What I hate about real-time web (your productivity goes to hell)

For the past 12 hours I’ve had friendfeed running, along with another secret tool that’s coming in May that shows me news updating in real time, and another screen is running Tweetdeck here.

This is powerful stuff, I can talk with the world and see reactions coming in live. We’ve turned the Web from something that took weeks to discover new sites to a big chat room that pushes items at you in crazy fast manner and moves them down the screen.

More and more geeks are complaining to me that they can no longer keep up with Facebook, Twitter, friendfeed, and all the other things.

Linda Stone defined this problem as continuous partial attention.

I think it’s worse than that. Continuous partial inattention. I dare you to open up the new friendfeed in a window next to your work, point it at the aggregation of all the people I’m following, and try to get any work done.

Now, some of you are saying “well, unfollow.” But there’s something interesting for me in seeing all sorts of little conversations that hundreds or thousands of people are having.

The thing is I +can’t+ unfollow. Why not? You might say I’m addicted. Better people than me already have.

But there’s no going back for me. I will not give up this new world.

That means that we need new skills to deal with this new world.

One new skill? We now will share filters. I shared one with you in another post. Yesterday there was a big earthquake in Italy. Here’s a filter to help you find all the news about it. You can write me filters that will bring other things to my attention that I might miss in the stream of noise.

Other skills? We’ll need to build new news aggregation sites, like the “trending” feature on Twitter Search or Techmeme that will find the news “needles” in the stack of noise “hay.”

But right now we’re entering a period of transition. One where some of us will not be able to cope. Or we’ll be sucked in so deeply that we suffer career or family consequences. I’m struggling with the balance here myself.

I don’t know the answers here, other than to know that this new world does have its problems.

Published by

Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, Scoble travels the world looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology for Rackspace's startup program. He's interviewed thousands of executives and technology innovators and reports what he learns in books ("The Age of Context," a book coauthored with Forbes author Shel Israel, has been released at http://amzn.to/AgeOfContext ), YouTube, and many social media sites where he's followed by millions of people. Best place to watch me is on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/RobertScoble

Comments

  1. It’s clear, no one has a data problem anymore. Filters are only half the solution. The value of analysis and actionability has increased dramatically.

  2. It’s clear, no one has a data problem anymore. Filters are only half the solution. The value of analysis and actionability has increased dramatically.

  3. Thanks for mentioning the earthquake. I’m in Rome and I was waken this night by my bed that was moving… not too pleasant,I should say.

    Luckily, I was not in the most affected area, but we had many losses in the area of Abruzzo.

  4. Thanks for mentioning the earthquake. I’m in Rome and I was waken this night by my bed that was moving… not too pleasant,I should say.

    Luckily, I was not in the most affected area, but we had many losses in the area of Abruzzo.

  5. Some of what you’re referring to above is a growing sense of Social Media Fatigue that is spreading through the internet, and you are absolutely correct in saying that Filtering is needed. Indeed, I think that Filtering may just be the next big opportunity as people are simply being bombarded with too many messages from too many services.

    If you’re interested how this will impact Twitter, see my Twitip post on Twitter Fatigue at http://tinyurl.com/cgyq8v.

    Love to hear see your comments.

  6. Some of what you’re referring to above is a growing sense of Social Media Fatigue that is spreading through the internet, and you are absolutely correct in saying that Filtering is needed. Indeed, I think that Filtering may just be the next big opportunity as people are simply being bombarded with too many messages from too many services.

    If you’re interested how this will impact Twitter, see my Twitip post on Twitter Fatigue at http://tinyurl.com/cgyq8v.

    Love to hear see your comments.

  7. And most important, we should start thinking of ways to port these filters, groups and preferences. Recently i wrote about the need of extending the POrtable COntacts (Google) beyond contact data, and extend to the way we control our lifestreams.
    It should define not only the how often, but also to whom, when and where. Walled gardens are fine for those services, but terrible for users once they intend to easily setup the way they manage the “continuous partial attention”.

    If your to be released tool is any good, try to think of portable filters. You users would thanks you.

  8. And most important, we should start thinking of ways to port these filters, groups and preferences. Recently i wrote about the need of extending the POrtable COntacts (Google) beyond contact data, and extend to the way we control our lifestreams.
    It should define not only the how often, but also to whom, when and where. Walled gardens are fine for those services, but terrible for users once they intend to easily setup the way they manage the “continuous partial attention”.

    If your to be released tool is any good, try to think of portable filters. You users would thanks you.

  9. Wow… your Friendfeed is like watching a windows event loop. You definitely need something that ranks the tweets (ala GoogleRank). Perhaps based on who follows the person tweeting, perhaps based on the responses, perhaps based on simularities to keywords that interest you. Definitely lots of room for improvement here since this is definitely no way to use Friendfeed.

    Hmmm.. could this be your new venture?? ;-)

  10. Wow… your Friendfeed is like watching a windows event loop. You definitely need something that ranks the tweets (ala GoogleRank). Perhaps based on who follows the person tweeting, perhaps based on the responses, perhaps based on simularities to keywords that interest you. Definitely lots of room for improvement here since this is definitely no way to use Friendfeed.

