or Basey.  We invited an executive from each company to sit on our Visionary Vendor panel, which preceded the awards ceremony.

The 2010 Basey awards went to seven companies, Comintelli, Gist, IBM, Liaise, Microsoft, Salesforce.com, and Tungle.

Comintelli received a Basey for Knowledge XChanger and its content aggregation and role-based delivery capabilities, which ensure knowledge workers receive relevant, timely, and authoritative content.

Gist won for its inbox-based content aggregation solution that presents relevant information from disparate sources about a contact to the user.

IBM received the award for two tools created at the IBM Almaden Research Center: Mail Triage and Personal Tasks, a mobile tool that enables sorting, prioritizing, and deferring of e-mail to improve management of the inbox, and Topika, a solution for guiding knowledge workers to use the best communication and collaboration tools.

Liaise received recognition for its task extraction tool that ensures that action items and requests are not lost in inboxes by creating a to-do list based on e-mail content.

Microsoft received a Basey for innovations in Office 2010 that enhance the ability of knowledge workers to collaborate around documents, as well as for user interface improvements that streamline document processes for knowledge workers and standardize interfaces across applications.

Salesforce.com won for Salesforce Chatter and its ability to increase knowledge sharing and collaboration by providing centrally located aggregated information about accounts, deals, and colleagues;

Tungle received a Basex Excellence Award for Tungle.me, a calendaring tool that reduces the number of e-mail documents required to set up meetings and calls.

I would like to thank our corporate and association sponsors for their support.  Our Gold Sponsors included CubeGuard, IBM, and the Information Overload Research Group.  Silver sponsors included Feintuch Communications and VirtualPBX.

Finally, please start to Lower the Overload.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.  He can be reached at jspira@basex.com

Lotus Notes creator leaves Microsoft

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010 by David Goldes

Time to say good-bye

The departure of Ray Ozzie, Microsoft’s chief software architect and the creator of Lotus Notes, from Microsoft should not go without notice.  Ozzie will leave Microsoft after a transition period.  He became the company’s technical visionary after the retirement of Bill Gates but he is best known as the creator of Lotus Notes, a platform he built after helping develop Lotus Symphony while working for Lotus Development Corp.

Ozzie left Lotus in 1984 and started Iris Associates, where he created Lotus Notes.  Iris Associates was then acquired by Lotus in 1994 and Lotus itself was taken over by IBM in 1996.

After working at Lotus under IBM for several more years, he left the company and started Groove Networks, which also developed a kind of Collaborative Business Environment.  Groove was acquired by Microsoft in 2005 and Ozzie joined Microsoft as chief software architect in 2006.

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

Lower The Overload: A Call for Action on Information Overload Awareness Day

Thursday, October 14th, 2010 by Jonathan Spira

Information Overload Awareness Day is October 20th.

At least these didn't come via e-mail...

In conjunction with the observance of Information Overload Awareness Day, Basex, InboxDetox.com, the Information Overload Network, and the Information Overload Research Group have issued a joint challenge to knowledge workers everywhere: starting October 20th, send 10% fewer e-mail messages.

The average knowledge worker receives 93 e-mail messages per day and many are unnecessary.  If every knowledge worker in the U.S. were to send 10% fewer messages, the cost of Information Overload would be reduced by as much as $180 billion per year.

Below are some simple recommendations on what knowledge workers can do starting October 20th (or earlier) to reduce the amount of Information Overload for us all.

To learn more about what can be done, attend the Information Overload Awareness Day online event on the Web on October 20th.  The event features leading experts from a wide range of companies who will discuss the problem and offer solutions.  Knowledge workers can attend for free by pledging not to multitask during the event (simply use “NoMultiTasking” as the code to attend).

Here’s what workers can do in the areas of e-mail and search:

1.)        Send only those e-mails, IMs, and texts that have to be sent.  This includes replies.
2.)        Only use reply-to-all when absolutely necessary.
3.)        Cut back on the number of recipients in the “to” and “cc” fields.
4.)        Resist the urge to forward.

