Fighting information overload will be a thing in 2013, says GfK

For almost two years, I’ve been thinking of ways to fight information overload. My beliefs were subject to animated discussions with colleagues and bosses at my newspaper, in France. They also informed the innovation proposal I submitted to the Knight Journalism fellowship at Stanford, late 2011. And finally, I have proof that I have not been delusional or wasting my time all these years!

Fighting information overload is actually a thing. Global market research company GfK says so. It listed “managing information overload” as one of their 6 Tech Trends 2013.

The introductory observation sounds *very* familiar:

“With email and the social feeds that followed, we increased the speed of our communications to instant. More recently, thanks to the shift to mobile, our exposure to these communications has proliferated, creating an ‘always-on’ society where interactions happen in real-time, rather than when we choose to fit them into our live.

Even when we’re not being demanded to provide real-time responses, we find our attention drawn to information streams as news breaks, conversations take place, and opinions are formed.”

This reminds me of one editor whom I discussed my project with and who assumed that the existence of this ‘always-on’ society was actual proof that the user/reader wanted to be constantly fed with content as events happened. I tried to argue that people were rather shaping their schedules and minds to follow the constantly in-flying flow of news and starting to suffer from FOMO or worse…

However, GfK noted that, lately, several “innovative new products and services have responded to this overload” – they range from Instapaper to The Little Printer, via Undrip and iDoneThis. I would add news services like Circa, Newsbound, Pocket and Summly to this list.

These tools – and the one I’m working on now – are doing nothing less than… “shaping the next stage in the evolution of information accessibility”, writes GfK.

And this represents a major challenge for content providers:

“With traditional consumption continuing to fragment and the growth of on- demand media, trying to integrate seamlessly with individual consumer lifestyles is no longer optional.”

Let’s just see how long it takes for them to figure this out… ;-)

[via GigaOm]

When news is just a zap of adrenaline

How much are we, as news consumers, responsible for the permanent news craze that seems to overwhelm us more and more? Until recently, I had completely forgotten about the term “news junkie” and the pride I used to take in calling myself that. The phrase surfaced again in a recent column entrepreneur Steven Rosenbaum published on Forbes.

In Too Much News ? he makes several compelling points – a lot of which I agree with.

1. Technology allows us to push more and more information faster and faster:

Is there really ‘more’ news than there was ten years ago – or are there just more ways to get your “breaking news”  zap of adrenaline?.

2. Like any good pusher man, news organizations know how to trick us into asking for more:

My email is full of reports like: “Well Known CBS Star Arrested”  –  with only one action required. “Who?”  I’m supposed to wonder and click the link.

3. More information makes us less informed:

Today I have trouble keeping track of the shootings. Schools and colleges, movie theaters and wedding parties. Politicians on the corner, or criminals in Times Square. Each story is presented with breaking news headlines, and powerfully scary urgency. But with a lack of context, or perspective, the shear volume of ‘breaking’ stories all meld together – and solutions seem harder to comprehend.

There is good news however. At least if you’re in the business of creating content. Indeed, Steven Rosenbaum believes that in this world, the need for good filters is greater than ever. “Those organizers – journalists – are going to beat algorithms all day lone“, he writes.

I would add: this works only if you’re actually… a news junkie! Addicted enough to news to get through the trouble of seeking out the right curators, filters, human organizers. I fear that the vast majority of users, not that hooked, will just give up on being well-informed altogether.

[via The Bureau]

Peter Laufer calls for “slow news revolution”

“It’s ok to read yesterday’s news tomorrow”, writes journalist and author Peter Laufer in a column published by the Oregonian. In it, the James Wallace chair in journalism at the University of Oregon details how our relationship to food and news are close:

We must eat in order to survive. Accurate information can be another requirement for our survival. Yet our quest for instant information has made it more difficult to find the truth and see the larger picture behind breaking events.

A realization that dawned on him with the recent mass shooting in Newtown :

When news is an important element of our societal curriculum, as in the case of the Newtown story, we should shun fragments and wait for detailed reports and thoughtful analysis once critical facts are ascertained.

Now is the time to “question the value of the perpetual fast-food-like empty-calories news that is processed to keep us addicted to it”, because some good might come out of “ruminating” more. I so agree.

This way, please, to his full column.

More on Peter Laufer.

Food for thought

Manoush Zomorodi writes about Using tech to slow down our lives at the New Tech City blog, WNYC. It seems like the holidays are a good time to take a break from and reflect on the slowing down the news cycle. And apparently the readers like it (at least at the LA Times). Yeay.

Own the weekend

“Own the weekend”. It’s a pretty nice tagline that the British newspaper The Guardian got itself to promote its weekend editions. Discovering it on a friend’s Facebook feed, I first thought they were launching a new product to help you get up to date on their great content during the weekend to better own the rest of your time off. Actually, they are just adding a “Cook” edition to their weekend publication. The video is still pretty cool and funny and features Hugh Grant. The ad was created by BBH, the agency responsible for the award-winning Three Little Pigs ad.

5 steps to catch up on news after the Winter break

A few days before Christmas, my co-fellow Andrew Donohue teased me, asking on Facebook “with everything that’s been going on, I could really use MCB’s innovation when I return. Do you think you can have it finished by Jan. 3?“.

I decided to take him up on that challenge and work out manually a prototype of the service I hope to offer to people in his situation. On January 4th, I shared with him (and my social media friends) a Google Doc, inspired by a friend’s mention of Jason Calacanis debut with Launch ticker. It listed one major event per day since his Winter break had started and a link to catch-up on the story.

newsyoumissedHere are the steps I took to get there :

  1. Read paper copy of USA Today, on January 2nd. Goal : get an overview of the topics in the news, in order to identify things that are unfolding and that one might need context for, if they missed the story that set events into motion. Stories on the fiscal cliff, Hillary Clinton’s health and North Korea stood out after an hour of reading.
  2. Check out Twitter and Google News to see what’s trending. Twitter was mostly about sports, following the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl. On Google News I confirmed that Hillary Clinton was a widely covered, as were stories on Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Syria.
  3. Check out “pictures of the week” features of several online news outlets. Objective: find out about events that happened during the elapsed time but aren’t in the headlines anymore. This is how I decided to add different moments of the days after the Sandy Hook mass shooting, such as Obama’s speech and the NRA’s news conference. I also realized with these images that protests in Egypt and the adoption of their news constitution had been a major event during the past month.
  4. Rewind major events of each week with the perfect “10 things you need to know today” feature of The Week. Goal : find what I missed. Here I narrowed my stories on Syria down to the talks between Brahimi and Assad, discovered the terrible snow storms in the North east of the US, was reminded of the resignation of the Italian Prime Minister and the death of a first Gulf war commander.
  5. Search for useful link to catch-up on the story. Depending on the topic, it was either the article of that day, a timeline or a dynamic infographic that proved to be most useful.

Here are the things I learned with this “Andy” experiment, both through my own experience and users feedback:

  • when narrowing the media offering down to ONE article per day, the user needs to know precisely the criteria used to do the selection
  • Google Docs is bad for gathering data on the number of visits
  • the catch up digest has to mix context for unfolding stories as well as brief reports of one shot events that still matter in the future
  • it would make sense to be more explicit about what the user is going to find in the catch up link
  • calendar-based catching up works for general news, but there’s demand for topic-centered catching up
  • major news outlets are still useful to understand the global agenda.