Jed Cohen

An Archive

Noise in the Internet Era

leave a comment

The act of communication can be broken down into just a few simple steps:

  • You have a thought and turn it into a message.
  • You send that message out through some kind of medium.
  • I receive that message and assign it some kind of meaning.

It’s a pretty simple process, and one we’ve managed to complete successfully for at least the last 2000 years. And it can also be applied to the Internet as this model doesn’t require two way communication. That said, there are a few differences.

There’s way more noise here.

Photo by David Sim

How many e-mails do you get a day (including spam)? How many tweets are in your stream? Facebook updates? FriendFeed posts? RSS entries? We’re surrounded by so much information on the Internet it’s almost incomprehensible. Some of it is useful. Some of it is junk.

If you’re consuming content, you get to be the judge of what is helpful and what is pointless; the more time you spend on something, the less it’s noise and the more it’s a message.

If you’re creating content, most of it is noise. Noise you have to cut through to accurately convey your message to your intended recipients.

We all try our best at this, and it’s more important for some than others. For marketers, it’s a do or die kind of thing – greater signal to noise ratio means greater chance of conversion into buyers/subscribers/promoters. For friends, it’s not quite as big of a deal.  Still, the digital landscape is awfully cluttered, isn’t it?

We want to be heard.

Ironically, the act of self-promotion produces more noise that others will attempt to cut through (because your message is noise for them). So we do what we can to keep the eyeballs on us. One of the tricks is emotional investment – if you can instill in people a sense of concern, or interest, or desire to know what comes next, they’ll be more likely to spend their own energy seeking you out. Another is to have novel, groundbreaking content that people simply. must. see. A third is to present it in some way they haven’t seen before, whether through video, audio, augmented reality, or whatever the next big medium/fad is.

Of course, these are just a few ways to make your signal stand about above the noise, and they may or may not work for you. But there are times when I can’t help but ask – do we all need to take a step back? Do we need to let the noise wash over us to understand what’s going on now and in turn understand what we have to do next? Or do we just need to keep on pressing forward, shouting out into the noise, letting our voices join the ever growing din?

I think maybe the answer is somewhere in between. I’m really curious to find out.  How about you?

Written by Jed

December 30th, 2009 at 9:48 pm