Information Nirvana or Information Overload? Information and Content Management Revisited

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I thought about some of the interesting work we are doing with innovators and decided to dust off and update this article that I originally wrote in 2003. Not surprisingly, basic opportunities and concepts have not changed too much so I decided to re-publish it with a few updates. What HAS changed? Certainly the jargon has. I am sure you have heard these: “Inboxing” is now when a relationship of Facebook has progressed from the Wall to 1:1 communications to direct “inbox communications”!…. “We’re inboxing” – cool.. “Friending” and “Unfriending” even “Facebook Stalking” ouch… From an enterprise user audience perspective, when we think about the information we access and seek, let’s imagine the future. We experience a single intuitive interface to the content and services that we need and want in our daily lives. We access personalized entertainment, news, information, services and messages easily using the right medium. Our personalized network understands our preferences and the available knowledgebase while maintaining our privacy.

Perhaps this feels like a utopian vision – too far into the future to be actionable on today’s agenda. However, new technologies in the social web and information management within corporations now allow us to deliver against this vision. Content and services can be filtered for relevance and personalized so that your audience; readers, employees, customers, and partners can experience a focused set of multi-media content. Effective information management delivers significant business value by increasing productivity of the knowledge worker and engaging target audiences. Also companies realize strategic advantage by leveraging intellectual assets and being up-to-date on relevant industry knowledge. As Metcalfe’s Law states, “The power of the network increases exponentially by the number of computers connected to it. This law is often cited as a key driver for the explosive growth of the Internet. The more users on Facebook, the more conversations and connections we have. The more readers of a blog post, the more social sharing, syndication and value. However, Metcalf’s law also contributes to diminishing productivity within an enterprise.

Why?

We have limited ability as humans to deal with the spiraling number of information choices and the myriad of channels all vying for our attention. The mountain of information available to us is vast and growing. Google indexes around billions of web pages. The deep web is estimated to be 500 times larger. Daily e-mail traffic is measured in multi-billions of messages per day. The web gets searched over a billion times every day. Add telemarketers, spam, radio, TV and newspapers to these channels and the amount of information we see is stifling. Information overload is a daily trial. While information is a critical asset and source of competitive advantage, most companies have not deployed systems to deliver content and knowledge to their target user audience. Only a small fraction of information is fully relevant to the user. RSS feeds and content syndication help, but the problem still exists:

  • 1000s of irrelevant e-mails
  • Intranets that are hard to use
  • Feeds with irrelevant content
  • Wasted internet searches

I estimate the cost to productivity ranges from a 5% loss in dealing with spam, to as much as a 20% loss in research and analysis. However, new technologies are delivering compelling new ways of information access – ranging from social relevance and voting (e.g. Digg) to more advanced (big “S”) Semantic Technologies where information resources can be pre-filtered with specific Ontologies. What are some issues preventing companies from successfully deploying an effective information network?

The first obstacle is the lack of vision and commitment. Companies have failed to recognize and communicate the priority of a unified information management model preferring instead to allow disparate initiatives and systems to emerge across the enterprise. While there is value in deploying solutions close within business areas, when looked upon as a whole, these disparate systems compound the information management problem and fragment the corporate culture.

A second challenge is a lack of focus on user-centered design. Companies have had mixed success in truly understanding what will make a user truly engage in a new information service. Too often information is organized without an eye toward user intent and information architecture. Search is typically broad and text based, rather than data-driven. RSS is also not fully filtered and based on both relevant ontology and social / peer ratings. Advanced content management and web services technology are critical enablers to a personalized user experience and should be adopted as enterprise standards. These need to be taken to another level with advanced semantic search and relevance engines.

Finally, companies are failing to recognize that technology solutions only address the visible information management challenge. A successful information network within an enterprise or community requires an operating model to organize the publishing process and encourage semantically-aware user generated content and an effective ingestion of external content relevant to the community. What are the steps you should take?

1. Begin with a top-down information strategy
2. Design around the user audience experience
3. Define a sustainable business operating model
4. Use Second Circle technologies (like Semantic Technology and Social Relevance)  for innovative information acquisition, access and display

Feel free to comment, and contact me if you would like to discuss your information and audience content strategies.

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