Clay Shirky is one of my favorite commentators on the social and economic implications of the Internet. His book “Here Comes Everybody” is a must read. He recently gave the keynote speech at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York called “Information Overload is Filter Failure”.
Shirky’s take is that information overload has been around since Gutenberg invented the printing press. What has changed with the Internet is when you filter for quality. In traditional media, this filtering for quality is done by the publisher. Whether it’s a printing press or a television tower, it costs a lot of money to get started and stay in operation. To stay profitable, a publisher needs to be responsible for filtering for quality.
With the Internet, we have entered what Shirky calls post-Gutenberg economics. The cost of producing anything has fallen through the floor and you don’t have to filter for quality before you publish. The filter for quality has moved way downstream – to the user. This has helped fuel the exponential growth of information on the web. Information overload is here to stay and not only are our tools to filter information inadequate, our social systems to handle both inbound and outbound information is broken as well.
As college web professionals, we need to focus on creating credible content that is easy easy to find. As Peter Morville stated in “Ambient Findability” , findability is more important than usability. You can’t use what you can’t find.
Here is the video of Clay Shirky’s keynote at the 2008 Web 2.0 Expo:
Matthew Levy and Rachel Beanland did an excellent job of covering the Web 2.0 Expo on both Twitter and at their web site He Types She Talks. Mike wrote this great summary of Shirky’s speech and the implications for higher ed. I’m planning on attending the Web 2.0 Summit in San Fransisco in November. It should be quite a show.