Information Overload: Several Different Problems Under a Single Name

I want to thank everyone who participated in the information management survey that I posted at the start of the year (link).  The survey was long and complex, but more than 400 of you responded to it.  I know you've got a busy life, and it was very nice of you to help.

Your responses helped to shape the work we're doing on Zekira, the new app being developed by the startup I'm working on.  I have posted a summary of the survey findings here (link).  I know you read Mobile Opportunity for tech industry commentary, so I'm going to continue to blog on that subject here (hopefully more frequently).  I will post Zekira-related information at the Zekira weblog.  If you're interested in information management issues, I hope you'll visit us there.

I think some of the survey results will be interesting to folks here, so let me give you a quick summary of the highlights.

In the tech industry, we talk a lot about information overload, but we haven't defined it very well.  What I learned from the survey is that info overload means something slightly different to every person.  It's not a thing, it's a range of problems caused by dealing with more information than you can hold in your head.

For some people the problem is too much e-mail.  For others it's too many meetings.  For still others, the biggest problem is finding a way to access the archive of old files and information they have accumulated over the years.

Some of you -- I guess I should say some of us -- have amassed truly awesome personal archives of information.  Literally terabytes of data in some cases.  Now if only we could get the information back out of them.

A few statistics on information overload:

--More than 40% of the respondents said they feel overwhelmed by the amount of information in their lives.
--About half of the respondents experience information overload several times a week, and about 15% experience it several times a day.
--20% of the respondents receive more than 25,000 e-mails every year.
--A quarter of the respondents receive more than 100 text messages a day.
--A third of the respondents have saved more than 100 gigabytes of business files in their personal archives.

One of the biggest challenges in creating a product to help with information overload is figuring out where to focus it.  Which specific problem(s) do you want to solve?  Which people care about those problems?  And how do you put a dent in those problems with a startup's resources?

In the next few weeks we'll be talking about how we answered those questions.  You can follow our progress at the Zekira weblog.  And you can read more about the survey results here.

And again, many sincere thanks for your help.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming.


Arjun said...

Is information-overload really a function of information?

Michael Mace said...

Thanks for asking, Arjun.

I think it's a function of too much information accumulated over time. The brain has some finite limits to how many pieces of information it can retain. Surpass that limit, and by my definition you're overloaded.

The interesting thing (to me) is how predictable the symptoms of info overload are. It's not like people just get randomly confused; what happens is that they start losing bits of almost-remembered information. That tip-of-the-tongue feeling is a classic sign of info overload.