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Why you never see people complaining about “knowledge overload”…

photo of Sam Rose

Sam Rose
23rd January 2010


This post is not just about “quantity does not equal quality”. This is about volume of information and how it can affect decision quality. It’s also about a more scaleable and sustainable ecology and economy for your activities online.

The technology of the weblog (and more recently the microblog) have led to the emergence of an *unsustainable* set of media ecology approaches. Your ability to track, read, digest and understand blog posts cannot match the exponential volume of blogs emerging on the internet every day (even just in the subject areas that you are interested in). The paradox is that the perceived model for “success” in blogging, online community building, and representing projects and businesses online is to “blog frequently”. The idea is that you become an “information source” about particular topics. This is fine if you have a strategy for being a frequent source of information. However, if your intent is to be a source of re-usable knowledge, then focusing on frequency of posting, and statistics of people looking at your web or blogsite could become difficult to sustain.

The purpose of this blog post is to argue that blogging frequently is *not* as important as quality of the blog’s content, if the blog seeks to be a re-usable knowledge source. A second purpose is to argue that if a blog’s success in the digital medium hinges on the fleeting attention, focus and choice of other people using the internet, then it is using an unscalable and non-sustainable model for success.

What really makes this approach unscalable, and unsustainable?

The two factors:

1. Volume thresholds

2. Nature of information, and knowledge in networks

Volume of information affects decision quality

(adapted from Morville, P. Ambient Findability: What We Find Changes Who We Become. O’Reilly Media, Inc., 2005. p.165, in turn adapted from The Paradox of Choice: Why Less is More, Barry Schwartz, Ecco, 2005, p.3)

There is a threshold after which the decision-making quality of people begins to *decrease*, as the *quantity* of information *increases*.  This means that your reader’s ability to derive value from what you are publishing will tend to decrease after a certain point. Finding this threshold is a key component in successfully participating in networked ecologies. The amount of people looking at your website, or even linking to your website, are no longer as important as the amount of people successfully synthesizing what you are sharing with what they are making, sharing and using.

The nature of information, and knowledge in networks

*Data and information* in networks tends to travel and replicate exponentially. Knowledge in networks requires transformation to travel and replicate. Knowledge, as it transforms, molds itself to the world-view and patterns of understanding of the people who synthesize it from their perceptions and understanding of the systems they exist in.

So, what does this mean for you?

There can only be so many widely-followed sources of information. If you seek to be an information source, you are competing in the ecology that was described by Clay Shirky in Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality  www.shirky.com/writings/powerlaw_weblog.html You are fighting to be one of the 20% of the population that holds 80% of the wealth of the ecosystem, if you desire to be an information source in a freedom of choice ecology/economy.

A more sustainable approach for digesting, understanding, and sharing for the 80% of people who will not be one of the widely-followed blogs, is to do it in a form that others can digest, understand, and share.

This means that you could make one “post” to the internet in your entire life, that synthesizies valuable information into actual knowledge, and that it could then exist as a re-usable knowledge resource towards theory building and actual problem solving for years to come. This ONE “post” existing as information digested, understood, and synthesized into knowledge, could be more valuable than all of the information-relaying blog posts that you make in your entire life.

Richard Adler, Paul B. Hartzog, and Sam Rose comprise Forward Foundation. We are new type of think tank that combines the designing, making, and exchanging of technology with embedding literacies about how to use emerging technologies and processes successfully.

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3 Responses to “Why you never see people complaining about “knowledge overload”…”

  1. Zbigniew Lukasiak Says:

    I totally agree that we need a new ecology of information with more quality and less quantity. But this is only the starting point – the important question is why frequent is equal with success online and how this could be changed. I can see several problems here: to interpret a blog post it is helpful to know about the author so there is a natural tendency to read the same author again and again, a really insightful text requires a lot of effort to read and understand and nobody would do that for some anonymous source, I would speculate that there are also some reasons in our neuronal circuity that rewards more frequent signals than sporadic stronger signals (for positive signals).

  2. Zbigniew Lukasiak Says:

    Another complication is that you need to write a lot and get feedback from readers to become any good at it.

  3. Chris Watkins Says:

    Well put. Much blog content is more suited to a static source of information, or (even better) a slowly evolving source.

    I think a big part of the “blog frequently” idea is that it’s good for SEO… and yet the grand ruler of search rankings is Wikipedia, which is a slowly evolving source of knowledge.

    Thank for prompting me to think again about how I blog.

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