Thursday, April 8, 2010

Solution for Too Much Information

Many organizations deploy content management solutions to stop the flood of content in which they are drowning. They deploy content management solutions ranging from document management to social media, to deal with this challenge. And most of these offerings have been designed following the same principles as in the paper world – from user experience, content assets are basically objects that reside in containers – folders, directories, or tables.

Initially, the containers appear to work great as they are intuitive to navigate. But as soon as any folder contains more than a couple dozen objects, it becomes difficult for humans to browse through. Finding a document or microblog post in a container with over 100 other objects can become a very tedious task requiring time and concentration.

But wait, you might say, isn’t search supposed to solve this problem? Yes, it does, but only when it returns a single and accurate result. That happens in some applications when searching for an unambiguous piece of data such as customer account number but that assumes we know what we are searching for. As soon as a search query results in more than a dozens of hits, the result set becomes just as difficult to review as is browsing through a container. Search does not solve the container problem.

I’d argue that this problem hasn’t been solved today but we can see some approaches today. One is the best practices approach mimicking the paper world by separating important objects from the noise. This is mostly manual and its aim is to keep the ‘important stuff’ container down to a small number of objects. Another approach is emerging now – the use of content analytics and visualization technologies that can automatically classify important content and expose it to the user in relevant context, i.e. via faceted navigation or tag cloud based on dynamically generated content clusters.

Needless to say, I am a big fan of the automated approach. While still in its infancy, content analytics might be finally a way we could deal with the greatest challenge of our time – too much information.

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