A topic that came out of the recent Gurteen Knowledge Cafe was the value of noise. A lot of time we look to increase the signal to noise ratio with the understanding that noise is bad and distracting. Luis made the point in his talk, last week that noise is good. The more you think about the random coincidences that happen on Twitter or on other social software tools, the more you realise that a lot of ideas and moments of serendipity actually come from noise.
So it’s not that noise is unwelcome, just that there is ‘good’ noise and ‘bad’ noise (spam). This relates to the idea that has been floating around the web recently that information overload is actually a filtering problem.
The tools we use have a significant impact on the value of noise. Email suffers from the problem of noise because:
- Email is often used to ask people to do things so I tend to associate it with action (or avoiding action) rather than ambient noise
- Email is concrete and disruptive, I have to open my email, it’s very difficult to glance at it
- Anyone who has my email address can email me
Twitter, on the other hand, is a great source of interesting noise because:
- It enforces brevity (140 characters)
- The short messages and the UI of applications like Twhirl make it more ambient than concrete, it’s very easy to glance at
- You can’t spam me on Twitter, I only receive updates from people I choose
I’ve met up (in the real world) with interesting people by happening to see their status amongst the noise on Twitter, in a way that email could never do. So now instead of simply rejecting noise as ‘bad’, perhaps we just need to think a bit more about the tools we use to subscribe to and consume it.