Monday, October 12, 2009

A relevance rank for communication

Nick Carr writes of our communication hell, starting with "the ring of your phone would butt into whatever you happened to be doing at that moment" and left you "no choice but to respond immediately", going through false saviors such as asynchronous voice mail and e-mail, and leading to "the approaching [Google] Wave [which] promises us the best of both worlds: the realtime immediacy of the phone call with the easy broadcasting capacity of email. Which is also, as we'll no doubt come to discover, the worst of both worlds."

In all of these communications, the problem is not so much the difference of synchronous or asynchronous but the lack of priority. Phone calls, voice mails, e-mails, and text messages, all of these appear to us sorted by date. Reverse chronological order works well as a sort order when either the list is short or when we only care about the tip of the stream. Otherwise, it rapidly becomes overwhelming.

When your communication becomes overwhelming, when there is just too much to look at it all, you need a way to prioritize. You need a relevance rank for communication.

The closest I have seen to this still is an ancient project out of Microsoft Research called Priorities. This project and work that followed ([1] [2]) tried to automate the process we all currently do manually of prioritizing incoming communication. The idea was to look at who we talk to, what we talk to them about, and add in information such as overall social capital to rank order the chatter by usefulness and importance.

Going one step further, not only do we need a relevance rank for communication, but also for all the information streaming at us in our daily lives. We need personalized rankers for news, communications, events, and shopping. Information streams need to be transformed from a flood of noise to a trickle of relevance. Information overload must be tamed.

For more on that, please also see my Dec 2005 post, "E-mail overload, social sorting, and EmailRank", and my Mar 2005 post, "A relevance rank for news and weblogs".

1 comment:

Jeremy Horn said...

I agree with you completely! I have been writing about Gmail the past few weeks, the pros and cons, and one of the biggest problems of of products like Gmail is Information Overload and no good way to get the most important information to float to the top, nor the ability to zero in on what is being sought or what really matters. I plan to delve deeper into the Information Overload issue as it relates to Gmail more next week, but until then, please take a look and enjoy the series thus far...


Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy