The Forgotten Filter

April 19, 2010

I heard it again today – a colleague protested: “There’s too much information!”

Call it what you will:  “information overload”, “drinking from a fire hose”…  however you phrase it the complaint is universal.  And so are ideas for how to manage the deluge.   One of the key tools is filters, and by filters, I don’t mean the ones in your email inbox, but the incredibly perceptive, flexible filter of the human mind.

Experience and awareness of goals and needs will go a long way toward effective filtering when you try to decide which of the 200 links coming in on your twitter feed are actually worth clicking on, let alone which ones are worth reading in detail. But a filtration system on one end of the information stream will only be able to do so much.

Think about the water system – you may have a filter on your tap at home, but that filter is designed with the assumption that there are some really substantial filters “upstream” at the water company.  That upstream filter is critical; it can remove a lot of materials that would otherwise quickly overwhelm the downstream filter at your kitchen sink.

A key to reducing the information overload for our employees or clients is to work on building our own “upstream filters”.  This isn’t a new idea.  Years ago, in the early days of listservs, high membership lists would periodically send the users a reminder: “Before you post, ask yourself:  do 500 other people need to read this?”  That’s still a valid question, and businesses using social media internally or externally can benefit from applying it.  Sometimes that email, post, or tweet is relevant or will build relationships, but other times, it probably really only needs to go to a few people, not to a whole list of followers.

There are fantastic opportunities for serendipity in the unexpected things that are buried in the information streams;  some good upstream filtering would do a lot to improve the signal to noise ratio and make those hidden treasures easier to find.

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