November 08, 2008

You Control Your Online Noise Velocity

With an ever-growing number of applications out there enabling you to get near-instant access to news stories, friends' status updates, and social networking activity, many people are feeling panicked. A not too uncommon refrain I've seen is that there is too much "noise", and this fear of noise is what is holding back the growth of some services, or stopping people, who may have already chosen one they liked, from signing up to more news sources and social networks.

But the authors of these services aren't in the business of telling you how you should consume your data. What the best services have done is given you the flexibility to choose how much data you have at your fingertips, how quickly you want to get it, and in what form. And just because a popular site like Twitter or FriendFeed may be turning on features that enable a more real-time, firehose effect, and can now be found on your mobile phone or your IM client in no way means you need to sign up, or turn your life over to the updates.

Mark Evans, a sharp Canadian blogger, writes today, Help, We’re Being Digitally Bombarded, saying "consumers of digital services and content are being swamped, and madly scrambling to keep up." He echoes the comments of Erick Schonfeld, who in his coverage of FriendFeed's new IM tool said, "I need less noise in my life, not more noise."

I get that Mark and Erick aren't going to turn on those features right away, and most won't. Mark specifically hasn't been enamored by FriendFeed thus far, saying "I don't know why FriendFeed hasn't resonated with me," in a previous post. (Has Friendfeed Stalled?) But in my opinion, services whose product is essentially information and updates from users should be able to turn up the speed as fast as possible, or let you slow it down if you aren't interested. And that's what has happened here.

There will always be a core element of users on the edge who love the newest, fastest features. I find FriendFeed's real-time updates interesting during peak times, but prefer to walk through lists one by one most days. I also don't run any Twitter client, so I don't look at friends' updates as they flow by. I read my Google Reader feeds in quick bursts, rather than leaving the applications open all day. And on top of each of these workflow issues, you always have control.
  1. You control how many feeds you sign up to.
  2. You control how many friends you add.
  3. You can filter how many services you see.
  4. You can choose where you access the result.
I've written about the issue of noise a few times before, of course.

In April, I said, How You Handle the Information Overload Is Up to You. In August, I wrote, There is No Social Media Overload, and also in April, I outlined My Social Media Consumption Workflow. In the last six-plus months, my social media consumption workflow hasn't changed much. I added socialmedian and to the mix, but I am in no way overwhelmed with noise and its velocity because I know I am in control, and I use filters to show the best data from the best people.

I am all for the information providers giving us the keys to the equivalent of a Ferrari, but if we choose to motor along in a Toyota instead, that's absolutely our call. Just be on the road, and don't give up your license.