Making sense of your online experience for more than twenty years

How to avoid info overload on your website

Customer centric evangelist Gerry McGovern always gets me revved up with his weekly posts about being customer-orientated on websites. His recent piece about information overload really pressed my buttons, particularly this sentence:

When it comes to information, we really need to shift back to a focus on quality, not quantity.

Information overload thanks to the internet has always been an issue for me. I’ve never enjoyed the information rich media sites of the big publishers, the newspaper and television news sites, finding them over-whelming and massive time wasters. Yet the drive to stay informed often makes me re-visit such sites, time after time, with the same poor experience.

So when Gerry McGovern disagrees with technology boffins telling us the problem is not too much information but rather our poor filters, I’m reminded of the things I was taught when working in the NZ Government Printing Office and legal publishing business.

Editors, writers and, yes, librarians are meant to help us find and understand the quality information by doing some filtering for us, yet in so many ways their role seems disturbed by the internet and the world wide web. Thanks to the scroll bar you can easily create a web page so full of information that finding something interesting to read just becomes tiresome, and according to research and experience quoted by McGovern people are dis-engaging.

Overload more than economics is a reason I think the big publishers have had trouble getting people to pay for content on the internet. It’s not just because we can get it for free elsewhere, it’s because the value of published information has been reduced so much by the electronic interface, that people find it difficult to put a value on it to themselves. So they don’t. 

When everything was published on paper you had a natural constraint, a hand-brake pulling on and slowing you down. Now thanks to electronic interfaces on everything from your personal computer to your phone, publishers can just add more, and all we have to do is scroll to cope with it.

I don’t think so. We need to show more restraint. And beautiful as they are, I don’t think the iPad or the latest app technology is going to save publishing until publishers get the message people like Gerry and others are pushing. Think about your customer.

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