Musings on filters: why they’re the next big thing

Musings on filters: why they’re the next big thing

panning_for_goldI know everyone wants to talk about the latest and greatest Twitter app, or what the Facebook killer will be, but I’ve been thinking a lot about filters lately and how much more critical they’ll become for managing our daily lives. The ability to filter information to our individual satisfaction is going to be what makes or breaks the onslaught of always-on social media.

One of the biggest complaints I get from clients and friends who join a new social network (besides the pain of setting up the profile) is the feeling of info overload. I’ve talked about how the paradigm of email has set us all up for disaster in this department, and I always come back to that Clay Shirky quote: “There is no such thing as information overload, there's only filter failure.”

In the past, we left the responsibility to others to filter our information for us in a number of ways, mostly because there wasn’t any other way to get the goods. Media organizations, through their hierarchies of gatekeepers, have determined for ages what the important stories are. Businesses have decided what demands needed to be met with the products they produced. Whenever we did get information via social means,? we could manage the incoming info because there wasn’t that much of it to handle — our networks were considerably more closed and less overlapping.

Now, with social media, we have the ability to connect with a previously unimaginable amount of stuff coming at us, often from multiple directions. And people are thus crying out for help in managing the flood. Top complaint of the day is email — if only people knew how to use filters and rules in their email programs better, heh. Facebook? gave us the ability to make lists of people and then filter the news feed based on those lists. Tweetdeck is one of the most popular Twitter apps primarly because it allows you to create groups of people to follow.

Still, there’s a mental hurdle for many of us to get over– just the mere fact that it’s now in our hands to filter everything that comes at us. We’re so used to waiting for things to be dished or pitched to us that we’re not quite sure how to make the decisions on what to filter out and what to keep in. Figuring out what works is going to be very individually based and experimental, and that’s often a painful process.

It makes me, as an info junkie and organizational nerd, exponentially more anxious to see how filters develop in the coming months and years. The semantic web is going to be particular intriguing here — when the machines learn our language, learn better how we think… are they going to be able to help us?

  • Stephen 4D Barnes
    Posted at 21:56h, 22 May

    Deanna – if you have to filter, why open yourself up to the information in the first place? If your filtering is really ‘effective’ how do you know you are getting the best possible information available to you? (because you’re not seeing the filtered out stuff after all – how do you know what you’re missing). Moreover, you only have so much time and cognitive capacity, so why not accept that information overload is essentially a function of your own choices and behaviour – things which only YOU can control. If you sign up for endless streams of information or tacitly encourage email practices which contribute to your sense of information overwhelm, how can you claim the problem is essentially hopeless? There are two types of information. No value and real value information. No value is just flotsam and jetsam. Real value is that which is both timely and which you can act upon. The trick is to relegate the flotsam and jetsam to the background (go and get it when you need it, irrespective of how it arrives in your cognition)and concentrate on the real value stuff. This lies in your hands through the choices you make.

    As for email, hey, its really simple actually.

    1 – people and the companies that employ them need to set out simple, enforced policies as regards acceptable email use (it’s for everyone’s benefit after all).

    2 – the software which people are forced to use at work should allow them to intuitively manage their next actions through the transposing of ‘action-required’ emails onto a daily planner – this means making decisions about their emails which goes beyond just sending, receiving or filing information them away.

    3 – the resulting emailing management system should anticipate hyper-linking to document management technologies, shared workspaces, CRM records as well as one touch email handling – and make it really easy for people to do all of this withing a cognitive paradigm that makes sense and with technology that is really easy to use.

    4 – email compliance and record keeping should be taken care of via silos-in and silos-out: emails hitting an inbox are there just to allow an employee to progress her work.

    The whole email and information overload debate is a red herring for the perceived lack of a truly sensible solution.

  • Leah Kopperman
    Posted at 15:50h, 26 May


    i think this is a really insightful post.

    i really like this idea of the mental barrier that we have around “too much information.” you’re right that we’re entirely used to having someone else make decisions about what’s worth seeing–so much so that we don’t even know that’s what’s going on. until people change that mind-set, i think the complaint of “information overload” will only continue to grow.