Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded

There’s an old quote attributed to baseball great Yogi Berra, referring to a popular restaurant: “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.” I’m beginning to think the same is true of some of the IT applications and services we use. Or make that, used to use.

For instance, lots of people made a big deal out of the fact that Bill Gates stopped using his Facebook account. It wasn’t that the social networking site didn’t work. In fact, it worked too well. Gates was getting 8,000 requests a day from people who wanted to be his friend. The poor guy was so busy turning “friends” away that he couldn’t use the social application in a productive way, so he just abandoned it.

I heard of other people giving up on Facebook because of the increasing number of ads. Once advertisers learned that they could find a fairly well-qualified audience on Facebook and other social sites, they rushed to hawk their products there. The ads became annoying, so users just stopped frequenting those sites.

E-mail and instant messaging (IM) are other examples of applications that are so overused that people don’t use them anymore. I have a colleague I’ve worked with for years. We see each other from time to time, but mostly we conduct our business via e-mail. Lately, though, he has been rather unresponsive when I send an e-mail. I just learned that my unread message is one of 1,700 unopened pieces of mail sitting in his inbox. He is so inundated with messages that he just can’t get to them all. He has told me that if I really need to discuss something important, I need to pick up the phone and call. (Makes me wonder if he’ll eventually ignore the phone and voice mail messages, too.)

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I have three e-mail accounts — two for business and one for personal use — that I try to keep up with on a daily basis. Postini does a fabulous job of keeping the spam from hitting my inbox, so mostly I’m left with “real” mail. I do use filters, however, to profile and prioritize the incoming mail so I don’t have to sift through low-priority mail (sorry, Mom) to get to the important stuff. I suppose if I didn’t have the filters, I’d probably be overwhelmed and frustrated enough to simply ignore much of the mail.

As for IM, I’ve never been a big fan because I find it too disruptive. But I use it at the request of some of my clients who want to know they can reach me instantly if the urge strikes. (Never mind that they can also reach me instantly using the phone sitting a foot away from my PC.) But I’ll admit that there are times when I “forget” to log into my IM service so that people can’t interrupt me when I really don’t want to be bothered.

A few years ago, vendors learned that they could reach a lot of people cheaply and easily by conducting a Webinar. In those early days, it was fun to get a detailed product demo or attend a virtual trade show right on my PC. Now I bet I get at least 10 invitations a day to attend Webinars. I could fill my schedule with nothing but those clever online sales calls if I wanted to, but who has time for all that “learning” and no “working”?

Podcasts and RSS feeds are in the same boat. At first I thought it was novel to have these little broadcasts sent right to me. But guess what those e-mail filters are set to trap and send to my “low priority” folder? That seems a lot easier than actually unsubscribing to the broadcast services.

I have to admit, even newsletters often meet the fate of my delete key if the subject line looks uninteresting. That’s a bold confession, considering I write one of the newsletters that Network World sends out to readers like you. But I have no illusions that every subscriber reads every article I produce. We’re all busy people, and we only have time for the topics that are a hot button today.

Even search engines are getting a bad rap for returning too much off-topic information. Why? Because writers of Web pages have learned to embed hidden words and phrases that will make their pages bubble to the top of a search, no matter how irrelevant the content is. These days, a search often returns so many hits that you can’t find anything.

And so it seems appropriate to paraphrase the wise old Yogi Berra: “No one uses e-mail anymore; they’re getting too much e-mail.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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