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Filtering by Category: "information overload"

Michael Arrington doesn't get Personal Relevancy

Added on by Chris Saad.
Mark Lewis has written a piece over on Cnet about the need to flip the information delivery model. He writes:

"Web 2.0 flips the information delivery model upside down--it's now about global access, and information at your fingertips, aggregated from sources that you don't even necessarily know about, or care where they exist. Based on a set of search criteria, information in all its rich forms--media, video, audio, images, documents, text--all will be assembled together in context and delivered to users and applications for real-time experience."

That's a very poetic way of saying that in an age of hyper-choice, the most important challenge is to move beyond 'What's popular' toward what's 'Personally Relevant'.

I happen to also agree with Mark's suggested implementation - Source agnostic aggregation filtered by persistent search (and Attention Profiling) and delivered in real-time.

We call it Particls.

With the announcement of Streamy and Thoof, however, Michael Arrington over on Techcrunch has declared that Personalized news is pointless and will never work.

He's felt that way for a long time. I know... because he told me so while we were playing poker. A number of other people have suggested the same thing to me as well.

However, there are two things those people don't understand.
  1. Particls is not about Personalized News, it is about Personalized Alerting. We use the personalization part to rank content and determine how urgent the alert is for each user on an individualized basis.

    Thoof, Streamy and others are doing a very different (and worthwhile) job - and they are all potential partners of ours. We wish them the best of luck.

  2. Just because something has not worked before does not mean it is not worth doing again and again until it's done right. There is a place for popular, social news experiences (as Digg's popularity has proved) and there is a place for targeted, personal and solitary news experiences (as Digg's trolls and pop-culture content has proved).

Context and Aggregation are king

Added on by Chris Saad.
Daniela recently pointed me to this Bear Stearns report via her blog post.

In it they make the same observations that I and others have been talking about for more than a year.

"User-Generated Content (UGC) Is Not a Fad...
Some investors remain skeptical that UGC is more than a passing fad. However, in our recent online video survey, UGC is the No. 1 and No. 2 most popular content category among men aged 18-34 (M18-34) and among all respondents, respectively. Moreover, if we define UGC as page views only from sites such as,,,,, and (which is quite conservative), we estimate that UGC now accounts for 13% of total U.S. Internet traffic, up from 0%-1% in 2004. Based on these statistics, we submit that UGC is here to stay."

Although using the term UGC is not great, their conclusion sounds very familiar to anyone reading this blog.

"apparent to us that as supply of video content rises, value will shift from content producers to aggregators and packagers of content that can best aid users in finding content that fits their specific interests".

Of course, APML as a way of describing user interests, and Particls as a way of filtering and alerting users about new, personally relevant content, are both key technology pieces to this new media 2.0 reality.

The Attention Economy Vs. Flow - Continued

Added on by Chris Saad.
Steve Rubel posts about his information saturation.

He writes:

We are reaching a point where the number of inputs we have as individuals is beginning to exceed what we are capable as humans of managing. The demands for our attention are becoming so great, and the problem so widespread, that it will cause people to crash and curtail these drains. Human attention does not obey Moore's Law.


My attention has reached a limit so I have re-calibrated it to make it more effective. I think this issue is an epidemic. We have too many demands on our attention and the rapid success of Tim's book indicates that people will start to cut back on the information they are gorging. If this happens en masse, will it cause a financial pullback? Possibly if ad revenues sag as a result.

Stowe Boyd writes in response:

No, I think we need to develop new behaviors and new ethics to operate in the
new context.

Most people operate on the assumption that the response to increased flow is to intensify what was working formerly: read more email, read more blogs, write more IMs, and so on. And at the same time motor on with the established notions of what a job is, how to accomplish work and meet deadlines, and so on.

In a time of increased flow, yes, if you want to hold everything else as is -- your definition of success, of social relationships, of what it means to be polite or rude -- Steve is right: you will have to cut back.

Who is right? Who is wrong? Maybe Steve is just old and Stowe is divining the new social consciousness.

