There is a lot of stuff on the internet.
According to Eric Schmidt, we produce more consumable content every two days than we did from the dawn of civilization to 2003 combined. It’s an overused statistic, but think about it for a second: that’s a whole lot of stuff.
A lot of people struggle with keeping up. I know many people—mostly outside Silicon Valley—that “quit” Facebook or Twitter because they deem them as distractions, or because there was “too much stuff.” Think about it though: how does one stay on top of the current news and trends when there’s literally new information every few minutes of every hour?
RSS was never popular, and if a heavy hitter like Google couldn’t bring it into the mainstream, it probably never will be. Among the tech-savvy, most people I know have quit it. Personally, there have been several occasions where I end up with over 10,000 articles due to lack of attention. Without RSS, it’s easy to feel as if you aren’t as informed on what was going on in different communities that I cared about. It’s true, though, you don’t.
The “follow anything-and-everything” mentality of content-based services today quickly instills the feeling that you follow too much: too many Tumblr blogs, too many Pinterest boards, too many Facebook friends, too many Twitter accounts. There’s so much good content that figuring out what to read, what to repin, and what to interact with takes much more thought than most people are willing to put into it. As more good content is created, the quality bar continues to rise. It becomes hard to filter by quality, and filtering by interest is still difficult, despite the many companies trying to solve the problem.
How do we deal with this problem of too much information? Is the problem that the internet is a firehose without a regulator? Are we just interested in more stuff as a culture? Is this just a side effect of Silicon Valley that isn’t felt elsewhere?
There are several startups trying to solve the problem of curating content, like Prismatic and Circa for news, and yours truly, Pinterest, for inspiration. In recent months, a new format that I call micro-news has emerged. Sites like Evening Edition and TL;DR exist to sum up what would be page-long news articles into bite-sized snippets for mobile devices, but also for sanity.
I’m not convinced that any of these are solutions in the long run. As a worldwide culture, we’ve become incredibly good at disseminating information and ideas as quickly as possible. Its not a bad thing, but we need a pressure control valve.
How can we transform the transmittal of our information from a firehose to a funnel? This is the next billion-dollar question. There will always be an imbalance between content created and content consumed. That’s fine. However, a good user experience is one where the user only sees what they are interested in. If every hot new startup just makes another feed, another “thing-to-check,” before we know it, our attention spans will become so short that we won’t be able to focus on anything.
Technology and the content that it creates should help us in our lives, not overwhelm us. Let’s design experiences that stay true to that.