    Hmmm.. could this be your new venture?? ;-)

  11. It is incredibly hard to stay productive for me, and I only follow 100 people on twitter. I have to just shut it off to get any work done, but I do think about being able to just let the data wash over me as I reach a state of mild attention to everything. Almost godlike, especially in the ineffectiveness it creates.

    Anyone think god might have created the universe and then been paralyzed by the sheer amount of information he had to take in?

  12. It is incredibly hard to stay productive for me, and I only follow 100 people on twitter. I have to just shut it off to get any work done, but I do think about being able to just let the data wash over me as I reach a state of mild attention to everything. Almost godlike, especially in the ineffectiveness it creates.

    Anyone think god might have created the universe and then been paralyzed by the sheer amount of information he had to take in?

  13. Continuous Partial attention…*slaps forehead* and I thought I was developing ADHD or something. I can only imagine what it’s like to follow so many streams all at once. I’m following only a trickle in comparison and already it’s becoming difficult to stay focused on any given task. Filtering will be useful to quiet the noise and find those golden nuggets of wisdom but eventually, we’ll need filters to filter our filters.

    As you say Robert, this is a transition period and we better hang on because this is going to be a quick shift. At least for some of us… In my part of the world many people still can’t get dialup access… I’m still teaching people how to send email and open attachments! No, I’m not in a third world country, I’m in Quebec about 1 hour north of Montreal… These people are not ready for the real-time web and in many ways, neither am I. But I’m hooked because I know there is tremendous value in it. I am convinced that we are making the world a better place, one conversation at a time.

    It boggles the mind and it’s one wild ride but I love this new world and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

  14. Continuous Partial attention…*slaps forehead* and I thought I was developing ADHD or something. I can only imagine what it’s like to follow so many streams all at once. I’m following only a trickle in comparison and already it’s becoming difficult to stay focused on any given task. Filtering will be useful to quiet the noise and find those golden nuggets of wisdom but eventually, we’ll need filters to filter our filters.

    As you say Robert, this is a transition period and we better hang on because this is going to be a quick shift. At least for some of us… In my part of the world many people still can’t get dialup access… I’m still teaching people how to send email and open attachments! No, I’m not in a third world country, I’m in Quebec about 1 hour north of Montreal… These people are not ready for the real-time web and in many ways, neither am I. But I’m hooked because I know there is tremendous value in it. I am convinced that we are making the world a better place, one conversation at a time.

    It boggles the mind and it’s one wild ride but I love this new world and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

  15. Looking at Twitter and friendfeed with the thought: “I have to keep up,” contributes to a sense of “vigilance,” and the stress that comes along with that. Keeping the windows open ALL THE TIME, on the desktop, while attempting to be “productive” with coding or writing or other tasks, is sort of like going snowboarding and talking on a cell phone/picking up text messages. The risk while snowboarding is that you’ll hit a tree. The risk while working on productivity related tasks is that — you’ll hit a tree (metaphorically). I have come to *love* Twitter. I choose when to check in, scan, read, follow links, and I choose when to focus on something else. When thinking the thought, “I have to keep up,” I question it and contradict it — keep up with what? I don’t have to keep up… as a way of unraveling the stress around that thought.

  16. Looking at Twitter and friendfeed with the thought: “I have to keep up,” contributes to a sense of “vigilance,” and the stress that comes along with that. Keeping the windows open ALL THE TIME, on the desktop, while attempting to be “productive” with coding or writing or other tasks, is sort of like going snowboarding and talking on a cell phone/picking up text messages. The risk while snowboarding is that you’ll hit a tree. The risk while working on productivity related tasks is that — you’ll hit a tree (metaphorically). I have come to *love* Twitter. I choose when to check in, scan, read, follow links, and I choose when to focus on something else. When thinking the thought, “I have to keep up,” I question it and contradict it — keep up with what? I don’t have to keep up… as a way of unraveling the stress around that thought.

  17. While stream are great … what we need in life really is a beam :) … of course, not a beacon!! Relevancy and discovery are at least as important as recency1

  18. While stream are great … what we need in life really is a beam :) … of course, not a beacon!! Relevancy and discovery are at least as important as recency1

  19. This technology is not helping. It’s biting your butt – Remember that GTD tip with email – check every 2-3 hours! You could do that with Friendfeed, twitter, facebook, whatever – I could anyway and I do

  20. This technology is not helping. It’s biting your butt – Remember that GTD tip with email – check every 2-3 hours! You could do that with Friendfeed, twitter, facebook, whatever – I could anyway and I do

  21. You know what’s the pits? Trying to stay on top of this new world, as someone who’s trying to stay on top of most social media … yet not being allowed to have the means to do so (I’m talking work filters). Especially if said work wants you (meaning me) to stay on top of such things.

  22. You know what’s the pits? Trying to stay on top of this new world, as someone who’s trying to stay on top of most social media … yet not being allowed to have the means to do so (I’m talking work filters). Especially if said work wants you (meaning me) to stay on top of such things.

  23. Why is it so important to be bombarded with information? It’s just an obsession, and unhealthy one at that. We’ve all turned into Number Five from Short Circuit. “Need more input! Need more input!”