Maybe Stowe is just being an extreme purist (Stowe? Never!) and just needs to recognize that there is middle ground.

Maybe the middle ground - Flow based tools that help to refine the stream.

Our eye scan handle the sun - but sunglasses are nice too.

Information Burnout - A generation of participants turning off

Added on by Chris Saad.
Mary Hodder writes:

"I'm looking for some filter to go through and just grab what I need and not have to know about or read or watch the rest, or reply to it, unless I want to and it fits in with an event or need or desire."

I'm looking forward to hear her thoughts and feedback about Particls.

I'm concerned, though, about a few people who have responded to her post (either in comments or their own blog posts) saying 'Just turn all that stuff off'.

That's exactly the scenario we are trying to avoid with Particls - a worldwide user base of social participants turning off from information burnout.

The brain is designed to handle information overload

Added on by Chris Saad.
Earl Mardle has written a post about Scoble's Social Media Overload post and quoted the part where Robert quotes me (yes confusing).

"[...] That leads Chris Saad to ask when we’re going to get overloaded? Oh, Chris, we’re well past that point."
Earl then writes a very interesting response.

"He's right, we're past it. Can we just stop talking about information overload? We've been told about every 12 months for the last decade that we are "suffering" from information overload and the net result has been that every following 12 months we have found ways to multiply the amount of information that comes pouring through our connections."

I also think he's right. Talk about Information Overload is like talking about air - it just is. However, Robert actually misquoting me. I was not asking about information overload. My question to Robert was actually about scaling the social aspects of social media.

The premise is that consuming information is one thing, but interacting and responding with people is another. My question was how many people can you possibly have 1:1 meaningful interactions with. Can Scoble really add hundreds of names and connect with each of them? Maybe so - but could Oprah add all her audience as friends (thus converting them into participants)? Obviously not.

Forgetting that for a moment though, Earl goes on to make a great point about the concept of Information Overload:

"I have a theory; the 'real world" creates and dumps on us levels of information via multiple senses that is many, many orders of magnitude deeper in bandwidth than anything that we can even conceive of coming across the net. Our ability to contact, filter, manage, organise and act on that information is already honed to a very high degree.

Even increasing device-based information tenfold represents a trivial increase in that information load and we actually have no problem dealing with it. To invert Parkinson's Law, our ability to handle information expands in direct proportion to is availability.

Earl's corollary; once we realise that there are deeper wells of information to be drawn on, we dive in."

I think that is a fascinating perspective on the issue. I have never seen anyone think about it in quite that way. Maybe information overload is a myth. Maybe we can each scale up our bandwidth as our needs require. Maybe scaling up isn't even necessary - as Early suggests, maybe our senses are far more capable than we imagine.


I am sure some help with our senses would come in handy though - after all - most of us use sunglasses to help filter the sun right?

Phil Morle says "We need time to think"

Added on by Chris Saad.
Phil Morle has just posted about the information overload and media 2.0 scale issues I have been covering lately and he makes an excellent point:
"We are becoming good filters, but poor philosophers. We are good at information retrieval and storage and not so good at the long-thought. We need machines to become better at filtering media 2.0 - show us the important stuff, let us get into the background stuff if we have the time and let us trust that we aren't missing anything. We need time to think." [Emphasis added]
To put it another way, I wonder if we have more information... but less understanding.

Just like 24 hour news networks (who suffer from too much chatter and not enough context), we spend so much time trying to keep up with, comment about and clip/snip/remix everything we may have forgotten how to keep perspective.

Watching Robert Scoble's presentation about "Living in a Google World" it struck me that he has learned a lot about filtering information for himself. He admits he does a lot of his filtering based on how a post or headline might catch his eye, and also by a learned sense of authority about the author of a post.

It's great that people like us have time to process all this information and think deeply about information consumption and trends.

But I think most people don't have time.

Knowledge workers have traditionally had the benefit of analyst reports and high-quality premium data to give them insight into emerging trends.

