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12/9/2010
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Fighting Real-Time Information Overload

GigaOm Net:Work Conference: Executives from Google and Jive see rising demand for attention management tools.

The next great opportunity for makers of social software may turn out to be cleaning up the mess they've created.

At the GigaOm Net:Work Conference in San Francisco on Thursday, Bradley Horowitz, VP of product management at Google, and Dave Hersh, chairman of Jive Software, both acknowledged that real-time information overload is a huge, growing problem.

"The cacophony I think is deafening right now," said Hersh, who predicted that the next wave of social technologies will promote information noise reduction.

Horowitz agreed, observing that the Web has come a long way from when it had four sports sites that Jerry (Yang) and David (Filo), Yahoo's co-founders, could rank manually. (Horowitz was formerly a VP at Yahoo.)

Fortunately, Google came along and made it possible to find the needle of information buried in the Web haystack. Abundance was no longer a liability, Horowitz said.

Now our communication channels confront the same problem. Horowitz expects information sifting technology will be applied to the social message deluge, as it was on the Web. "The concept that I could ever get through my inbox by hand is failing," he said, adding that it's not just one's e-mail inbox, but SMS messages, voicemail, tweets, and the like.

"The one thing they're not making any more of, it's moments in your life," Horowitz said. "Helping people orient their attention is really the opportunity here."

Attention management does not exactly fit in with Google's stated focus: search, ads, and apps. So let's call it passive search. But whatever it's called, it's already evident: In August, Google launched a Priority Inbox for Gmail that leverages machine learning in an attempt to sort the really important messages from less critical communiques.

"Using the system itself makes the system better," Horowitz explained.

Such systems, Horowitz believes, are where we're headed, toward a world where relevance is personal.

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