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Information Overload
Sep 16, 1996 :: Michael Sippey

It's out of control. During a typical session with my email account, I'm faced with a stream of messages with first sentences that look like this...

  • Delete this message if you're not interested in buying my car.
  • Delete this message if you've found my lost statistics book.
  • Delete this message if you don't don't speak German.
  • Delete this message if you're not interested in a lecture on electronic banking.
  • Delete this message if you've already been through Powerpoint training.
  • Delete this message if you're not interested in the consulting Firm Night, a daytime visit from a consulting firm, having a consulting firm critique your resume, or acting as a guinea pig for interviewers from a consulting firm.

My classmates are, shall we say, zealous users of email. I'm currently tracking at about 80 messages a day, and about 7 of them (on average) are moderately useful. Sure, people have learned not to "reply to all," and at least they're preceding their message text with "Delete this message if," but it's almost enough to drive me off email.

OK, well, maybe its enough to force me to buy Eudora Pro.

I'm a "free" software junky. I've been using Eudora Light (the free version) for quite some time now. When the email traffic wasn't overwhelming (no, theobvious doesn't get that much feedback), it worked really well. I dial, connect, swap an outbox for an inbox. Easy as pie. But now, I'm connecting two or three times a day and grabbing 30 messages at a time. Buried in there somewhere could be a nugget, and I'd never know it. I've heard that Eudora Pro offers some message filtering features that will enable me to sort incoming mail by author, subject, priority, etc. Of course, I'd also heard of messages that get lost in some godforsaken mailbox because of a mis-written rule...

But I'm going to hold off. Simson Garfinkel's recent Packet article titled "Dead Letter Office" made me realize that I didn't know what I really wanted. And now I do. Not email by mailbox, by email by database. Ahhh, bliss. Someday I'll be able to make sense of my correspondence, dynamically moving through views of my messages by author/recipient, subject, status, mailing list, etc.

Meanwhile, Cyber Promotions and AOL are involved in a legal battle over email turf. Cyber Promotions calls their indiscriminately addressed missives to AOL users "free speech." AOL calls it "spam." The winner could be Qualcomm or another email package provider who can sell packaged advanced mail filtering functionality to AOL, just like Microsoft was able to sell Internet Explorer for advanced web browsing to AOL users.

But email's just the tip of the iceberg -- forget keeping up with the web. I'm not spending any significant time just surfing anymore. Not just because I'm busy, but because I'm afraid that if I started to look around, really look around, I'd realize that there's more out there than I'd ever have time to look at. And that would be depressing. For Chrissake, there are something like 1,000 sites added to Yahoo every day. Their digest of "cool" new sites has around 30 sites per week. (Most of them have their own domain names, which is a whole other topic of discussion.)

Affinicast is trying to be everyone's personal web filter, taking stock of your preferences, and suggesting sites which fit your media consumption profile. Affinicast hopes to help narrow the deluge of web sites through "psychographic" software. If they really want to go the whole nine yards, they should take a page from the Firefly book, and start having me rank websites I've already visited. They could even provide a customized browser with a "rate it" toolbar to enable me to rate websites for my psychographic neighbors in real time...

But I digress. A few weeks ago I wrote about some potential implications of ubiquitous computing. While we're not quite at the stage of ubiquitous web browers, we're almost certainly at the point of ubiquitous web sites. Lately, if I'm thinking about a publication or a company or a group of people, I'm more likely to assume they're on the web than not. Their mission statement, their product(s), their marketing material, their taglines, their press releases -- they're all going to be there. A doppleganger of real life.

So, then why even surf?



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