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Big Data: The Rush for Instant Results
If you were to print out all the data added to the web each year, you would need a lot of trees - probably all the trees on the planet and then some. Who really knows? You could only ever guess. Besides which, by the time you had calculated the volume of data, you’d be out of date.
In fact, having just read that paragraph, you’re already out of date. In the minute you took to read it, there were 2.5 million new pieces of content added to Facebook, 72 hours of new video uploaded to YouTube and 200 million email messages sent. The online data world is growing exponentially at break-neck speeds.
Increasing Data Impacts People Psychologically
The ever-increasing amount of data is having a real effect on us as people. The more information we are exposed to, the more we want. It is all part of our basic survival instincts that force us to minimize risks by seeking out as much detail as possible. The more data there is about any given topic, the more we want to check it out. That’s because those survival instincts want us to check everything that is known about something so we can be sure to avoid any risks.
That, in turn, leads to another psychological issue: reduced attention spans. The more information there is to look at, the shorter the amount of time people can devote to it. We sense the ever-increasing amount of data, so push ourselves to move on to the next piece of information, paying less attention to everything else. Some studies of attention span have suggested it has been constantly falling for the past decade - thanks in part to the increase in information.
As if this were not enough for businesses faced with their workers seeking information, there is another psychological issue - the increased demand for instant results. Not only do people have less time to look at things, but they also want what they are looking for to arrive instantly - no waiting.
The Internet Is Changing Expectations
Part of the problem is due to search
For businesses with internal data systems, this is an important consideration. Your results from any search of internal data need to be perceived as instant. If you have slow databases or slow search systems, you are working against the expectations of your staff, who are used to much faster responses, often from much bigger data sets, on the web. If your data systems cannot match such speeds, your staff will find it difficult to use your data.
Not only that, the reduced attention spans caused by ever-increasing volumes of data mean that unless a company grabs attention in a short space of time, people will move on, to find something else or even to look elsewhere. Perhaps this could even be outside the company data set, on the web, taking employees away from vital internal information.
Companies need to be able to present data quickly, but also in attention-grabbing ways if they are to be able to keep up with the changes in staff psychology due to the Internet. One way of doing this is by creating several categories. Human beings instinctively categorize things to make it easier to understand them. So even though search facilities can find data anywhere, it is easier and quicker to use if it is already sorted into categories and then people can search within those categories. That appeals to people more than searching through everything.
Another way of ensuring you grab attention is in the design of your search results. These need to show some details about the data as well as which categories it belongs to. People can scan 50 words or so in a second or two and can see, if categories are also provided, whether the information is what they want. Categorization and good design of data presentation is what people find more engaging.
Graham Jones is a writer and consultant on Internet Psychology.