Now, however, there is a need for them to join the real-time conversation and filter information for themselves. How will this affect their ability to synthesize new ideas and keep their eye on long-term opportunities?

I fear most people will end up in a reactive echo-chamber world with very little original thought because they are too busy just trying to keep up. Or maybe that's nothing new?

I'd like to think there is a better way...

The rise of technology addiction

Added on by Chris Saad.
BBCs Click website has recently published an article about Technology Addiction. I think I have a problem ;)

Prof Kakabadse added: "It's addiction to portable technology, which you take with you practically to bed, the cinema, to the theatre, to a dinner party. The symptoms are, like with any other addiction, that people spend more time using their technology than spending it in socialising or in family time."
Also there is a good section dedicated to how the medium is the message.

For instance, an e-mail can wait two days to be answered but a text message demands an almost immediate reply.

Stefana Broadbent from Swisscom said: "E-mail is considered the most formal. At the other end of the spectrum SMS is the most personal of all.

"That's where we find all those little exchanges, little endearments, what we call grooming, which is sending: 'I think about you. How did it go? How did you sleep?'

He added: "That is actually given by the number of characters. With such few characters, you have to have a lot of mutual understanding and mutual knowledge."
But it's not all bad news... apparently it forces us to get smarter.

"Studies have been done showing that people can actually enhance their cognitive abilities, which helps them to process more information at the same time. And their performance even transfers to other tasks."

Perhaps one day we can just double space our brains and jack a fibre optic cable into our ears.

Information Addiction - no seriously hah

Added on by Chris Saad.
Marjolein just pointed me to a post by Kirk Biglione (Kirk.. great name).

He has just published a post called "My Life as an RSS Junkie". I feel sorry for him. 1000 feeds and counting.

He (rightly?) blames Nick Bradbury for his addictions. I too would like to blame Nick - his app is the first I tried and I still use it to this day. It started me on this wonderful journey of RSS reading. Maybe a class action is in order? Just kidding Nick :)

He writes:

Things really started going down hill around the time I discovered FeedDemon. Damn that Nick Bradbury! With FeedDemon I was tracking nearly a thousand feeds a day. I’d focus on the topics I was most interested in by setting up watch lists. At first I thought that FeedDemon was helping me to effectively manage my information addiction. On the contrary, the problem was actually getting worse. I eventually realized that the more blogs I read, the more blogs I subscribed to. Each day I’d add a dozen new feeds to FeedDemon. It was a vicious circle. My feed reading began taking up larger chunks of my day.

At some point I came to my senses and realized that I had a serious problem. I had become overwhelmed by the sheer number of feeds that I’d subscribed to.

I am not sure if Kirk is the right user for Touchstone though. Kirk is the sort of user who needs to know what every post in every feed says. He could use it in conjunction with FeedDemon to get alerts about important posts when he is doing other things... but by the sounds of it he doesn't do other things.

Good luck Kirk - sign up to the mailing list and give Touchstone a try. I'd be fascinated to hear if it helps.

Follow up: Social Media is dead... or not

Added on by Chris Saad.
Looks like social media is not dead after all - but only just being born.

Stowe Boyd posts about his painful experience with a group of PR people as they talk about how to make 'Social Media Press Releases' - apparently they totally missed the point.

Brian Oberkirch also posts along similar lines talking about the fear felt in PR firms when trying to craft new forms of press releases and start blogs.

He hits the nail on the head:

"Blogs aren’t killing traditional media — attention scarcity and the decay of their business models is. Craigslist and other efficient attention allocators are draining media revenues, not East Chumuckla Joe and his online opinions about the Iraq war. Likewise, social media aren’t a replacement or extension of your traditional marketing tools. The question isn’t whether an online press release format should replace a traditional one. It’s much more gamechanging than that. Given the erosion of the traditional media system and the extension of a much more connected, distributed information ecosystem, how should companies communicate with those who matter to their business?"

Touchstone declared "Closest to being an Attention Management System"

Added on by Chris Saad.
The Burton Group recently released a report in their series on "Collaboration and Content Strategies".

