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Rethinking Information Flow

19 April 2008 6,126 views One Comment

Here is a list of things I want to see changed on the Web:

  • Social Networking
  • Blogrolls
  • RSS feeds
  • email

It helps to think conceptually of the commonalities in these items. Primarily, I’m concerned about how we manage information flow. In the future, sociologists will look at our nascent digital culture as a clumsy initial attempt to acquire and manage useful information and relationships. Our current clumsiness is resulting in information overload. Our feeble attempts at keeping up with information flow is leading to new symptoms of “digital addiction” for which we have few remedies short of disconnecting and turning it all off.

Information Overload Cartoon

Social networking is obviously a big idea with big problems. If I can muster some good thought and eloquence, I might visit this topic at a future time. The problem set is so huge and daunting that I’m honestly intimidated by it. I’m not one of these amateurish, self-styled “social networking gurus” or “social app gurus” who think they have the answers while spouting nonsense and demanding ill-deserved retainer fees.

Blogrolls used to be novel and useful. Good bloggers often included other great writers in their blogrolls. Blogrolls were great places to discover more great content back when blogging was new and we had tolerance and time for discovery. Blogrolls now are bloated and less helpful. The problem boils down to one word: Awareness. We are unaware of what is going on behind our blogrolls. I don’t have a blogroll because of the ineffectiveness of blogrolls. Maybe its time we scrap the blogroll.

A related problem is RSS feeds. RSS feeds are a great solution to the aforementioned blogroll problem. Instead of clicking through blogrolls to find content or information, RSS feeds bring content back to you anytime your “subscriptions” publish new content. Generally, you would subscribe to individual bloggers or news content sites. However, we’ve all seen our RSS subscriptions grow to gargantuan proportions because we’re reluctant to miss out on anything our favorite bloggers are writing about.

The problem is, even our favorite bloggers seldom write about things we care about. That’s why the most popular blogs are focused on very specific verticals. TechCrunch covers the technology startup space. The Huffington Post covers politics, and even more specifically, politics from a liberal or progressive point of view. Engadget is a blog about gizmos and electronic gadgets. The Official Google Blog is about all things Google (GOOG). Curiously, ProBlogger is focused on blogging and making money with blogs.

This blog, Incoherence, will never get popular because it is scattered all over the place. It is literally a latticework of incoherent topics that appeal to me personally. I have some major areas of focus but even these are disparate enough that few people will derive consistent value from subscribing to my RSS feed.

Indeed, RSS feeds need to be rethought. Managing this channel of information flow needs to be rethought. Perhaps the very method or paradigm of information acquisition needs to be completely redesigned.

Email is the big hairy monster. I don’t pretend to know how to fix email, but I do have ideas of what I’d like to see so please bear with me as I brain dump. Everyone knows about the hazards of email including spam and phishing so I won’t get into that here. It goes without saying that security is a chief concern.

Email has changed the least of all the foundational technologies of the Internet. We now have sophisticated filters that help us fight spam and phishing, but aside from that, the basic functionality of email hasn’t improved much over the years. It is still a “solid-state” piece of information that doesn’t change or react dynamically to customized user needs. The dynamism that does occur must occur over a thread of conversation that changes from a delayed back and forth between conversation participants.

Another problem is the outdated link concept within email. With current technology, we’re mostly limited to the ability to type out Web addresses as links within email. When my bank or car dealer sends me an email, they must provide a link to an external website that will take me where they want me to go. This opens up a whole set of vulnerabilities that spammers and phishers try to exploit. A dynamic approach to email might solve this problem.

New ideas abound so I will explore some companies addressing these problems in future posts. I believe that fresh thinking and action in these areas will result in next generation innovations that will indeed create great value.

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One Comment »

  • Ralph Young said:

    Eager to see who will and can tame the hairy monster. Great thought.

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