Friday, November 14, 2008

Unwanted Messages - Filtering Information

Have you noticed fewer spam messages over the past few days? According to the Washington Post, a web-hosting firm was shut down that was a major center for spam activity: Host of Internet Spam Groups is Cut Off. Email security firm IronPort report a 66% drop in spam levels on Tuesday night after the host was shut down. reported a 75% drop in spam e-mails per second.

It got me thinking about all of the unwanted messages we receive each day. Email is just one medium. Since I moved to my new job, I have a new email address. The spammers have not tracked me down yet. Inevitably they will.

Of course when I get home, I have the same problem with other communication tools.  The few important pieces of mail are overwhelmed by the credit card offers, catalogs and junk mail. I get more phone calls from telemarketers than friends.

The difference is one of cost. The incremental cost of sending out 10 million emails instead of 10 thousand emails is almost zero. It takes more time and money to make a phone call or send an item in the mail. Of course, that is what makes email so attractive for business use. It is fast and inexpensive.

Then there is also the advertisements in South Station, on the subway, and on the bus. There are the Google ads alongside my search results. There are the ads on the radio and television. There are the fundraisers on National Public Radio. There is the loud guy on the cell phone behind me.

We are in the information age and we are flooded with information. We need ways to filter the information so we can separate the information we need and care about from the unwanted messages.

Spam filters do a great job of blocking the spam. Caller ID lets me filter unwanted phone calls. Tivo lets me filter out unwanted television ads. Email rules filter the law firm alerts and updates out of my email inbox and into a place for later consumption.

The problem is not that there is too much information. The problem is that there are too few filters. We need to do a better job of filtering the incoming flow of information.

We also need to do a better job of controlling the outgoing flow of information. Do we really need to reply all? Do we really need to send that email out at 11:00 pm or can it wait until the morning? Does the message need to go by email or would be better handled through a phone call or other communication medium?

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