Being ultra-connected is great in many ways, but it also creates a myriad of problems, as I’ve written previously. The biggest problem for most of us is the constant barrage of incoming communications requests – email, voice, IM and so on. The average American worker is interrupted over 70 times per day. Even if each interruption is just three minutes long, it can take 10 to 15 minutes to refocus on the task being performed prior to the interruption, especially if that is a task requiring creativity. It’s a real challenge to manage this constant flow in a sensible manner without being unresponsive, or rude.
In many ways, this problem is a lot like the problem that search engines solve. Do you recall the early days of search engines? When Alta Vista and it’s ilk were the reigning champs? The focus in the mid-1990’s world of search engines was on building a complete catalog of information on the web, and on speed of retrieval. Using those early search engines was unbelievably frustrating. They would return thousands of results, but then it was up to you to search those results for the particular nugget of information you needed.
For a decade, communications companies have been working to hyper-connect us in myriads of ways. Take me, for instance. I have five email addresses, four telephone numbers, three IM identities, and a host of VoIP names. Multiply that across the 2300 or so names in my address book, and it quickly becomes an unmanageable problem to reach me, or for me to answer all the people who want to reach me.
This is just like the search engine problem of the 1990’s. Google came along and solved that problem. Google built an algorithm to filter, rank, and prioritize results based on relevance. They called that algorithm "page rank", and it quickly differentiated Google from every other search engine. Google could, most of the time, produce a better result.
What if we could use relevance as a tool to filter, rank, and prioritize communications? It’s an interesting problem, because fundamentally the algorithm used by Google ("do other people think this page is relevant to this search term?") doesn’t work as well in communications. For the recipient of a telephone call, the relevance of that call is a highly personal affair based on the recipients current activity, location, relationship to the caller, mood, the stated importance of the call, and a variety of other criteria.
What would the Google of Communication be like?