Want to watch a movie? Thanks to the web there are tens of thousands of videos to choose from rather than just the few thousand at Blockbuster. Want to listen to music? There are millions of songs available right now - without having to go to the record store. Looking for a good book? There are multitudes of titles at Amazon. Want to keep up on the news? There are millions of editorial opinions and news articles in the blogosphere not just the few dozens in today's local paper. Want to meet people? There are millions of people online to get to know - not just those in our address books.
So many choices! But with so many choices how are we to make decisions? Even before the internet expanded access to everything, we were feeling the weight of information overload. I recently read Reis and Trout's classic marketing book "Positioning" (which I didn't find as interesting as I thought I might). The book was written back in 1976 when the "Mailgram" was the latest technology destined to overtake the position of the telegram for fast delivery of information. But even writing back then they made the point that clear positioning is critical to reach an "overcommunicated society." And that was 1976, what about now?
If we already felt overwhelmed by chatter, how are we to manage the increasing volume? We're used to having our choices narrowed by professionals. We rely on them every day. We need newspaper editors to assign topics to their reporters and then decide which stories get headlines on the front page. We need cinemas to tell us about what's coming soon. We're used to finding books by going to the proper section of a bookstore and perusing the shelves. And it's very helpful that store managers decide which books should be displayed by cover and which should just show their spine.
In all these ways we rely on professionals to present us with sub-sets of options, trusting they're expertise in deciding what is most important. But what if all there were 100 times as many choices and they were all just "there" - uncategorized, un-editorialized, un-promoted? What if the newspaper were as thick as a set of encyclopedias with no alphabetization? The internet's massive proliferation of stuff has created exactly that dilemma.