    If you *work for* the internet, then it’s all a good thing, because then the internet will define your day, and set your agenda. However, we either work for ourselves or for bosses, and we or they should be setting our agenda.

    How much of what comes through on twitter, friendfeed et al is really relevant to our work today?

    That’s the filter you need on these things. Get rid of the noise and cut it back to what’s relevant today, to what I’m working on *now*.

    Yes there was an earthquake in Italy. But what can you do about it by having up to the second knowledge about it? It’s not important to what you should be doing now. Leave it til tonight, and watch the news or read the paper (online).

    Imagine if you could hear everyone on the planet talking at once? That’s what twitter etc are giving you. Sounds crazy, really. Imagine if you could cut it back to just those you wanted to listen to? It’d still sound pretty crazy even with only two or three people talking at once.

    What you need is a filter that is a visual non-textual interface. So instead of seeing the messages, you’d see, for example, colored bubbles (or a stacked bar graph). Each bubble would represent a topic or theme as defined by you (e.g. general news, general IT, iPhone, WWDC, world news, breaking news etc). Bubbles would be relative in size to the amount of chatter on the topic. Then you’d just glance. If a bubble started to expand you might click on it to see what the activity is all about. This way it would be less distracting coz you wouldn’t be reading everything, merely monitoring levels of activity. Another ay could be with a live real-time tag cloud, where you define what tags you want to follow.

  24. Why is it so important to be bombarded with information? It’s just an obsession, and unhealthy one at that. We’ve all turned into Number Five from Short Circuit. “Need more input! Need more input!”

    If you *work for* the internet, then it’s all a good thing, because then the internet will define your day, and set your agenda. However, we either work for ourselves or for bosses, and we or they should be setting our agenda.

    How much of what comes through on twitter, friendfeed et al is really relevant to our work today?

    That’s the filter you need on these things. Get rid of the noise and cut it back to what’s relevant today, to what I’m working on *now*.

    Yes there was an earthquake in Italy. But what can you do about it by having up to the second knowledge about it? It’s not important to what you should be doing now. Leave it til tonight, and watch the news or read the paper (online).

    Imagine if you could hear everyone on the planet talking at once? That’s what twitter etc are giving you. Sounds crazy, really. Imagine if you could cut it back to just those you wanted to listen to? It’d still sound pretty crazy even with only two or three people talking at once.

    What you need is a filter that is a visual non-textual interface. So instead of seeing the messages, you’d see, for example, colored bubbles (or a stacked bar graph). Each bubble would represent a topic or theme as defined by you (e.g. general news, general IT, iPhone, WWDC, world news, breaking news etc). Bubbles would be relative in size to the amount of chatter on the topic. Then you’d just glance. If a bubble started to expand you might click on it to see what the activity is all about. This way it would be less distracting coz you wouldn’t be reading everything, merely monitoring levels of activity. Another ay could be with a live real-time tag cloud, where you define what tags you want to follow.

  25. @Chris – I couldn’t agree more with your assessment. I suspect that Robert falls into the unique class of users who “Follow the Internet”, so perhaps being bombarded continuously is good for him, but for the rest of us we really need to keep focused on what is necessary to perform our daily jobs.

  26. @Chris – I couldn’t agree more with your assessment. I suspect that Robert falls into the unique class of users who “Follow the Internet”, so perhaps being bombarded continuously is good for him, but for the rest of us we really need to keep focused on what is necessary to perform our daily jobs.

  27. You know the answer, because you are applying this rule already in TweetDeck. The number of datas will continue to grow, this is a fact. So the only way to filter these datas is to follow a certain amount of people, or to group the ones you trust more. Loic did something very interesting when he decided to unfollow all his twitter followers. You said that you were grouping the 200 most important persons in TweetDeck. Actually I do not see any other method than filtering by person you trust.

    For example, I haven’t used Google reader for a while (1 week ;-) because we were in a rush. The most intersting article I read where the article my friends shared with me in Google Reader.

  28. You know the answer, because you are applying this rule already in TweetDeck. The number of datas will continue to grow, this is a fact. So the only way to filter these datas is to follow a certain amount of people, or to group the ones you trust more. Loic did something very interesting when he decided to unfollow all his twitter followers. You said that you were grouping the 200 most important persons in TweetDeck. Actually I do not see any other method than filtering by person you trust.

    For example, I haven’t used Google reader for a while (1 week ;-) because we were in a rush. The most intersting article I read where the article my friends shared with me in Google Reader.

  29. I just read your main comment on the front page and since I own a few tech blogs I’m going to heed your advice about catering to the shiny applications for main street. I think that’s much more interesting and real world in any case……so well said to you good sir.

    Andrew Blachut
    Australia

  30. I just read your main comment on the front page and since I own a few tech blogs I’m going to heed your advice about catering to the shiny applications for main street. I think that’s much more interesting and real world in any case……so well said to you good sir.

    Andrew Blachut
    Australia

  31. […] pieces of news. This is information overload that is hard to handle, as Robert Scoble put it on his blog. He called it “Continuous partial inattention” as you cannot follow people and get things done […]