Specifically this report covered "Techniques to Address Attention Fatigue and Info-Stress in the Too-Much-Information Age" which compares approaches, products and services for Attention Management in the enterprise.

Touchstone was reviewed as part of the vendor lineup. Here are some excerpts.

"[...] The concept of a hub-and-spoke architecture for processing messages and applying attention rules can be found in Touchstone (currently in alpha release) [...] Touchstone is the product on the market that is closest to being an attention management system [...] Touchstone is a useful example of how to specifically target the attention management problem and we look forward to following its development. The company expects to ship the product in early 2007."

I won't give away the ending for them - but suffice to say Information Overload is a significant and growing problem.

I'd like to thank Craig Roth and his team for their hard work in compiling this report to raise awareness of the growing Information Overload problem. We look forward to evolving Touchstone to maintain its position as the platform of choice for the Attention Management issues he outlined in his report and supporting APML for cross-vendor/application compatibility.

You can purchase the report from the Burton Group.

Update: There is a great podcast from Craig about the report and Attention Management themes in general. No mention of Touchstone here but he does describe the problem in simple to understand way.

Blog Highlights of 2006

Added on by Chris Saad.
Hi everyone - I hope you had a great 2006. I know we certainly have. In just one year, Touchstone has gone from the back of a napkin to a funded, flying company with a number of great staff, friends, advisors and testers. We wish to thank you all very much for your efforts this year - we literally could not be doing this without you.

Here are the highlights from the blog over the last year in reverse order (most recent at the top).

Hitting the Mainstream 2
Information Overload hits the mainstream media for a second time - in a big way.

Hitting the Mainstream 1
Information Overload hits the mainstream media for the first time (or there abouts)

Democracy Now!
Web 2.0 has barley hit and people are talking about Web 3.0. We discuss how absurd that is and why YouTube is NOT Web 2.0.

Show me the money (or pain!)
Some people (read:head in the sand) think there is no information overload problem. This post explains why there is.

Filtering vs. Ranking
Some people are still talking about filtering RSS. Filtering is so 5 years ago.

Aggregation is King
Content used to be king. If that's true, then Aggregation is now master of the universe.

Desktop vs. Web-based
Web 2.0 implies that stuff is on the web. Not true. This post talks about the value of desktop applications in a web world. By the way - did you know the Browser is a desktop application? Shock/Horror.

What is Attention Data?
And no - it is not just OPML or Attention.XML.

Personalized Content
Some claim that the battle for 'People Powered News' is over. Digg and others have won. I make the argument that People Powered News MIGHT be done, but Personalized Content is just getting started.

There is no more audience
Participants have killed the audience. Media outlets that treat their audience like eyeballs are doomed to fail in a Media 2.0 world. This is a short rant about the death of the Audience.

Touchstone funded by Angel
Touchstone get's funded by an Angel Investor. What more do we need to say about that!

The Long Tail of Attention
Chris Anderson describes the three factors that have made the Long Tail a viable market. I then explain why a Tool like Touchstone empowers the 'Long Tail' (that's you and me) to take advantage.

Personal Relevancy
What is Personal Relevancy exactly? It's when your interests and personality become the basis for choosing content, rather than the whims of one editor who decides what 'the mainstream' should care about.

Tune Out the Noise
Touchstone is not about alerting - it is about NOT alerting. Think about that.

Attention, Scarcity and Demand
Markets work on Supply and Demand. Price is dictated by Scarcity. So in an era of abundance, the scarcest resource is our Attention.

Power Back in your hands
Amazon Recommendations are great... for them. They help cross-sell and up-sell their customers. But what if you could use the same technology to take control of your information across all the sites you visit?

Anti-Web 2.0
Touchstone is a desktop application. Does this make it Anti-Web 2.0?

Not a Gadget Engine
Touchstone compared to the current rash of Gadget/Widget engines out there.

RSS is not just about News
Imagine using RSS for something other than News. Feed readers fail for most of those other applications. Touchstone picks up the slack.

