I’ve resisted the urge to purchase an iPad, and thus, had not been introduced to Flipboard. I have been blown away by the experience on the iPhone and it has become the default method I now use to consume news and my social feeds. I made my brother put it on his iPad just so I could see it and the experience it creates for consuming your designated sources of information is mindblowing. It got me thinking about the approaches various companies are taking to manage information overload in the age of “oversharing”. It’s what Nova Spivack has dubbed “The Sharepocalypse“.

In short: Never before has it been so easy for so many people to share so much information. The result is a torrent of comments, photos, videos, links, articles and messages from an expanding network of people and sources.

There’s a variety of approaches to solving the problem:

  • Algorithmic – Let an algorithm determine what’s important. Spivack’s new service, Bottlenose, is an attempt at this
  • Curation – Create Twitter Lists, Google+ Circles and Facebook Groups. This runs into some problems with management beyond a few dozen people. As well, with proliferating systems, it becomes a large job to curate all your networks (Facebook, Twitter, Google, LinkedIn, enterprise systems such as Yammer and Jive, etc…)
  • Expert Curation – Pick a few authoritative sources in your industry. For example, if I read Techcrunch, am I likely to know about 95% of the important tech news of the day? Probably.
  • User Experience – Make sorting through your feeds a more pleasurable experience, for example, what I described with Flipboard, and its competitors such as Zite and Pulse. Flipping through thousands of Tweets doesn’t necessarily help me find what’s important, but damn, it’s fast, efficient and fun.

There’s another approach that some people take in response to oversharing that I’m tempted by sometimes: Opting Out. In speaking with people who opt out of much of social media, I usually find their reasons tend to mask their own incuriosity with the overgeneralization of what other users do with social platforms. That is, the reason they’ve opted out of Facebook or Twitter is not because they are too lazy to learn a new computing platform or a new communication medium, but because they don’t want to be exposed to everyone else’s oversharing.

  • “Facebook is full of lonely idiots sharing pictures of their cats”
  • “Who cares about what you’re watching on TV?”
  • “Thanks for telling me that it’s cold. As if there are not 18,000 other sources where I could have found that information.”
  • “Hey, thanks for that link to the Huffington Post article where they reported on what someone else reported on what someone else reported on what the New York Times reported on!”

In my crabbier moments I have these thoughts, but overall, I will put my faith in the various technologies and systems being created to deal with oversharing. Because rather than be annoyed by oversharing, I’m actually in awe of it. This is no joke. The amount of discipline required to overshare is tremendous, and my sense is that people who have the discipline to overshare are likely to be authoritative and useful in the subject areas they happen to be oversharing about.

Here’s an example: I have a friend who’s a marketing professional for a Web service. His professional input and perspective is something I value and admire tremendously. He tweets about 20-50 times a day. The content of his tweets could be described much more impolitely, but I will call it “inane”. It’s pure stream of consciousness drivel. The worst of what people could imagine is on Twitter: Tweets about what he’s eating, exhortations to the Toronto Maple Leafs to score goals, reporting on major news events while adding nothing of value (“OMG! Kim Jong-Il is dead!!).

But here’s the thing. Oversharing is not natural. Interrupting every single thing you do to switch applications or pull out your iPhone and tweet about it is not natural. It’s calculated. It requires discipline. My friend set himself a goal to be regarded as an authority on Twitter. In my estimation, he’s succeeded because he’s been extremely disciplined about participating. I prefer to apply my efforts elsewhere, and happen to think my social media contributions have some more substance, but who do I regard as more knowledgeable about Twitter? Him. By a mile.

I think this applies to other contexts outside the relatively narrow one of online marketing professionals. Do you know someone who tweets about every goddamn restaurant meal they eat? Do you find it annoying? But who are you going to go to for a restaurant recommendation? Is someone posting to Facebook constantly about their kids? You want them to give it a rest, but you know that you’re going to go to them about any parenting issues you may have, or a recommendation for a family friendly vacation. These people are engaged in extremely valuable behaviour. The value just isn’t immediate. But they should and will be rewarded with recognition and authority as a result of the discipline they demonstrate in adding to your information stream.

Filtering mechanisms like Flipboard and Bottlenose are tremendously useful in allowing you to filter out the seemingly useless information that otherwise clogs up your real time information stream. They need to get better and they will. But at the same time, oversharers should keep it up rather than cut it out. Most of what you post is useless right now, but with better tools, it may become very useful to me later on. So keep those cat pictures and inane observations coming :-)!!