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On information overload

A few years ago, not a lot of people used RSS, and those that did, didn’t really subscribe to that many feeds. We limited ourselves to a small set of sites and sources to keep up with because of the limited nature of the tools we used (browser bookmarks, and our memory for remembering URLs). We’re now at a time when the tools exist to help us not have to remember.

This could be you, right?

My RSS reader keeps track of hundreds of feeds for me, and I’ve grown used to the fact that I’ll keep around 500 unread items there at all times (or I’d likely make no use of all that information because I’d just be skipping through it). My inbox is a constant source of distraction, with emails coming in at a crazy rate. Twitteriffic (when I dare to run it) notifies me every 3 minutes of the thoughts of around 200 people (I can’t follow more because I’d get absolutely nothing done, and I wouldn’t really be paying attention anyway).

Social networks keep letting me know that people want to get in touch: it’s either friend requests on Facebook, event updates, or new connections on LinkedIn. Last.fm keeps smacking me in the face whenever people I know recommend new music. Growl on my mac pops a notification several times a minute when any of these events takes place. The Adium duck keeps jumping on my dock because people come online, or go offline, or message me, or, I don’t know, some other apparently important thing happens in the never actually paused instant messaging world.

How do we make sense of it?

We take the next step – we create tools to clean up the mess that our current set of tools is building up. We create filters, that deliver only the information we care about, when we care about it, to our screens or phones or whatever we’re connected to the web through (our chumbys and ambient devices, our nabaztags and iphones, our buglabs or our fridges).

Our work as entrepreneurs, designers, engineers, craftsmen is to keep evolving a set of tools to relieve our brains from this huge mess. Lifestreaming, friend-feeding, micro-blogging, content-chunking, micro-formating is here to stay, but our brains can’t handle it alone.

Now do excuse me while I go clean-up my inbox, update my twitter and read up on some feeds. I think I’m still up for some information overload tonight.

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Next month, MIX08 in Vegas

Next month I’m hitting Las Vegas for MIX08. March is a pretty good conference month with ETech in San Diego (holy crap, what an ace program this year), MIX in Vegas and SXSW in Austin and although I’ve been pretty unimpressed by conferences as of late (one of the exceptions being Reboot which I was lucky enough to be a speaker at) I’m still looking forward to meeting some of the people attending Mix08.

It’s my first time at the conference so I don’t really know what to expect although I’m curious about the news on IE8, the new interactive work Microsoft has been doing on Surface and the conference’s new User Experience track, that has a few familiar faces. That, and a week in Vegas should be pretty interesting.

I find that some of the best ideas I get are on travel days (odd, I know), and I hope to catch up on some thinking and reading – the result of which should be a handful of posts, both about Microsoft and MIX as well as other stuff. Anyway, if you’re going to be in Vegas from the 3rd to the 8th of March, get in touch – I always love to meet up with some of the people reading this blog (maybe we can face-off on Guitar Hero or Rock Band, too).

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The flow of information

This post is philosophical and doesn’t necessarily carry solutions to the problems it presents. I know it’s not my usual kind of writing, but hey, it’s better to get ideas out there than it is to keep them to yourself. Tread carefully.

Brian Oberkirch just posted about the flow of information and where we’re heading to by connecting the web to the objects we carry with us daily. This topic has been on my mind since when I first heard of the Chumby about 2 years ago. Connected devices like the chumby, stuff by Ambient Devices (that I’ve never seen live, unfortunately), the iPhone and Arduino bring us closer to data that we generally pay little attention to.

These days the web isn’t something we’re always plugged into or connected to. We just tap into it when we want information – still some of us do it more than others. The web is leaking into the real world (as Matt Webb hinted at in his Movement presentation) through connected devices and services like Twitter, Dopplr (or Birdie, which we’re building around here – more on it later, promise).

There’s still barriers between now and a future where the online world and the real blend into each other completely. Brian mentions some of the problems we’re solving now like identity and usability. A lot needs to happen in the interaction world as well. The way we connect to the cloud (cloud being online data) is still open, vastly unexplored territory. We’re building devices that get us closer to the data, but I keep feeling like our use of screen-based media is often limiting. We’ll see a lot more of products like BUG labs than we will of services in the future.

My guess is we’ll have specialized devices connected to specific bits of data – much like we use our cellphones to connect to GSM networks and call people. What those will be and how they’ll look is still unknown, but it’s an exciting time to be working on platforms, devices and the web.

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We need crafted conferences

I’m a fan of conferences. They provide the right amount of networking and learning to usually warrant the price of admission. Problem is when they don’t, and more and more frequently, we find conferences that do not – we need crafted conferences. Allow me to explain what I mean by “crafted conferences”:

By crafted conferences I mean conferences that exist to educate and facilitate networking. Conferences where there are no sponsored sessions, no product sales and no “featured interviews” (because those are usually sponsored sessions anyway). Conferences where the venue allows people to converse and discuss, because usually, 90% of the knowledge is in the audience and not the stage. Conferences where the curator (or program director) exists for the sole purpose of providing for the audience’s experience, and not (only) that of the speakers and organization.

We need conferences by people who deeply care about other people, and not necessarily about the monetary outcome of the event (although I certainly understand conference organizers need to at the least, cover expenses). Finally, we need crafted conferences to overtake the crappy ones we have now.

Web 2.0 in Berlin earlier this month was a good example of a conference that was subpar (and I say this despite having been a speaker, and being friends with people behind it). The venue was poor, people couldn’t network properly, and there was at least one very blatant product pitch in the main room. Great people behind it, yet a terrible experience. Why?

Got names of conferences where your experience was great? Do talk about them in the comments!

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