Thanks again for sticking with us. The best is yet to come!

Chris, Ash and the whole Touchstone Crew.

The PageRank of Personal Relevancy

Added on by Chris Saad.
Ilya recently posted some great data and analysis on the current state of RSS reading habits.

He goes on to explain many of the issues I alluded to in a previous post titled "Show me the money (or the pain)".

I think the question of information overload is answered. Yes there is an overload. But RSS is not the problem. In fact blogs and user generated news are not the problem either. They are just one source of information in our lives.

There are application events, presence changes from our friends, internal memos from head office, applications on our desktop and more all clamoring for our time...

So tools that try to cluster and suggest content from blogs and mainstream news sites are only (very) useful for part of the time.

Ilya goes on to make a great suggestion in his post. He recognizes that collaborative filtering has limitations, Keyword filtering is 'so 5 years ago' and that any one 'community voting' measurement will fall short.

With Touchstone we have gone to great lengths to cover all these usage scenarios. We have built a platform that accepts 'items' not 'RSS'. This means that we can source content from places other than RSS and then cache, rank and route them in a unified way.

Our 'rank' is not based on collaborative filtering or keyword filtering or community voting or previous reading behavior. It is based on some and none of these things at the same time. As such, our technology can work in a vacuum on a personal item behind the firewall, just as it can work on a news item that the whole world can see and link (read:vote) to.

Also, there is no 'handshake' period where our application tries to track your reading behavior over time. We are on the client side which means we have access to your browser history/cache, documents and email for an instant, broad and ongoing base of 'Attention Data' in order to determine your interests.

Ilya rightly compares this to PageRank. While PageRank uses incoming links as a vote to measure authority, it relies on a broader set of factors to make a decision and produce a number.

And because the result is a number rather than a binary 'yes or no' filter or an opaque recommendation, Touchstone can make intelligent presentation decisions when displaying the alert/content/information. The bigger the number the bigger the item on the page.

My friend Adam also posted about the 'Feed Overload Problem' on his blog.

Media 2.0 Roadmap

Added on by Chris Saad.
I have been thinking a lot about 'Media 2.0' lately. So I quickly wrote up a roadmap from the distant past media landscape to our near future opportunities. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Distant Past (Local Radio Stations)

  • Distribution: Costly, via radio towers and dedicated ‘wireless’ receivers
  • Content: Local news and radio plays
  • Advertising: Local sponsors

Past (National Radio Networks and TV Networks)

  • Distribution: Costly (via radio and TV towers, TVs and Radios)
  • Content: National shows targeted at demographic groups
  • Production: Costly
  • Audience: One way broadcast from the top to the masses
  • Content: ‘What’s popular’ (as decided by editors) is on the air – segmented by broad demographics
  • Advertising: Local and National sponsors

Recent Past (Internet – Web 1.0)

  • Distribution: Cheaper (via modems and PCs – unstructured content in HTML)
  • Production: Costly (in terms of time and skills)
  • Audience: One way broadcast from the top to the masses – now also on the web
  • Content: ‘What’s popular’ (as decided by the editors) is on the air – segmented by more niche demographics
  • Interaction: Interest groups and communities trapped in silos
  • Advertising: Local and National advertisers splitting revenue across web, tv, radio.

Now (Internet – Web 2.0)

  • Distribution: Mostly Cheap (existing TV, Radio towers and across multiple devices using the Internet – structured content via RSS)
  • Production: Cheap (just click publish on your blog)
  • Audience: Two way participation within the audience (‘the bottom’) with democratic editorial control in the grassroots
  • Content: ‘What’s popular’ (as decided by the audience) as measured using services like Technorati, TechMeme and Digg etc. Segmentation in the mainstream continues by more thinly sliced Demographics)
  • Interaction: Interest groups unbound by silos (due to RSS)
  • Advertising: Context sensitive Ads targeted at the page – served by Google, Yahoo and Microsoft

Coming (Media 2.0)

