February 05, 2015

Information overload can be a problem

Information overload can be a huge problem, but 'finishable products' might be able to solve it. Credit: Leo Hidalgo / Flickr Creative Commons

It’s easy to get lost in the Internet. Just ask anyone who went to Wikipedia to quickly determine how many years Putin has been in power and then found themselves, three hours later, staring bleary eyed at a biography of Momofuko Ando, the inventor of instant noodles. (Just to clarify, the ‘anyone’ in that scenario is me).

This avalanche of online content can be a problem, especially for news organizations trying to do their primary job — namely, informing their (increasingly busy and distracted) audience. Listicles are one solution, but they don't solve the whole 'I never get to the last paragraph of a really good article' thing.

“As news organizations, we’re always thinking about how we can give people that sense that they’ve finished something, that they don’t have to keep going deeper and deeper into this sea of online content," says Sarah Marshall, a social media editor for The Wall Street Journal.

Marshall argues that the feeling of completion is something important to cultivate — that it's even part of our nature to get a little kick or jolt when we've finished a task.It’s one of the main reasons a reader comes back to a newspaper or blog, to keep feeling that sense of accomplishment.

This feeling was easier to come by in the age of newspapers and magazines, when there weren’t thousands of articles and blog posts and videos of cute red pandas vying for everyone’s attention. You could finish a magazine, put it in your recycling bin, and that would pretty much be it. 

Marshall believes the challenge of creating a 'finishable product' is one that news organizations can meet. “One of the solutions is around apps, using tech more smartly; you could have a very newspaper-like app, or an app that gives you the twenty most important stories at that moment.”

The latest tech can be used to more effectively curate news for individuals, to make sure you get the most out of your time. Sites like Longform and Longreads already do this, with a focus on longer journalism and content. Apps like Yahoo News Digest and Circa News compress the news of the day into a few articles. Perhaps tech like this can make it easier to not get lost in the Internet, because even if you start by reading a fascinating article about why a sense of completion is important for news organizations, it’s still easy to end up watching videos of cute red pandas.

Sarah Marshall, Culture, news, media

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