Daily Archives: November 9, 2012

The war on noise

George Takei believes its his right to make sure every single message he posts to Facebook gets through to his fans’ screens.

Jason Calacanis says that Facebook is in a bad war with George Takei.

I told Jason he’s wrong. What we’re really in is a war on noise.

Our computers bring us HUGE amounts of noise. On my screen right now is a new tweet every half a second. New email arrives every few seconds. It’s gotten to the point where I simply can’t answer more than about five percent of my email now. On Facebook new posts arrive every 10 seconds or so. On Quora? Every few minutes. On Instagram? New photos every few seconds on my accounts and I’m only following 300 people there. Chatter? Every few minutes a new post shows up on my screen from coworkers. And on and on.

I’ve been swimming in this noise  for a while and I’ve noticed a few things.

1. Marketers suck. Including me. Look at my big tech company list over on Facebook. Do you actually learn much?  A little, but marketers push themselves too much, and say too little.
2. No one is focused on what you want. Including me. I have a list of tech industry investors. Rich people. I want to hear from them about when they talk about investing, the economy, starting companies, trends, that kind of stuff. But do they stay focused? No. They talk about movies. Their vacations. Their kids. And more.
3.  Everyone is emotional. Including me. I have a list of tech industry VIPs. People who have changed the world. Invented Twitter. Or the Web. Or built Microsoft. Etc etc. But when they post about emotional topics like politics, religion, babies, pets, death, birth everyone goes crazy and reshares their posts.
4. Everyone has gone Gagnam Style. Including me. We love resharing. Retweeting. Talking. Liking. Pushing. Watch my tech news list and you’ll see the same story rehashed, repeated, reshaped, remashed.

We are great at generating noise.

So, what does this mean now that we’re leaving the social age and entering the contextual age?

Noise is about to get worse. A lot worse.

Why?

Sensors are generating noise. Look at the tweets coming off of people’s Nike Fuelbands. Noise.
Wearable computers will be more important. If you are wearing a pair of Google’s Project Glass wearable computers (coming within 18 months) do you want a constant stream of tweets to hit your eyes? Hell no. Even worse, if you are driving those might be a major distraction.
We’re posting more media. Look at the increase in photos on ALL services, especially Instagram. Aside, my new page on that service rocks. But you see the noise problems, don’t you? If you don’t care about my family and only care about when I photo stuff about tech, why is Instagram showing you the wine I drank, the bacon I ate, the sunset I shot, the beach I walked on?

The contextual age means we’re going to have to go to war on noise.

That means that George Takei will have to sit down and shut up. Even if I like him (I don’t, but my wife does, so I see many of his posts just because she likes them, which shares them with me) we see too many of his items. They waste our time, bring us low value compared to, say, the Economist. It’s rude that he is demanding that every one of his items gets to our screens. Really? Even when I’m driving? Even when I have a project to finish?

I’ve spent hundreds of hours studying Facebook’s EdgeRank (its noise reduction algorithms) and they are quite good. Far better than anything on Google+ or Twitter so far (or Quora, or LinkedIn, or Pheed, or App.net, or or or or or).

Here’s another way to look at it.

If you only had five minutes to read every morning, which means you could probably look at 20 items, what’s the best 20 items to show you?

George Takei, in the past 24 hours, has published seven items. Let’s say I liked 50 things that are like George. Are you saying, George, that your seven items should crowd out all other items? That’s bullshit.

I want Facebook to pick the best 20 items to show me every single time I refresh that screen. It does very well at it. Far better than Twitter and Google+ and others, so far.

Now, could the relevancy algorithms at Facebook be improved? Absolutely.  But they are the best we have so far and are showing the way into our new age of context.

I can’t wait for the war on noise to get really going.

Oh, some day I’ll tell you about why I wrote more than 1,500 Gmail filters. They throw away more than 300 emails every day. Every day. It’s the best thing I ever did for my productivity.