  • Distribution: Cheap (across multiple devices using the internet as the ‘universal pipe’ – structured content via RSS). Aggregation is the main user interface.
  • Production: Cheap (just click publish on your camcorder and mobile phone)
  • Audience: The audience is gone, only participants are left: Two way participation with all stakeholders and democratic editorial control of what’s on the web and what’s on the air
  • Content: ‘What’s popular’ (as decided by the participants and measured by services like Technorati, TechMeme and Digg) is played on air. Segmentation by niche interest groups.
  • Relevancy: With hyperchoice, ‘What’s personally relevant’ becomes far more interesting that 'What's popular' – Audiences of one.
  • Advertising: Ads targeted at the individual – served by aggregators

Too much noise for 37signals

Added on by Chris Saad.
Matt from 37Signals (I'm a big fan) asks if there is any way to tame the RSS beast. These posts always make me smile. As do the responses/comments.

A lot of people almost get it, but never really provide a complete answer.

To date our answers (and the answers of others in the Attention space) have been fairly academic - over the next few months as we head into Beta - you will start to see some simple, practical solutions. Solutions that might make 37signals (and their cult of the simple) proud.

Show me the money (or the pain)...

Added on by Chris Saad.
When you are in a startup that has any sort of visibility investors will always approach you. So having spoken to more than my fair share you start to hear certain patterns in their line of questioning. Some have already realized the growing problem that faces users as information explodes and attention dwindles. Some, however, ask a common investor question… “Where is the pain?".

Let me rephrase it in a few other ways…

What problem is your product solving? Is that problem causing pain in user’s lives? Is it so painful that they would they take time out of their life to try your product? Is your product so good, and the pain so great, that they would change their behavior to use it? Do they NEED you?

Because need creates demand and demand needs a supply. Sounds almost like drugs.

As Rod Tidwell would say from Jerry McGuire - Show me the MONEY!!! Or in this case, "Show me the pain, and the money will follow".

There are many answers to the question of pain when you are talking about a product like Touchstone. You can use all sorts of industry buzzwords that refer to trends that are emerging... things like 'the Long Tail’, ‘Publishing 2.0’, 'Participant Created Media', 'Syndication', 'Information Overload', 'Attention Deficit' and so on...

I have been guilty of using these phrases many times... As I have admitted before I have a problem.

I agree pain is important when it comes to building a high-growth startup - especially if you want to cut through the noise in this increasingly crowded marketplace where everyone is trying to make the next YouTube and Digg.

Cutting through noise, however, is exactly the problem. It is the pain. The volume is increasing. Can't you hear it? If you can't hear it then you are not listening. Chances are, however, if you’re reading this blog you are listening all too well.

You could argue that users - your typical Jon Doe - don't hear it yet. I would argue that there is a growing number of users every day that stop watching TV and start watching YouTube and BitTorrent. There is a growing number of users every day that are starting to read, write and remix the blogosphere and flickr and facebook and youtube and they are not going away.

Some could argue that those users are coming, but in the mean time John Doe is happy to read the local newspaper. Have you heard what's happening to the local newspaper recently? They're being decimated.

Mark Cuban recently suggested something new to save Newspapers - More Content and RSS.

Can you imagine it. Your local newspaper becoming a clearing house for every piece of gossip that happens down the road?

Forget newspapers; what about when every school, golf course, company, employee (etc etc) start publishing content and packaging it in RSS. No wait, they are already starting to.

That is rivers and rivers of content that an increasing percentage of the population is becoming aware of and coming to grips with. When you are drowning in a river, pain is everywhere.

Add to this the pain of keeping all your devices up-to-date and trying to fit some productivity in amongst all that news reading – and you are ready to black out.

What about Publisher pain. I (along with many others) have already mentioned how publishers (particularly newspapers) and broadcasters are hurting as users flee to online, time-shifted, personalied alternatives. Don't they need a way to strengthen their brand and monetize their users? Their shareholders are definitely feeling that pain.

In all this discussion of pain however, people have forgotten to ask about pleasure. But that's a post for another day.

Sounds like there might be a pain looking for a solution.