» Archive for the 'Information Overload' Category

More Information on Information Overload

Thursday, February 10th, 2011 by Cody Burke

Did anyone see where I put that survey form?

Our current survey focuses on the personal sources of Information Overload that knowledge workers deal with, as well as the specific actions that individuals and organizations are undertaking to deal with the problem.

The survey is ongoing but some of our preliminary findings are quite interesting, and worth sharing:

By far the greatest perceived cause of Information Overload is e-mail, with over 66% of the votes for the number one cause being for e-mail.
The second largest source is a dead tie between interruptions and social networking sites, both at 20%.
Rounding out the top four is required reading (online and offline) at 23%.

We are also seeing trends emerging when we ask what the greatest enabler of Information Overload in the last two years has been.  Many respondents are selecting “Access to greater amounts information” as both the number one, and the number two factors.  This is interesting because many people who did not select it as their number one choice went on to select it as their second choice, reflecting the scale of the problem.

Thus far, we are also seeing a clear favorite method of reducing Information Overload.  When asked what the number one thing that could be done in their organization to combat Information Overload was, over 50% of the responses were to send fewer e-mail messages.

We would like to share our favorite comment from a survey taker with you.  When asked what would help reduce Information Overload, he said the following: “Have someone else read everything for me”.

A nice thought, but wishful thinking.

Please help combat Information Overload by taking this important survey ( http://www.basex.com/io1110 ).  We will provide a new update on our findings soon.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Search and the Quest for the Perfect Dishwasher

Thursday, January 27th, 2011 by Jonathan Spira

Search. Sit. Stay. I get my commands mixed up occasionally.

Even if a knowledge worker were to enter a perfectly-formed query into Google’s search box, there is still a high degree of probability that he would not find what he was looking for.  While, in the past, providing the best, most accurate search results and winnowing the wheat from the chaff had more to do with not providing out-of-date and/or non-relevant information than anything else, today that is no longer the case.

In the Web’s earliest days, once marketers figured out how to game the search engines of the time with keywords that had nothing to do with the content on the associated Web page, search had become fairly useless.  Indeed, it was the arrival of Google on the scene in 2000 <check date> that made Web search useful again. Search engines including Google continue to be overwhelmed by various forms of Webspam; as soon as Google and others vanquish one form of spam, however, another rears its ugly head.

Paul Kedrosky, founder of GrokSoup, one of the first hosted blog platforms, an analyst on CNBC and currently publisher of a financial blog , tried to use Google to help him select a new dishwasher in December of 2009.   His conclusion (which was dispatched as a tweet): “To a first approximation, the entire web is spam when it comes to appliance reviews.”

In “Dishwashers, and How Google Eats Its Own Tail,” an article that was published in InfectiousGreed, on December 13, 2009, Kedrosky explains how Google “has become a snake that too readily consumes its own keyword tail” as marketers exploit Google’s technology to rise to the top of the search results page, regardless of whether they deserve to be there or not.

As a result of this attack of sorts, Web search’s usefulness is once again in question as low-quality, unreliable, and frequently plagiarized content continue to supplant legitimate entries in search results.

It appears that getting the right answer or response from Google has never been harder, and even Google is taking notice of the problem.  On January 21, 2011, writing in the Official Google Blog, Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s Webspam team, wrote that there had been “a spate of stories” [examples include "On the Increasing Uselessness of Google," "Why We Desperately Need a New (and Better) Google,"  and  "Content Farms: Why Media, Blogs & Google Should Be Worried"] concerning Google’s less than stellar search quality.

Google is fighting the war on Webspam on three fronts and this is no mean feat.  Today, Webspam comes from three main sources: 1.) individual Web pages with repetitive spammy words and phrases, 2.) hacked Web sites, and 3.) content farms (sites that either produce shallow content of their own or copy other sites’ content).  The topic of Webspam could fill a book unto itself but it is worthy of this brief mention because it brings Information Overload to a whole new level in terms of making it harder for knowledge workers to find what they are looking for.

