Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Community: The New Info Overload

I've read a couple pieces lately about a new form of information overload: online communities. Apparently we're all so busy with Facebook, Twitter, and FriendFeed that we're abandoning blogs (or so says this piece on TechCrunch). Soon, it would seem, all we'll have time for is Twitter feeds.

This is a nice little irony for those of us old enough to remember the original "information overload." This was back in the days of Web 1.0, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and it was a serious problem that a whole bunch of news feeds and websites were pushing data at us all the time, far faster than we could consume it. It was literally "push" back in those days; I remember a fairly popular screen saver that would display news and information headlines when your computer was inactive.

(Which, by the way, in hindsight looks like the stupidest publishing plan of all time. Great, display time-sensitive information on a subscriber's computer at the precise moment when you know s/he's not using it. That will work for sure. You can then use the proceeds to fund a door-to-door sales operation that caters exclusively to customers who aren't home.)

So where's the irony? For many of us, Web 1.0-style information overload was mitigated by ... blogs. Blogs covering niche topics have become some of the most effective information aggregators out there. I know I don't need to read the sports section, because I read blogs written by people who read it for me. I don't need to follow political news, because (again) I have a trusted blog whose authors consume that information, break it down, and spit it out for me in easily-digestible nuggets. So the notion that blogs themselves will be overcome by the sheer weight of ambient information being pushed out by Twitter, Facebook, and innumberable cell phone applications is curious, since that's exactly the problem that helped make blogs popular in the first place.

It also poses a question: what is the information digest of the future? Because we're certainly not going to be content with information overload, any more than we were the first time around. If blogs die because we no longer have time to read them, what will take their place? It certainly won't be that super-randomizer known as Twitter. It might, though, be an ambient information aggregator that digests Twitter feeds and news and commentary and sports scores and ... who knows, maybe even blog posts ... and spits all that out in an easier format to take in.

Crack that nut and you've got one hell of a service. But I don't know. For now I'm sticking with my blogs.