04 Oct 2008
Clay Shirky gave an excellent talk at the 2008 Web 2.0 Expo NY entitled “It’s Not Information Overload. It’s Filter Failure.” Referring to the world before the internet, he said, “the inefficieny of information flow wasn’t a bug. It was a feature.” We can all relate to the feeling of information overload, but Shirky gave a compelling argument that we’ve always had to deal with information overload. The problem is the filters we used to rely on are structurally broken for the current era of overload.
Aaron Johnson posted a great analogy: “We need better distilleries, not better harvesters.” It’s simple to collect more information; we’ve gotten very good at that. The next step is distilling that information down into something easily consumable. That’s where companies like FriendFeed (for RSS feeds) and Xobni (for email) come in. They’re trying to solve the problem of filtering. How do we want email prioritized? How do we see the most important items first? While those guys refine their filtering systems, the best solution is to just ask yourself, “What do I actually care about?” and let the rest go. At least that’s what I tell myself when I stare at the 173 feeds in my Google Reader.