If we were to repeat our study of the failure rate for searches, Webspam would most likely result in an increase in the number of searches that actually failed but were not recognized as a failure by the searcher.  This is a dangerous trend if it continues unabated.

Search. Sit. Stay. I get my commands mixed up occasionally.

The problem has even given rise to a new type of search engine.  Blekko, “a better way to search the web,” uses slashtags to cut out spam sites and my tests of the search engine show that it provides significantly less spam in its results.

Google has heard “the feedback from the web loud and clear” and believes that the company “can and should do better.”  It announced plans (via Cutts’ post) to combat all three types of Webspam, including making changes to its algorithm and giving users a means of providing “explicit feedback” on spammy sites.

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

Man v. Machine: Who Analyzes Information Faster?

Thursday, January 20th, 2011 by Cody Burke

Who do YOU think will win?

That information functions as currency is no surprise to anyone in this day and age.  What may be surprising are the lengths that people go to collect the raw data, turn it into actionable nuggets of information, and disseminate it.

Two recent articles in the New York Times call attention to the way that information has become meaningful and critical in both the business world and the political world.

Both articles, “Computers That Trade on the News” on December 22, 2010 and “Where News Is Power, a Fight to Be Well-Armed,” on January 16, 2011, detail the extent to which information is valued in politics and trading.

The subjects of these articles are also a study in contrasts.  As junior political aides parse the news and pull out the most useful and relevant insights and ammunition for the day’s politicking, the computers of Wall Street are humming away, using advanced algorithms and linguistic-based software to extract meaning from the wealth of unstructured data available online.

Politics has always been a bit old fashioned, but the divide between how Wall Street and Washington are utilizing information has never been starker.  In Washington, the day for junior aides and staffers begins early in the morning as they read the news, monitor blogs and social networks, and condense their findings into memos for their superiors.  These information gatherers put in a few hours of data collection and selection, then report to an office for the rest of their day that can stretch well into the evening.

The staffers are valued for their ability to ferret out tidbits of information online that have value.  Describing a media monitor under his supervision, Dan Pfeiffer, White House communications director, stated that, “For such a young guy, Andrew has a great ability to sniff out stories that need to be handled with dispatch. During our biggest fights, from health care to the Supreme Court confirmations, Andrew repeatedly spotted potential problems in the farthest reaches of the Internet before anyone else. That information was essential to our success.”

On Wall Street, a very different picture is playing out.  Traders are using software tools that analyze the massive amount of online unstructured data to extract sentiment around companies, analyze it, and then trade on it, often without human assistance.  The software analyzes words, sentence structure, and emoticons from blogs, company Web sites, editorials, news articles, and social software tools such as Twitter.  If the software detects anything that reflects positively or negatively on a company or a section of the market, then it can trigger automated trading.
According to Aite Groupa, a financial services consulting company, around 35% of quantitative trading firms are currently exploring the use of unstructured data in automated trading.  The trend is not likely to stop there, given the competitive advantage that even a few seconds can give a firm in high frequency trading.

Could Andrew Bates, our talented political aide, sniff out information faster and more accurately than the algorithms of Wall Street?  Short of a face-to-face showdown, it is hard to say.  One thing is for sure though; he would probably appreciate the extra hour of sleep.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Some New Year’s Resolutions for the Information Overload-Minded

Thursday, January 6th, 2011 by Jonathan Spira

To lowering Information Overload!

The past year has been marked by increases in the cost of Information Overload, which for the U.S. economy now stands at $997 billion, as well as hopeful signs that awareness of the problem is rising as well.  The second annual Information Overload Awareness Day was a smashing success, and drew several hundred attendees from across the globe.  CNN ran a feature entitled Happy Information Overload Day and the Belgian government, taking note of the problem, tried for a day without e-mail.

With the New Year already underway, we can start with a few simple New Year’s Resolutions that are time tested in lowering the amount of Information Overload we all face.

1.)    Learn better search techniques.  Control search results with Boolean logic by using AND or OR and use advanced options to narrow the field.

