Inside out: reducing clutter with rss and extranets

Something very strange is happening with the way we use the internet. There is a simulaneous trend towards consolidating content from multiple sites into a consolidated view (rss readers) and exploding communication channels from a single consolidated view (email) into multiple views (extranets).


I no longer surf the net from site to site: instead I consume RSS content (via bloglines, in my case). Yet, at the same time, my email inbox is no longer the center of gravity of my worklife. I use a mantis bugtracking system to track bugs, a basecamp for project-based communication with clients and teammembers, a wiki for evolving product and process documentation, and numerous “ticket”-based systems for interacting with my various web hosts.
This is a symptom of Web 2.0. As the hyper-text based web becomes more about read/write and less about consuming content, it makes sense that we would do less reading and more writing on it. The sad fact of the matter is that email is broken: users are overwhelmed by the 1000s of messages cluttering their inbox. Extranet applications of various kinds segregate individual conversations and topics and archive them in a public, easily findable way. There is no spam in my bug tracker, no viagra adds in my corporate wiki.
At the same time, the web 1.0 world of going to websites to consume content is inarguably broken. Visiting 100s of sites to find a few slivers of fresh content is inherently inefficient. Anyone who shifts to an RSS reader immediately notices that they can read their typical dose of web content in 1/10 of the time.
What is happening in both cases is that users are shifting to less-cluttered interfaces, voting with their feet. This makes sense: in an age where continuous partial attention is the norm, anything that improves the signal / noise ration is a win for the user. Sometimes this means moving to the web: other times it means moving away from the web! Reducing clutter is a reliable way of improving your users lives: entrepreneurs should take note!