Information Overload at eComm

On: November 1, 2009
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About Jelle Kamsma
I am a MA student of New Media at the University of Amsterdam. I have a bachelor degree in Media and Culture. After three years mostly focussing on film and visual culture I've made the switch to new media. Mostly because I'm interested in journalism and how it has to adapt to the new media. I just finished an internship at ANP Video, a Dutch press agency that makes short video-items for different newssites. I'm curious to find out how new media theories will aply to my experiences in the practical field.


The first day of the Emerging Communications (eComm) Conference & Awards was an excellent opportunity to make a first acquaintance with Google Wave, the new communication platform by Google. Participants of the conference were all provided with an invite and were encouraged to use the platform for the backchannel discussion. For each speaker there was a ‘wave’ in which the participants could collectively and in real time discuss the presentations. The first problem, however, occurred when we wanted to find the waves. Some explanation by the Google people was necessary and I definitely think that the interface could be improved so it would be easier to use. But since it is still at preview stage I’m hopefull this will happen.

But once we finally accessed the waves concerning the conference the discussion could begin. You can see each other type which is kind of cool but I have yet to understand the practical use of this. It turned out that Google Wave was mostly used for note taking. Instead of each participant taking notes individually, it became a collective effort. Several persons were writing down the key ideas of presentations while complementing and correcting where necessary. The real discussion, however, took place in the conference hall and not in the ‘waves’. The input of the audience was simply too low.

For me this had something to do with the 10.2 inch screen of my netbook. Google Wave has too many different windows for my relatively small screen. But not only my screen was to small, also my head couldn’t handle all the information. I found it really difficult to follow the presentation and at the same time discussing it in a ‘wave’. I heard more people had a problem with this information overload. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that majority of the audience were men who always have some difficulties with doing multiple things at once. Whatever it may be, Google Wave wasn’t really a success for backchannel discussion.

Google Wave wasn’t the only thing which almost caused an information overload. Also the way the conference was organized made sure the audience had to digest a lot of information. Speakers had ten to thirty minutes to make their point and it was obvious that some of them would rather have used an hour for their talk. At high speed information was fired at us and the first day I listened to no less than 23 different speakers. Still, I wouldn’t count this as a bad thing. If a talk wasn’t very interesting you always knew it would be over in about ten minutes and speakers had to make sure they didn’t meander too much. The whole day (and conference for that matter) was well moderated by Lee S. Dryburgh who was firm but fair when the clock was running out.

The majority of the 23 speakers had very interesting things to say. It was an honest discussion about the future of telecommunication. My personal favourite was Tomas Rawlings from the University of the West of England who drew an analogy between evolution in biology and in technology to explain why it isn’t useful to ban p2p networks. It would only make other ‘species’ of p2p  networks stronger. Also the chief creative officer of Frog Design Mark Rolston had a very interesting presentation about the latest developments in the field of augmented reality and how the mobile phone is becoming a digital extension of ourselves. Last but not least Chris Castiglione from our own New Media course gave excellent presentation of his MA thesis. In an entertaining way he explained how artist could use the Internet rather than seeing it as a threat. Artist should sell what can’t be copied. I’m curious to find out who of the current New Media students will speak at eComm next year.

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