Information overload? Too many information publishers in the market?

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A client recently forwarded me an article by a consultant who took issue with others, particularly other consultants who used articles as part of their marketing strategy.

The premise was that there was simply too much information out there already, most of which was not ‘new’ and particularly heinous were people who used articles written by someone else as giveaways.

Around the same time, someone sent me an email written by someone who was venting about the horrors of having to cope with too much email.  They suggested that most people spend more time on email than on actual work.

Are they right?  Is there too much information out there? Is there such a surfeit of information that we, as a society simply cannot cope and therefore need to block out all communication in order to allow us to get our crazy lives under control?

Reading this you may be heartfelt in your agreement. I’m involved in information dissemination and although I agree that the volume of material ‘out there’ is more than any one human being can hope to cope with, I don’t believe that the solution is to cut down on the production.

My view is that the more information that is produced, the quicker and easier that information is able to be sourced and put to good use. For those readers who are over 40, you’ll remember a time when doing research meant you had to take a trip to the library.  You had to subscribe to targeted publications.  You had to phone people to ask them questions.  Getting information was time consuming and expensive.  Now, for the most part, it can be gathered while you sit at home and browse the internet.  Obviously there is some information you stil have to gather the traditional way, but, because so much is available on line, physical research is not necessarily always mandatory.

The fact is that you will never use much of what is hosted on the internet. When you research, you are looking for very specific, very segmented information as a rule.  All the other related information is not going to be of use to you, so it can be ignored. Just as when you go to the library looking for specific information, the majority of the publications will not impact you even though they fill the shelves you’re browsing.

You’d never walk into the library, take one look at the thousands of books on the shelves and yell, “Oh my goodness!  It’s too much!  It’s going to take me years to get through all this stuff to find what I need!”  No.  You’d either look in the cataloging system to find the location of what you needed, or if you didn’t know how to do that, you’d ask a librarian for help.

In the same way, when you’re looking for information on the internet, you do specific searches using different search engines and you’d read the titles and excerpts to determine which posts are worth reading.  It’s the job of the information publisher to make sure that their contribution is well listed and visible.

In the same way, email can be viewed as a curse or a blessing. Those who, like me, receive hundreds of emails a day and do not wish to read them all to discover which are of use, mostly use a fairly arbitrary scan and delete approach based on judgement of subject line and sender information.

A quick scan of the in-box reveals senders I don’t know and have no reason to want to know.  If their subject line is equally unattractive to me, I hit delete – that’s if my spam filter hasn’t already caught the email and prevented it from entering my in-box.

If the headline appears to be something I want to know about, it gets left, unopened in the in-box until I’ve dealt with everything else I have to do. Sometimes I find time to return and read the email, sometimes it simply gets deleted when I do my weekly email clean up if it no longer appears to hold too much interest.

Next on my daily schedule are emails from people I know but don’t need to deal with immediately. These get left till later in the day when I have a moment to go through them and take action if necessary.

Next I flag all emails that are both important and urgent.  These I deal with right away.  It’s usually less than 20% of all the emails I receive and they’re mostly from clients.  I respond to these right away to let them know their email has been received and noted and give them an indication of when I’ll be able to respond.  That way they know the email has arrived safely and that I’m not ignoring them.  For me, it takes the pressure off and allows me to slot each necessary action into my daily schedule based on priority and time requirement.

By handling email this way my day becomes a lot more efficient than if I were to have to communicate with all my clients by phone.  I can respond quickly without being rude and I can respond when it’s convenient for me – and they can communicate with me when it’s convenient for them.  So it works well for everyone.

I don’t sweat about the hundreds of email I receive that I end up deleting. I know I probably miss opportunities and information that may be useful, but this is the price I pay for efficiency and sanity.

The amount of information published is, as we’ve already agreed, phenomenal. But using sensible management strategies allows us to tap into what we need, when we need it.  As a consultant, I find it a blessing that other experts are publishing information that I can use to give my clients rather than having to continually re-invent the wheel.  Collaboration is part of efficient business practice.

As a writer, it makes me work harder to ensure that information I publish is well structured with the correct keywords and positioning, so that the people who will find it useful will be able to find it easily.

The fact that some of the information is not ‘new’ is not a problem at all.  It’s mostly new to my clients and useful and therefore serves its purpose well.  And often, even if they’ve seen similar information, the information I send them gives a different perspective which is helpful in equipping them to use strategies in a more informed and powerful manner.

So, no, I don’t think there are too many information publishers in the market or that email is unmanageable. I believe that it’s up to us to set our information filters to capture what is useful to us at any particular time and simply let the rest go by.

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