Toward a filtered or reduced reality ?

Summary : contrary to our visual environment that can be significantly improved by contextual information, our work environment is characterized by a profusion of information that makes it hardly usable. The issue is not related to a global information overflow but rather to lack of relevance, at a given moment for a given person that looks like an overflow but is not : users have to fight against flows of irrelevant information that grab their time and attention and, once done, try to find the relevant information. Some solutions can be considered to fix the problem : tools making it easier to filter an unified information flow, “analytics” allow to push relevant information according to user’s history and context and, last, the role of curators that can be at as helpful as community managers to help employees to find their way in an information maze.

Many people are thinking about what augmented reality can improve in our day to day lives. That’s true that the visual representation of our real environment is still an land that is bein explored and that lots of thing are still to be invented or discovered in this field. But what about another visual and informational environment that is the one that’s on our computer’s screens (as well as our tablets and mobile phones).

Since the quantity of information that’s being generated increases every day, that, in addition to being stocked where it’s not in anyone’s way (and where no one goes to find it), it’s now coming into flows, soon into activity streams. If all this information is not useful for everyone, a part of it is vital for someone and we’re facing what looks like information overload.

Let’s be clear : the matter is not that there’s too much information. Proof is users spend their time searching for some and complain about the irrelevance of what they get compared to what they need. Talking about overload here does not apply to a global phenomenon but an individual one and means that the purpose is not to reduce the volume of existing or received information but do in order to what’s received is useful.That will help to make the time dedicated to information processing as useful as possible and reducing the time spent to search for relevant information and locate relevant sources. Knowing our processing capacity is limited, that’s both a quantitative (not receive more information than what we can process) and qualitative (not receive useless information) issue. It seems that the second point is the key one since the reason why people are overloaded with information is because the lack of improvement on the quality side causes an increased quantity to be sure that what’s needed will be in the mass.

In short, information flows are such that the signal/noise ratio is terrible, what makes it key to make things cleared, understandable, processable and actionable. In short, a kind of filtered, reduced, expurgated reality that’s useful and usable.

What could the solution rely on ?

• Unified and filterable information flows. A single flow here each element can be actionable (answer, forward, share etc…) without leaving the flow and, most of all, easily filterable (by author, key word, project…). It’s slowly coming but it seems that very few players get the vital nature of the problem.

• Analytics that can suggest sources (people, spaces) and information according to our history but also hierarchize flows according to the same history (make some things stay longer at the top of the flow). The difference between augmented reality in our day to day lives and the tiresome nature of information at work is contextualization : information must make sense in a given context and must be proposed accordingly.

• Curators. There’s been lots of discussions on community managers these last years and, the emerging role of curator may also be key, acting like pilot fishes, helping people to find their way in an ocean on information and people to connect to.

I visited the IBM labs during last Lotusphere and lots of things they’re working on seem to go in that direction. Processing an increasing quantity of information, organize, filter and prioritize it in a way may that makes it usable, optimize the use of people’s attention are key issues. Analytics and kind of BI tools integrated in our communication tools are certainly the next essential evolution of our workspace. No doubt that, to deliver value, the next battle field is there, at least for those who have the competences and the means to invest in this field. Some recent moves and announcements seem to confirm it…

Anyway, as long as most of the workforce won’t be comfortable with a new personal approach to information processing and even once it will be done because we all have limits, it will be essential to stop focusing on information generation and sharing only but pay more attention on how to make it usable and bearable.