» Archive for December, 2010

New Year’s Traditions

Thursday, December 30th, 2010 by Basilio Alferow

Same procedure as last year?

This is the last issue of Basex:TechWatch for 2010.  The new year, 2011, is just two days away, and throughout the world knowledge workers are making their New Year’s resolutions, which hopefully include addressing the problem of Information Overload.  On behalf of Jonathan Spira, David Goldes, and the entire Basex family, let me take this opportunity to wish you, dear reader, a happy and prosperous New Year, or as Jonathan would say, Prosit Neujahr!

One New Year’s Eve tradition, popular in much of Europe but virtually unknown in the U.S., is to watch Dinner for One, an 18-minute English-language play that has a cult-like following on New Year’s Eve or Silvester in Germany, Austria, and Scandinavia.  You can read about it and watch the entire video in an article by Jonathan Spira.

Finally, for a New Year’s treat, join the Vienna Philharmonic (Wiener Philharmoniker) and conductor Franz Welser-Möst for the New Year’s Day concert from Vienna’s majestic Musikverein hosted by Paula Zahn (the late Walter Cronkite originated the broadcast in 1985).  The New Year’s Celebration will be joined by ca. 1.2 billion viewers around the world and may be found in the United States on PBS stations January 1, 2010 at 12:30 p.m. (check local listings for exact time).

–Basilio Alferow is a senior analyst and editorial director at Basex.

Information Overload Now $997 Billion: What Has Changed?

Thursday, December 16th, 2010 by Jonathan Spira

Over the past few years, we’ve surveyed and interviewed several thousand knowledge workers on the granular details of how they spend their work days, issues such as document management practices, and how they are impacted by Information Overload.

What we learn constantly points in new directions and challenges us to revisit past assumptions and conclusions that we have made.  The pursuit of knowledge is not always linear with waypoints set in stone; rather, it is iterative and cyclical, with each new revelation necessitating a look back at previous conclusions to ensure that they have not been upended by new data.

In December of 2008, we announced that Information Overload was costing the U.S. economy $900 billion per year.  We arrived at that figure via an exhaustive process of categorizing occupations recognized by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which, despite the fact that it has cataloged over 770 occupations, do not have a separate indication for who is a knowledge worker.

Originally, we created four groups or overlay categories (categories that transcend multiple BLS job classifications).  These were Highly Skilled workers, Skilled workers, Single-Skilled workers, and Unskilled workers.

Highly Skilled workers are those who possess multiple skills with a high level of independent thought and action, included are those in management roles, teachers, doctors, scientists, engineers, pilots, and many more.  Skilled workers are those who possess multiple skills with some level of independent though and action, including medical assistants, media and communications workers, legal aids, and many others.  In our original analysis, we considered only these two groups to be knowledge workers.

Single Skilled workers are those proficient in a single skill, with very little need for independent thought and action, while Unskilled workers are those who engage in manual labor or repetitive tasks with no need for independent thought or action, such as dishwashers, cashiers, and laborers.

In the ensuing two years, our ongoing research proved the Single-Skilled worker category to be problematic.  BLS classifications can be confusing and we studied and reviewed all of the BLS classifications that went into this category.  At the end of the day, we made a significant revision, namely to refine the Single-Skilled worker category and add an additional category, Semi-Skilled workers.

The Single-Skilled worker category now includes many lower-level knowledge workers, such as technicians, telemarketers, and clerical workers.  The Semi-Skilled category encompasses occupations such as security guards, fast food cooks, and tree trimmers.

This impacts multiple areas but two in particular.  First, the total number of knowledge workers in the U.S is 78.6 million (our previous categorization fixed it at 65 million).  As a result, because we have to account for the amount of Information Overload the Single-Skilled knowledge workers encounter, the cost of Information Overload to the U.S. economy is actually $997 billion, an increase of nearly 11% from our previous figure.

Of course, $997 billion is still a conservative estimate, and reflects our research findings of the past decade that indicate knowledge workers lose ca. 25% of their day to Information Overload related problems such as e-mail overload and unnecessary interruptions.  While the refinement of our knowledge worker taxonomy expanded our definition of knowledge workers as well as our count of the population, what is more significant is that the new figures demonstrate that very few people are completely immune to this problem.

In the meantime, we are continuing to refine and improve our understanding of how Information Overload impacts you.   You can help us on this mission by taking our latest survey.

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

The Note Taker’s Dilemma

Thursday, December 9th, 2010 by Cody Burke

Mankind has been taking notes using paper and pencil since paper and pencil were invented.  We do it to capture ephemeral information that would otherwise escape us, and to aid our fallible human brains, which often do not recall things clearly or at the precise moment we need them to.

Note taking on paper is easy, but limited in features.  There is no Google-style search, no way to ensure that notes are automatically stored in a filing system, and no way to instantly make exact copies of a note or piece of information.

