Stopping information overload in its tracks

It used to be said that the only certain things in life are death and taxes. I think most of us can add a third to that list: too much information.

November 15, 2013

By Pieter Streicher, managing director BulkSMS.com

It used to be said that the only certain things in life are death and taxes. I think most of us can add a third to that list: too much information. We are constantly connected, constantly reachable, and it becomes very difficult and time-consuming to filter the important, need-to-know information from the deluge of advertising and cat videos.

Interestingly, most communication channels have built in characteristics that intentionally or unintentionally limit, to a greater or lesser extent, the amount of abuse a channel can manage.

Blacklists

Let’s start with email. Anyone in the world can send you an email at very low cost and since it can be automated, email is the most vulnerable to the problem of communication overload. Controlling unwanted email works on a blacklist or content filter basis, where the user can either manually or automatically mark certain emails as junk and senders as spammers.
The problem with this however, is the high chance of false positives. If emails you want to receive are mistakenly being marked as spam, you risk missing them all together or you change your spam settings and risk being flooded with unwanted mail again.

Whitelists

On the flipside, social networks such as Facebook and Twitter work on a whitelist basis. No one can contact you until you agree that they can by friending them or following them. There are some problems with this though too: we’ve all got a friend who bombards us with requests to like pages, play games or just generally overshares inappropriate information. And social decorum prevents us from unfriending these people. What’s more, as these networks are under increasing pressure to monetise, promoted posts, ads and even experiments with paid for inbox messages to people you aren’t connected with. Most recently Twitter has relaxed its direct message rules – you can direct message people even if you aren’t mutually following each other.

Another disadvantage to whitelisting is that it can prevent you from receiving information you want to receive from people you don’t know. It tends to enforce something of a social echo chamber – the online equivalent of a small village.

Cost

SMS, on the other hand, has a fairly hefty – relatively speaking – price tag attached to it. It is also limited in terms of the content you can send. Ironically this is what makes SMS so effective. IP-based communications channels are overloaded for that very reason, that there is little cost barrier to entry. Compare the amount of email spam to SMS spam you receive every day, for instance.

While it’s not perfect, SMS uses price as a filter while email has to employ filters such as firewalls and content filters to try to deal with spam. One of the significant benefits of this is that SMS continues to see one of the highest levels of reliability and delivery of all business messaging channels – there is no chance your vital message is going to get caught in an over-zealous spam filter.

This makes SMS ideal for alert-based messaging. It is fast, non-congested, and likely to be read immediately by the recipient.
The benefits of SMS include:

  • Fewer messages are sent so the ones that are, are more likely to be read.
  • As well as a beep when a new message arrives, many smartphones also display SMS content on the lock screen – so with a quick glance the recipient can get the gist of the message.
  • SMS is more reliable than IP-bases mediums, so for last minute or critical messages it is the best medium.

This highlights how important it is to choose the correct channel for different types of communication, both as a sender and receiver. For instance, you probably want to receive your bank statements by email, but get your one-time passwords by SMS.

Moral of the story? Understand how each communication channel works, and use these characteristics to reduce information overload.