1.)        Use more and better keywords to narrow your search.
2.)        Use Boolean search arguments such as “not” and “near” to cut down on results.

Register now for the Information Overload Awareness Day Online Event at no charge (use code “NoMultiTasking”) and don’t forget to send fewer e-mails starting October 20th.

Information Overload Strikes Again – The Movie

Thursday, October 7th, 2010 by David Goldes


Find out how James lost a multi-million dollar contract – because he didn’t see an important e-mail from a customer.

James gets 500 e-mail messages each day – and his manager gets even more.

Watch this brief video to see how James handles the situation.

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

Mad About Information

Thursday, October 7th, 2010 by Jonathan Spira
No e-mail, no mobiles, no texts

No e-mail, no mobiles, no texts, no overload

One of the many pleasures of watching the television series Mad Men, a drama set on Madison Avenue in the 1950s and, more recently, in the 1960s, is the opportunity to see how work – and the work-life balance – have both changed in the ensuing years.

In the world of Mad Men of 1965, the creation of FedEx was still eight years away, computers were behind glass walls, carefully watched over by scientists in white lab coats, telephones had cords (and multi-line phones had thick cords), and the letter “e” would not be affixed to the word “mail” for some time.

In the offices of Sterling Cooper, the mythical ad agency where most of the key characters work, there are no computers.  IBM Selectric typewriters grace the desks of secretaries (dedicated word processing machines were first invented around 1965, the year the series takes place in 2010, when I am writing this).

A photocopier, namely the Xerox 914, was the highest form of technology that I have seen deployed at Sterling Cooper.  Copies of memos were distributed and most of the knowledge workers, excuse me, copy writers, used a combination of paper and pen (or pencil) or typewriter.

Work-life balance
Mad Men demonstrates, with a reasonable degree of accuracy (the show’s producers are sticklers for this), that it was possible to both go to work, put in a day at the office, and enjoy oneself at the same time in the 1950s and 1960s.

Indeed, based on 2010 conventions, the ad men at Sterling Cooper enjoy life a bit too much.  They puffed away at cigarettes while at their desks.  They drank (sometimes starting before breakfast).  They flirted and also had the occasional workplace romance.  Some of the younger staff amused themselves by drawing lewd cartoons of female workers or making racial or anti-gay jokes.

But they seemingly enjoyed far more of a work-life balance than their counterparts today.

One thing that is missing from the picture is e-mail.  Also in the not-yet-invented category are mobile phones, social networks, instant messaging, Twitter, FourSquare, and FedEx (for when something absolutely, positively has to be there overnight).

The characters in Mad Men don’t follow the romantic notion expressed in 1950s sitcoms of always arriving magically and shortly after 5 p.m. to a wife who has slippers, a pipe, and a cocktail waiting.  In fact, the ad men seem to go out for drinks together, with clients or just with each other, quite a bit.

And they do not at all seem to be under the type of pressure that the typical knowledge worker of today enjoys.

Except for the occasional phone call or surprise drop-in visit, workers were never on call or tethered to the office 24/7.  There is no question that people 30 and 40 years ago were better able to spend time with their families and friends.

Starting in the 1960s, more women began to join the workforce and both husbands and wives worked longer and longer hours (this resulted in so-called DINS marriages, “double income, no sex”).   Indeed, researchers estimate that people today sleep between one and two fewer hours per day than their parents did a generation ago (on the plus side, the market for sleep aids, in part propelled by the real companies of Madison Avenue, is now a multi-billion dollar market).

The knowledge worker of the 1950s and 1960s had most of the information he needed at his fingertips and rarely was a victim of Information Overload.  The lack of widely-deployed computers and overnight deliveries kept the movement and creation of information to a reasonably comfortable level and the invention of tools that would feed the need for instant gratification were still decades away.

Little did anyone know what was yet to come.

A FedEx television commercial from the 1990s summed it up nicely:

“In this fast moving, high pressure, get it done world, aren’t you glad there’s one company that can keep up with it all?   Federal Express. When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.”

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.