2.)    Use restraint in communications.  Don’t cc the world, don’t include more people than necessary in any communication, avoid gratuitous “thanks” and “great” replies, and avoid reply-to-all at all costs.

3.)    Write clearly.  Better yet, refrain from combining multiple themes and requests in one single e-mail.  And make sure the subject is specific as opposed to general (writing “Help needed” without further details helps no one, especially the recipient).  These simple steps will add instant clarity with little effort.

4.)    Read what you write – before you click send.  Unclear communications result in excessive and unnecessary back-and-forth communications that would have been unnecessary were the first missive unambiguous and to-the-point.

5.)    Read what others write – before replying.  While it would be nice to believe that people will place the most important information at the very beginning, often times the key facts are buried in the closing paragraphs.  What you are about to ask may already have been covered.

6.)    Value your colleagues’ time as if it were your own.  If a response to an e-mail is not immediately forthcoming, don’t pick up the phone or send an IM saying “did you get my e-mail?”.

Happy New Year!  Prosit Neujahr!

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

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.


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.

The Tech Industry and Information Overload

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010 by Jonathan Spira

Just whom am I supposed to call about all this?

While it’s clear that technology has been an enabler for Information Overload, several questions arise including the extent to which the tech industry is to blame and what the tech industry is doing.  This needs to be examined both in terms of developing new solutions that fight the problem as well as fixing problems in existing tools that encourage more Information Overload.

With every significant development, from Gutenberg’s printing press to Carlson’s photocopier to IBM’s personal computer, mankind found itself able to create and distribute more and more information.  The rapid advances made in information and communication technology in the past two decades have further exacerbated the situation.

Unfortunately, these developments brought with them neither the tools to better filter neither the information that was generated nor the knowledge of how to use the tools in the most responsive manner.

The first time, from what I can tell, that the tech industry acknowledged the problem publicly was in the mid 1990s, when Reuters, a business information provider, decided to exploit the problem by positioning itself as a solution for “Information Fatigue Syndrome,” a term coined not by doctors but by Reuters marketing agency, Firefly. (Firefly won a PR Effectiveness Award for this campaign in 1998.)

Reuters went so far as to hire a psychologist specializing in stress, who then wrote a research report on IFS, to add a measure of gravitas to the campaign.  After receiving a considerable amount of coverage, however, Reuters moved on to the next campaign and forgot all about IFS.

It’s not just the tech industry (which somewhat ironically refers to its customers as “users”) that should shoulder some of the blame, but it should also contribute to the development of a long-term solution.  There is an entire ecosystem built around information, with millions of consultants and information producers, which serves to prove that the knowledge economy is in full swing and that the genie is out of the bottle and won’t return anytime soon.

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

What are the leading sources of Information Overload?

Thursday, November 18th, 2010 by David Goldes

Information Overload impacts us all, both on a personal level and on an organizational level.  However, all is not lost.  Knowledge workers are a resourceful bunch and have addressed the problem in multiple and often very creative ways.

Is it too much yet?

To find out what you consider to be the greatest sources of Information Overload, both for you individually and for your organization, as well as to understand how these challenges are being addressed, we’ve developed a survey that asks you to share your thoughts on this topic.

Please click here to take the survey.

Participants will receive an Executive Summary of the survey’s findings and can also enter a drawing to win a set of Dilbert CubeGuard information overload blockers (three sets will be awarded).  Please share the survey link with colleagues or in forums where knowledge workers congregate; the more people participating in the survey, the better we will be able take steps to reduce Information Overload for yourself and your team.

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

The Tools We Use

Thursday, November 11th, 2010 by Jonathan Spira
While we are discussing an upgrade, can we work on the clothes and hair too?

Now that we've gotten a system makeover, I think something else needs updating too...

Three of the tools we use the most to create and record information were invented in the last one hundred years.   Just as the invention of the printing press and moveable type by Gutenberg launched a revolution in the distribution of books (and later on, newspapers, magazines, and other printed material), several nineteenth- and twentieth-century discoveries begat a revolution in the distribution of individually-crafted documents, namely the typewriter, the photocopier, and word processing software.

