Defrag Blog

Foundational Information Overload Channels and Flow

by Eric Norlin on Jun.16, 2008, under defrag "theory"

I woke up this morning thinking about the “foundational information channels”: email, calendaring, RSS readers, flow applications (twitter). I’m placing those in contrast to foundational infrastructure (our network of contacts, digital identity, etc) - where “social networks” cross the boundary of platform and application (channel).

In that context, I came across two blog posts: One from Brad on email overload  and one from Pete on calendar silos. Both are highlighting “problems” with our foundational channels of information. Now, like Brad, email is my primary communication hub and I’m a “zero inbox” guy. And, like Pete, I get frustrated by the silo’d nature of nearly everything (and that includes calendars.

All of that leads me to the idea that maybe we need to focus on some of these foundational channels (applications) for a while. Simultaneously, though, I’m absolutely enthralled with things I hear Stowe Boyd  talking about — specifically the idea that there isn’t an information overload, so much as there is an information “flow.” Its then our imperative to get in the flow of things.

I can’t explain this nearly as well as Stowe can, but I think the basic idea gets illustrated really well by an example. Email, traditionally, treats information as a discrete chunk (object) to be acted upon: read, respond, follow-up, take further action. We know this because email threads have long been known to be an incredibly inefficient way to move any project forward. The whole idea of flow (as I’ve read from Stowe) is that if something important is out there, it will find me. Now, obviously, we have a need for both. But I think there’s something deep inside of what Stowe’s saying that could help us to really rethink how we envision email and calendars; something metaphorical; something that would reshape our whole ethos around those tools.

I haven’t got a hold of that yet, but I’m hoping to flesh that out via the Defrag agenda (interestingly, I have a call with Yori over at Timebridge tomorrow about some of these issues).

I suspect the nugget that’s there reveals not only a reshaping of the metaphors behind email and calendars, but it leads to a deep ability to bring “business intelligence” tools to bear on how we deal with the “flow.” Yep, I’m envisioning something that combines semantic stuff, tagging, social networking and discoverability into an ability to not slow the flow, but harness the sheer energy of it.

Does that sound just silly? Eh, maybe — but we’re all working on it. ;-)

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