Information Overload

By Agnes Molnar posted 02-05-2014 15:54

As someone who works with Enterprise Content Management systems and Search every day, I can see a big gap between the quantity of content we have and the quality of search results we get when we need something specific. The feeling of searching for a needle in a haystack got the part of our everyday life, with a haystack that gets bigger and bigger every day, every hour and every minute.
To be more specific please find some recent researches on Information Overload:
  • "Between the dawn of civilization through 2003 about 5 hexabytes of information was created. Now, that much information is created every 2 days." (Eric Smith, former Google CEO)
  • The average person receives 63,000 words of new information every day (Robby Walker) - this is about the length of a novel (the average length of a novel on Amazon is 64,531 words, according to Amazon Text Stats)
  • 90% of all the data in the world today has been generated over the last two years (IBM Analytics)
There are several problems with these numbers.
First and foremost, it's impossible to process all those information. The storing and processing capacity of human brain is limited, and this volume of information are much above this limit. Second, the volume and increase of information gets higher and higher day by day, therefore we have to make an Information Overload-Management strategy as soon as possible. When we are under the pressure of Information Overload, we can take less attention to the (important) content. The result is delay in decision making or to making bad decisions. Moreover, we have greater stress level and poorer health, at the end.
Fortunately, there are several techniques to avoid the distraction caused by Information Overload. The most important ones:
  • Take a couple of hours offline every day. The best if you can turn off your phone (or switch into silent mode). This will extremely boost your productivity, and if you do this the same time every day (early morning, for example), your colleagues will learn and accept it. Maybe you can set this time slot to "busy" on your calendar.
  • Turn off Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. notifications while you work. Check them once, maybe twice a day, but no more.
  • Pomodoro Technique is very popular to improve personal productivity. It needs some practicing and might be strange for first, but it really worth a try.
  • Keep your mind focused on one issue at a time.
  • Focus on quality of information, rather than quantity. When you search for some information, prefer the known and trustful sources: nowadays' social world make "could-be" publishers out of anyone, causing searchable information to be questionable (social media updates, blog posts, publicly edited encyclopedias, etc.). Besides this quality lack of content, the number of indexed websites grows by several billion every single day. This is a huge quantity that makes harder and harder to find the quality content.
  • Don't waste time with just "checking information". You don't lose anything if you don't open next week's cafe menu as soon as it's published on the intranet. It'll be there at the end of the day or next morning as well. You don't lose anything if you don't see your colleagues cat in his new pink collar. Focus on what's important.
  • Consider this: while you do something else, your competitors might find the important information that helps them to beat you...
  • Help your colleagues to create better quality information. Be direct what you ask, so that they can provide short, specific answers.
  • Evaluate e-mail practices. Check e-mail headers before opening them. Use automatic rules to sort them into folders that make sense. Handle to your assistant what doesn't need your personal assistance.
  • Learn to delegate.
Search is also considered to be one of the biggest help with Information Overload, but there are some points you have to be aware:
  • Search is as good as it's weakest point. If you don't have the proper content sources included - you don't get the results. If you don't have the proper metadata ready - the Search Interaction will be very limited. If your content source is questionable - the quality of results might be very low. 
  • Balancing precision (the fraction of retrieved documents that are relevant to the query) and recall (the fraction of the documents that are relevant to the query that are successfully retrieved) is always a big challenge. Everyone wants to get all the relevant results but nothing else. Everyone wants to have as small haystack as possible, containing every single needles that we need. Bad news is, it's not possible out-of-the-box, relevance tuning is always a nice and challenging part of the Search Implementation projects.
    (Note: A typical web search results 564,768 results. Your Enterprise Search solution must be much better than this!)
  • Search needs continuous gardening. Setting up and deploying a Search solution is not enough, it has to be evaluated, analyzed and improved regularly, to keep up its quality (or even increase it).
  • Target the result sets whenever it's possible. Creating targeted result pages with customized (targeted) user experience is one of the biggest help we can give to the end users.
  • Use auto-tagging and other intelligent solutions on your content sources, wherever you can. Having a consistent, all-over-the-contents taxonomy can be the key to a successful Search solution.
  • Findability of the information is much more than a good Search Solution. 
As Mitchell Kapor, founder of Lotus Development Corporation and the designer of Lotus 1-2-3 said: "Getting information off the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant." We have the very same feeling in the enterprise more and more, and we could easily change the word "Internet" to "Intranet" in the statement above, it would be still true. Every single information worker and every company has to deal with Information Overload day by day, and we have to make our own fight against it, while we live out of it. One of the nicest challenges of these days!

#informationarchitecture #ContentManagement #Search #informationmanagement