These three inventions did more to shape the creation and mass distribution of information (both in individual and mass quantity) than anything that preceded it in the history of mankind.

At the same time, however, these benefits came with a price: the better the technology has gotten, the more copies of information have been able to be made and distributed.

Indeed, until the era of the laser printer arrived in the 1990s, creators of documents had two choices.  There were those few documents important enough to warrant the investment of time and energy in setting type and printing and the overwhelming majority of documents that didn’t, many of them of an ephemeral nature.  The photocopier closed the gap between commercial printing and low-volume copying (which had been more likely to have been handled via carbon copies than anything else).   It also gave knowledge workers the ability to distribute anything and everything to as many people as they wished, just as e-mail does today, albeit with less speed and efficiency.

The typewriter and the photocopier opened the door for knowledge workers to create and send documents to multiple recipients but there were still some significant limitations compared to what is available today using e-mail.  The distribution of documents within a building or campus was relatively easy and done via intra-office mail or simply by dropping off the document in the recipient’s inbox.  For those people traveling or in a different office or company, documents were typically sent by mail and this meant that they would not arrive until several days later.

Today, the norm is to measure the arrival of documents in seconds – and our new discoveries allow us to create more documents, more drafts and versions of the documents we are creating, as well as to distribute them to dozens if not hundreds or thousands of people with the click of a button.
That change is one of the key reasons why we have to contemplate the problem of Information Overload.

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

The Knowledge Worker’s Day: Our Findings

Thursday, November 4th, 2010 by Jonathan Spira

To successfully manage in the knowledge economy, there are key differences in how knowledge workers work that we must recognize.

Is it time for thought and reflection yet?

For all intents and purposes, knowledge workers “own” the means of production and take it home with them every day, along with invaluable knowledge they develop as they perform their tasks.  Their work is generally not tied to a physical or specific location.  They also have rather different expectations about work and tools, often more demanding than those of industrial workers.

In the course of their jobs, knowledge workers perform tasks that can be grouped under a few overarching categories.  The tasks include searching, creating content (sometimes re-creating), thought and reflection, sharing knowledge, and networking.  All of these areas can be accomplished in more traditional ways, i.e. through direct contact with people, or increasingly, aided by technology.

In early 2010, Basex conducted a survey asking knowledge workers to describe their workday.  The questions included topics such as how long the typical workday was, how much time was devoted to various information sources, and how knowledge workers were impacted by Information Overload.

What we found was striking, compared to the last research we published on the knowledge worker’s day back in 2008 when we found that the typical knowledge worker was only able to devote 12% of the day to thought and reflection.

Here are some of the final findings:

  • 66% of knowledge workers feel they don’t have enough time to get all of their work done.
  • Over 50% of knowledge workers feel that the amount of information they are presented with on daily basis is detrimental to getting their work done.
  • 94% of those surveyed at some point have felt overwhelmed by information to the point of incapacity.
  • 30% of knowledge workers have no time at all for thought and reflection during their day, and 58% had only between 15 and 30 minutes.

A typical day in the life of the knowledge worker is comprised less of traditional work and more of a frenetic pace that intermingles people and technology interruptions with attempts to create content, find things, and attend meetings.

The Knowledge Worker’s Day:
25% – Information Overload
19% – Content creation
19% – Reading content
17% – Meetings/Phone Calls/Social Interaction
10% – Search and Research
5% – Personal time
5% – Thought and reflection

For our purposes, we define content to include e-mail related tasks, so e-mail time is essentially split between the content creation and reading content percentages.  It is interesting to note as well that the vast majority of knowledge workers spend between 30 minutes and no time at all managing their inboxes.

Since the underpinnings of knowledge work are thought and reflection, it’s ironic that these activities take up a mere 5% of the day, and Information Overload, the thing that holds the knowledge work back, occupies the greatest part of the day.

Knowledge workers are nowhere near as productive, efficient, or effective as they could be – and this is in part due to the problem of Information Overload.

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