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3 Tips to Help You Cope with Information Overload

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When the amount of information and content competing for our attention increases exponentially, the key skills to maintaining sanity and balance will be focus, filtration, discipline and self-limitation. And online platforms have no interest in helping you with this task.

So you clicked. You stumbled upon the title of this link on one of your social feeds – it sparked your curiosity, and you decided it might be worth a few seconds of your time. Most likely you have already done the same thing many times today, scrolling down your Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or LinkedIn stream; clicking, scanning and clicking the ‘back’ button again.

We feel tired and overloaded, but the fear of missing out (FOMO) forces us to click, read and check every notification we get.

I’m struggling with this, just as everyone else, and I’ve started my own, personal battle with the problem. Today I wanted to share with you my three rules of thumb that have helped me to cope. They might be useful to you as well.

1. CLICK WISELY, AND IGNORE RELENTLESSLY

Every day, you make thousands of small decisions online when clicking, watching, sharing and commenting.

Your every action online is measured, ‘cookied’ , and later analysed and categorised to create your demographic and interest profile. And despite all the recent NSA buzz, I don’t mean it in an evil way. Most of your online behaviour has no use to the government – it ends up in someone’s Google Analytics. But you constantly provide feedback to anyone who’s listening.

Media companies, bloggers and businesses meticulously measure these stats, and react accordingly. If they do their job well, they’ll make ‘data-driven’ decisions, namely, invest more resources in what works. They will provide us with content that’s ‘engaging’, more of what we want. You might complain about the diminishing quality of content and news online, but we get what we ask for.

Contrary to what people say, the majority of us want ‘informational McDonald’s’ – a quick, sensational kick of easily digestible ‘news': don’t make me think; give me tips and tricks, and a 4-hour working week.

And the Web is happy to oblige – we get more of what we click on.

If you see anything you disapprove of or disagree with, the best strategy is to just ignore it with all means possible.

Don’t ‘like’ those sensational link-bait articles – ignore them; hate comments – ignore them, don’t even lurk to check what’s behind that catchy headline, because your click will get recorded anyway. If you disagree, don’t waste time expressing your disapproval (negative comments, reshares, etc.), because you’re generating pageviews and helping to spread whatever you’re against. Most of the time, controversy is artificially generated by someone to troll, divide and spark conflict.

It’s not easy either, because we’re wired to respond to anecdotal and sensational news, but I’m slowly learning to ignore more and more information online. Most of the time its just noise, anyway. Consciously make space for the truly relevant stuff you care about.

Click, spread and share stuff you’d like to see more of. It doesn’t always get instant recognition and won’t go viral. That’s fine too – it’s better to connect with 10 passionates than 100 passers-by.

2. WHENEVER IN DOUBT, LOOK AT THEIR BUSINESS MODEL

Whenever you don’t know how valuable a particular news source is, look at their business model. If they rely on impression-based banner advertising, it means that the more pageviews they generate, the more money they make.

That, by definition, makes the source more inclined to publish for the sake of generating hits. There will be gems, of course, but you’ll have to filter through lots of unimportant content, and the best way is always to stay away from the source altogether.

And run away even faster if news is ‘anonymous’ – when authors don’t sign content with their name. That often means an industrial approach to content writing: pushing out hundreds of anonymous articles for the sake of getting pageviews.

Therefore ‘news’ is invented, controversy is encouraged, and extremes are favoured. You won’t get smarter by reading that, but you’ll definitely get disturbed.

Don’t complain about ‘the decay of journalism’ – just look elsewhere. There’s more valuable stuff than ever before; it’s just not flashing there at you; you need to dig.

Read blogs by individuals, authors, experts, and artists who follow their passions and have their reputation at stake, people who’s income is not dependent on generating a pageview quota every day.

Get a good feed reader and curate it yourself. Ignore the ‘homepage’ news sites, because there will just be more garbage there.

You might take an occasional dip, of course, but treat it like a McDonald’s visit – tempting, but not fulfilling.

3. NEVER ACCEPT ANY DEFAULT SETTINGS; SAY ‘NO’ to NOTIFICATIONS

I used to get a lot of notifications on my phone. My day was constantly interrupted with ‘updates’.

Now, every time I install or sign up to a new app (Web or mobile), I switch off any type of notifications it offers me.

By default, I say ‘no’.

Every smart Web or mobile app developer will attempt to convince you to say ‘yes’. It gives them permission to interrupt whatever you’re doing, and it’s in their interest to bring you back to their app. Of course, they’ll tell you its ‘helping you to stay up to date’ and ‘more connected’, but 99% of these updates are irrelevant and don’t have to be delivered in real-time.

Notification delivery is automatic and costs them nothing. However, it costs you a lot to get distracted, to stop whatever you’re doing and focus on the app, only to learn that your friend’s friend also commented on another’s friend photo, or that another Groupon email just arrived.