Two solutions on the market today offer similar approaches to the problem of capturing and storing ephemeral information.  OneNote 2010, part of Microsoft’s Office 2010 suite, is the latest iteration of the company’s solution that first debuted in 2003.  Evernote, which launched in 2008, offers both free and paid versions of its software, which provide a similar feature set.   On a basic level, both solutions allow users to use a desktop client, a browser-based application, and mobile applications for smartphones to take notes, store links and documents, digitize hand written notes, upload pictures and make them text searchable, record audio, share notebooks with other users, synchronize notes and notebooks between devices, and search through stored information.

OneNote is tightly linked to other Microsoft offerings such as Outlook and Word and, just as those offerings, features advanced editing capabilities, templates, and more structured file organization.  However, when it comes to mobile phone support, OneNote is limited to Windows Phone 7, Microsoft’s recently launched mobile platform.  It is possible to access the OneNote Web App via a smartphone browser, but that isn’t an optimum solution, as the user loses what I consider to be the best feature of the mobile application, which is the ability to take text searchable pictures of notes or business cards from a smartphone.

Evernote, on the other hand, lacks the tight integration with office productivity tools such as Microsoft Office and doesn’t offer the advanced editing tools and templates that a power user would typically require.  It is, however, available on multiple platforms including Apple iOS, Palm webOS, Android, BlackBerry OS, and Windows Mobile. (There is, however, no Evernote for Windows Phone 7 mobile application at this time.)  A key feature is Evernote’s Trunk, an online application and hardware store that allows download and purchase of applications and hardware that integrate with Evernote.
The dilemma for the knowledge worker then is integration with everyday office tools versus greater platform support.  For the Microsoft Office-centric knowledge worker, OneNote has a clear advantage, but for the user that depends largely on his smartphone and who probably doesn’t have a Windows Phone 7 device, Evernote is the more attractive option.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.


Thursday, December 2nd, 2010 by Cody Burke

Where exactly do I click "accept"?

Information Overload rears its ugly head in many respects, including in relatively mundane matters that are part of daily life.  Take banking, for example.  You agree to extensive terms and conditions (that you probably won’t read) before you can transfer from your checking account to your savings account.  Have you purchased something from eBay recently?  You are agreeing to their extensive rules and policies as well.

Google’s terms of service are only 20 sections but by using Google you agreed to the “use of your data in accordance with Google’s privacy policies”, which is a completely separate document with 35 different privacy practices that vary based on the Google product you are using.  Not only that, but the 35 policies may be updated from time to time “without any notice.”

Then there is the End User License Agreement, or EULA, which is required for everything from buying an e-book (more on this shortly) to using a hosted e-mail service such as Gmail.  These agreements operate on the principle of using information-to obfuscate.  A large amount of information is presented to the user that covers all legal issues inherent in a transaction, but is so lengthy, complex, and possibly even vague that the user simply gives up and clicks the “Accept terms and conditions” button or equivalent.

For the vast majority of cases, accepting the EULA causes no further problems, and the users will likely forget about the agreement they just entered into and move on with their busy lives.  The problem is that most people don’t read or think about the EULA, and what it may mean.

If you walk into a book store, or even buy a book online from Amazon, you exchange money for a physical object, in this case a book. You are then free to do whatever you want with the book, read it where ever you want, loan it to a friend, or resell it at a second hand bookstore.  You could even end up reselling it via Amazon’s own Web site.  However, if you go to Amazon.com and purchase an eBook for the Kindle e-reader, the transaction is significantly different.  If you dig far enough into the license agreement, you will find this: “Unless otherwise specified, Digital Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider.”  This should come as no surprise as digital content, similar to software, is typically licensed as opposed to sold.

This is not, however, a distinction without a difference.  While the difference between licensing and purchasing an item may not seem important to most consumers, however, it does matter in our eBook transaction.  In accordance with the EULA, the Kindle book can only be viewed on the Kindle e-reader or on a supported device using Kindle software.  A Kindle book can not be resold.  A Kindle book can be loaned in a limited sense, but under a restrictive set of rules, namely that each book can only be lent once for a 14 day period and the content provider has the right to opt out of that service.

This distinction may seem trivial and the vast majority of book buyers and average consumers will not notice, or even care about it, that is until something happens that makes them realize they have agreed to a very restrictive EULA as opposed to having outright ownership.  The amount of information that is pushed at us on a daily basis obscures the important details that are contained in these agreements that we routinely enter into every day.

In the case of software downloads, EULAs can contain clauses allowing the company to do a variety of things, including (in at least one case) download invasive spyware to a user’s computer.  Despite these risks, the vast majority of EULAs go unread.

Indeed, to illustrate this point, PC Pitstop, a PC diagnostics company, inserted a clause into one of its own EULAs that promised a monetary reward if the user sent an e-mail to the address provided in the EULA.  Four months and 3,000 downloads later, one solitary individual finally wrote in and claimed his $1,000 prize.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.