An Embarrassment of Riches in Digital Content

As I get ready for a trip, I found myself in front of my computer this evening picking-n-choosing podcasts to subscribe to and load on my iPod. Since I’m so busy and have so much content to prioritize and consume — and generate myself with my blog and podcast — that it’s been a few months since I really took the time to poke around iTunes and see what’s there.

Holy Schnikey! I hadn’t realized that there was such an enormous wealth of new stuff. TV news, public radio and more has flooded the iTunes podcast section. Though I should probably pay closer attention, I hadn’t and was a bit stunned.

Since I usually like thought provoking podcasts, public radio is more to my taste than alot of other content. IT Conversations is another favorite as is the Social Innovation network.

This reminded me of my post from January of last year entitled, “Information Overload: Can You See What’s Coming?” that said in part:

The river of content is flowing faster and faster. This river of content available on the internet is reaching flood stage and is in a variey of media types. As newspapers, magazines, radio and television lose eyeballs to the internet and become ever more desperate to cling to their advertisers, they are finding increasingly garish and dumbed down methods of getting the attention of the eyeball owners back (which, in my view, will only push people away faster).

As broadband continues its adoption and more people get on the internet and attempt to connect their own dots, it’s becoming exponentially more difficult to see or tap in to the collective consciousness and stay on top of changes in an industry, area of interest, or even to stay relevant in the workplace. Primarily it’s more difficult to understand change and to see disruptive technologies or business models coming…and having time to act.

Even entertainment options are accelerating. There are more DirecTV channels than I could ever watch. I’ve pared down the number of shows I TiVo since I could barely keep up with what I really wanted to watch. I recently took out a machete to my RSS aggregator to cut down the number of blogs I track (currently over 200) and news sources (35). It was becoming too much and I just felt anxiety over all of it.

In his book “The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less“, Barry Schwartz argues that the proliferation of choices essentially causes us to be paralyzed with indecision.

From Publishers Weekly
Like Thoreau and the band Devo, psychology professor Schwartz provides ample evidence that we are faced with far too many choices on a daily basis, providing an illusion of a multitude of options when few honestly different ones actually exist. The conclusions Schwartz draws will be familiar to anyone who has flipped through 900 eerily similar channels of cable television only to find that nothing good is on.

Whether choosing a health-care plan, choosing a college class or even buying a pair of jeans, Schwartz, drawing extensively on his own work in the social sciences, shows that a bewildering array of choices floods our exhausted brains, ultimately restricting instead of freeing us. We normally assume in America that more options (“easy fit” or “relaxed fit”?) will make us happier, but Schwartz shows the opposite is true, arguing that having all these choices actually goes so far as to erode our psychological well-being.

Now with user-generated content (mine included) adding to the tsunami of content choices, where should we spend our time? What gets our attention? Is all of this choice causing nothing to be important anymore since it all seems to have equal weight?

The Long Tail, narrowcasting, niche marketing, personalization, targeted advertising…all of it is designed or explains how market (i.e., content) forces are driving inefficiency out of the market by attempting to give each of us with EXACTLY what we want. But how can someone else know what we want since we might not even know until we see it? More is less since it’s all the same and ends up seeming like noise.

Does this seem like a rant? It’s not intended to be but is instead an observation though I’m still seeking answers.

Perhaps it’s social promotion in niches (e.g., Digg.com for a niche) that will ensure people like us or that think like us (or are seeking what we’re seeking) pay attention and select content that you or I would like too. Maybe it’ll be more predictive or recommendation engines (e.g., Amazon’s “People who bought this book have purchased these ones”) that will understand content associations and patterns of buying/consuming behavior and will give us a much more narrow number of choices.

Or maybe more of us will just turn it all off.

1 Comment

  1. Ed Kohler on February 24, 2007 at 7:43 pm

    Interesting commentary. I’ve found that the most interesting content often comes from niche sites. For example, I’m currently subscribe to around 250 sites in my blog aggregator, and I’m sure nobody else in the world has the same combination of sites is their reader. The only company that can truly track what interests me is the company powering the reader, and that company is Google as of late.



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About Steve Borsch

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