Switch it off. This is other people managing your attention. Instead, you should schedule and manage your time yourself.

It’s adjusting technology to serve your needs rather that someone else’s.

The default settings in online products will never be in your favour. There is a fine line between ‘keeping you informed’ and ‘interruption’, and this line will be crossed more and more as the competition for attention increases.

Facebook, Google, Amazon, Instagram and that mobile gaming app – they all need increasingly more of your clicks, likes and shares to grow and make more money.

No matter how useful and helpful these services might be, as long as they’re ‘free’ and monetised by advertising, they’ll always have this tendency.

So don’t be fooled by the ‘free’ slogan. Wherever you don’t pay with cash, you pay with your eyeballs.

Everyone has to learn it themselves, and there are no shortcuts.

Thanks for making it to the end. The majority of your fellow readers probably didn’t but I hope it was useful to you and worth your time.

How Papercraft Could Help Retail Spaces – an iPad App Idea

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I got inspired to write this post after learning that a Polish startup, Estimote, which is working on a tool for helping retail spaces interact with customers, won a Best Hardware Award at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2013. Congratulations to the team! – I’m sincerely keeping my fingers crossed for them. You should learn more about their technology, as it allows for some really amazing stuff that, in my view, goes way beyond just helping clothing chains sell more T‑shirts.

Anyway, if you read my previous post, you know that I believe the online and offline worlds are beginning to merge, and that you can really start thinking about engaging your customers by providing them targeted physical “links” to the digital world.

For this to work, however, you need to be especially relevant to whatever your customer is trying to accomplish in the physical space at a particular moment, otherwise you’ll end up with “QR code on the front door” solutions.

Estimote is trying to crack that using Bluetooth technology, and their technology is super cool, but I thought about something more basic but still potentially very useful.

I won’t build it myself, so I’ve decided to share the idea here – ideas are free, after all. Maybe someone will be inspired enough to build this, or maybe it will turn out that similar solutions are already in the works. If you know about something similar, please let me know.

So, my epiphany moment came when I downloaded the Foldify app (iTunes Link).

It allows you to “draw, create, print and fold beautiful 3D figures”: in other words, “papercrafts”. All you need is an iPad and a printer. Rather than describing it in detail, I’ll just point to you straight to the video. To understand my point, you have see for yourself how the app works.

Foldify from Pixle on Vimeo.

I’ve tested the app myself, and it really did live up to my expectations. The process of creating cool paper objects and characters is both extremely easy and fun, and the design of the app is great too.

So now, imagine if the app allowed you to not only create paper objects themselves (as it already does), but also generate QR codes (along with shortened URLs) and link them to basic landing pages that you could also build into the app.

In your iPad interface you’d be able manage these three elements:

  •  papercraft figures
  •  QR codes
  • simple mobile landing pages

On top of that, you’d get a simple analytics dashboard showing you which papercraft objects where scanned, and when.

Landing pages could be simple and mobile friendly, with pre-designed templates (like Unbounce, or Instapage), or just contain a redirect.

All these elements (papercraft figures + QR codes + landing pages) would be managed from the single interface in the iPad app (with an optional Web dashboard). You could easily create and test various figures with different calls to action around your store.

So, its possible to hack this idea together using tools that are already available on the market, but as far as I know there’s no simple, integrated solution.

And how would you use it? The possibilities are endless.

From a user experience perspective, let’s say you’re browsing through shelves in a clothing store, and at the end of the shelf you see a small papercraft “shop assistant” with the message: “Didn’t find your size? I can help”.

And imagine you have a different papercraft shopping assistant in each area of your store. Plus, you can move them around and get instant feedback in the dashboard.

The beauty of papercraft is that it is cheap, aesthetic and disposable, all at the same time. Combine that with a QR code link and a dedicated landing page (or a redirect to your existing website), and suddenly an A4 sheet of paper becomes a bridge between the digital and physical worlds.

Of course, the funky, quirky nature of papercraft objects would suit only certain types of businesses, but the cost of creating such objects is almost zero, and the potential upside is huge (only limited by the in-store foot traffic and one’s creativity).

So, while I’m a big fan and supporter of Estimote, I believe there’s an opportunity for other approaches, and for some reason this papercraft solution has been going after me for quite some time.

Now it’s here for anyone to use. Does this make any sense? Let me know what you guys think.

Aviva Poland hires Professor Puppet. Will others follow?

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Aviva Poland – the regional branch of one of the world’s largest insurance companies – embraces ‘remix advertising’ and hires Professor Puppet for their latest YouTube video ad.

So it didn’t really take too long. Just a few weeks after my talk at the Google CEE Agency Day, where I spoke about the ‘gig economy’ and how it opens up new opportunities for affordable video ads, Aviva Poland decided to go ahead and use Professor Puppet – one of the characters I’ve shown during my presentation –  in their latest video on YouTube.