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Summary:

As companies add social software to help employees work together more efficiently, and software makers add more and more social features to their products, there is a growing risk that workers could get overloaded, says Jive Software chairman and former CEO Dave Hersh.

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As companies add social software to help their employees work together more efficiently, and software makers add social features to existing products, there is a growing risk that workers could get overloaded by all the information coming at them, says Jive Software chairman and former CEO Dave Hersh. A big part of what companies and workers have to deal with now is simply “noise management,” Hersh says, because the amount of data coming at them is so overwhelming.

“There’s just so much information out there, and it’s coming at people at a deafening rate,” the Jive founder chairman said in a recent interview. The risk, Hersh says, is that some employees are going to start retreating from these newer tools (if they haven’t already) and take refuge in the old applications and behaviors that they are comfortable with — even if they don’t work very well. “Many people are reverting back to the things they are familiar with, such as email and face-to-face meetings,” says Hersh, because they feel overloaded by all the new tools they have to use.

The Jive founder chairman and I will be talking about these and other issues involving what we call the “human cloud” and the future of work at our Net:Work conference in San Francisco next week, at the Mission Bay Conference Center on December 9th. I’ll also be talking with Google’s vice president of product management Bradley Horowitz, as well as former Xerox PARC director John Seely Brown (the full list of speakers for the conference is here). There isn’t much time left, so be sure to get a ticket soon.

Hersh says that the increasing problem of information overload puts pressure on both companies and software makers to emphasize ease of use and the needs of users over feature-creep and the desire to have an all-in-one solution. “It’s like the TV remote problem,” the Jive founder chairman says. “Everybody has eight remotes and they are a hundred buttons on each one, so eventually people just give up.” New tools need to be designed in such a way that they make people want to use them, he says. “They have to understand inherently why they are worth using or they just won’t do it.”

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Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Andrew

  1. It never ceases to amaze me how the things that are meant to make our lives easier and make us more productive actually cause us to be less productive in the long run.

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  2. Interesting. This all leads back to the interface and user experience. I’m working with Jive right now on implementing a social network for a major health care brand and the primary issue is simplification of the Jive interface to make the user experience efficient and effective and not overwhelming. Good to see the CEO recognizes the problem of feature creep and an all-in-one solution, but it needs to bleed down to the people building the systems for clients. Now.

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  3. Considering the string of data or information available in the Internet, not to mention the increasing number of applications to do things, a future of information overload is not impossible (i.e. if we are not yet experiencing it). It seems that the development of new applications or tools is keeping up with the increasing available information in cyberspace. It makes me wonder how much of these is stored in human brains, and if these information are stored, how much of it could be accessed or recalled with preciseness. This is really an important thing to ponder on because it could affect the quantity, and most of all, the quality of work we have.

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  4. Having worked on some iPad based, internal healthcare software, I believe the issue is focus on the task. It will be quite a while before we have the knowledge to be context aware in work, but one of the biggest mistakes organizations make is artificially limiting social interaction. How do we understand the personal and the business-related with respect to work?

    Somebody needs to wrangle this stuff together, and perhaps Google with a pro-version of Gmail, could begin to look at the intertwining of Twitter, Linked-In, Facebook, personal and business chats, and email. There are only a few people I want to hear from on Facebook, so how do I focus that interaction?

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  5. I wholeheartedly agree with Nicholas – the idea is to focus on Tasks. What information overload does is make it more difficult to identify ones priorities & focus on what matters.

    I don’t necessarily agree with Dave Hersch’s view that people are falling back on the tried and comfortable because of this information overload. Email is part of the problem not the solution that people are struggling with. I believe on the contrary that there’s a pent up demand for a business solution and that as of now, people are cobbling together there own fixes… be it Google Calendar with Remember the Milk app – or considering apps like ours http://www.cohuman.com.

    This is a real issue, but looking to past technologies for a solution to a problem they created is not the way.

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  6. It’s future shock in the flesh. Work overload simply means information overload. And I have a feeling a new niche or industry would be built around “noise management” in the not-so-distant future.

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